Football Preview 2016: State title appearance make Eagles eager to return
BERRYVILLE – Making it to a state championship game isn’t easy. Neither is placing double-digit players on the first and second VHSL all-state teams.
In 2015, however, Clarke County was able to do both, advancing to the 2A state title game and having 13 selections to the all-VHSL squad, the most of any school in 2A. But unfortunately for the Eagles, the 2015 season didn’t quite end the way they had hoped as they fell to Appomattox 42-6 in the championship game, a game they trailed just 14-6 entering the fourth quarter.
“We have a chip on our shoulder,” Eagles lineman Cam Marshall said. “We lost last year’s state game and we want to go back and win it.”
Getting back to that state championship game will be no easy feat for a Clarke team that went 13-2 last season and lost four all-state players, three of which made the first or second team for both offense and defense.
The Eagles, who amassed over 7,000 yards of offense last season, will have to replace a few key pieces from their 2015 state runner-up team.
Under center for the Eagles in 2016 will be Chris Davis, who will look to fill the shoes of graduated all-state performer Jordan Turner. Turner, the starting QB for last year’s squad, rushed for 1,230 yards and added 728 through the air to make up almost 2,000 yards for Clarke’s offense. He was also responsible for 23 touchdowns. Davis, in limited action as a junior, rushed for 134 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
In the backfield, Clarke, which is a run-heavy team operating out of the wing-T formation, lost its second and fourth leading rushers in Matt Dang and Jaxon Ottobre. Dang was the Eagles’ second leading rusher, tallying over 1,300 yards and 20 touchdowns on the ground in 2015. Add in the 708 yards and 9 touchdowns chipped in by Ottobre, and the Eagles are responsible for replacing over 2,000 yards from their backfield.
Luckily for them, they return leading rusher Hunter Rogers who, in 2015, rushed for a team high 1,354 yards and 17 touchdowns, after missing three-and-a-half games with an ankle injury. Joining Rogers in the backfield will be returning senior Daniel Braithwaite, who rushed for 655 yards and five touchdowns, senior Patrick Cleary, who had a pair of scores on 160 yards rushing, and junior Cole Lawson, who chipped in four touchdowns on 109 yards.
The Eagles’ bread and butter will be their physicality up front. Clarke lost all-state offensive lineman Julius Grant, but will return all-state center, senior Josh Wallace, and all-state lineman, junior Bryan Wallace, who is already getting attention from multiple Division I schools. Seniors Brent McDonald (second team all-state TE/LB) and Mackie Martin will return as the team’s tight ends and leading receivers, catching 24 passes for 426 yards and four touchdowns between the two of them.
When asked what his team would be known for this season, Coach Chris Parker praised the physicality and size of this year’s group.
“Our team speed is good, but we’re not as flashy or speed demons like some of the teams that we play,” Parker said. “I think our physicality and our size is what we’re going to be known for.”
Defensively, the Eagles are coming off a season where they gave up less than 11 points per game. But with the graduation of all-state defensive players Dang (DB), Michael Fields (LB), Grant (DL) and Turner (DB), the Eagles will rely heavily on their front four to anchor the defense. The line of the Eagles returns a wealth of experience with seniors Josh Wallace, Cam Marshall and Kyle Anderson down in the trenches. On the outside, Martin and Bryan Wallace return for the Eagles.
Behind the front guys, McDonald, Clarke’s third leading tackler, will be looked on to lead the defense from his linebacker position. Joining him will be Davis and junior Lucas Rogers.
Hunter Rogers will be patrolling the secondary, taking over for Dang, who was first team all-state in 2015. Joining him will be Cleary and senior Zach Flynn.
Clarke will look to start another run to the state championship game when they open the season on Sept. 2 away against Manassas Park. But despite losing many key pieces from last year’s squad, Parker’s message to his team at the beginning of the season was simple.
“Once you get a little taste of the championship, our goal every year is to get there, we certainly want to try to get there again,” Parker said. “I think we have a great opportunity but we also have a huge target on our back. Our kids know that and we work very hard in the offseason. We have the capability to get there, but the truth’s on the field, we have to get the job done.”