Disappointment and frustration.
Those were the two feelings that graced the faces of the Clinton High School football players after playing 42 hard-fought minutes and walking off the field empty-handed for the third straight game.
For Clinton (1-3), it was one of those games where the score fails to tell the entire story as the River Kings fell to the now 4-0 Muskies, 37-21.
“I think tonight it was a little bit of a depth problem,” Clinton coach Lee Camp said. “We had some kids get injured, and we kind of had to shuffle some people around. But I’m really proud of our kids. We kind of buckled late in the second half and when (senior quarterback Will Carr) got hurt, it kind of took his running element out of the game. I’m not making excuses, but I thought our kids that first half and all the way through the game battled hard.”
The River Kings kept things close for 42:03 of the 48 minutes played.
Then, the final 5:57 happened.
First, Muscatine’s senior quarterback Jon Crowe took a 2-yard sneak in for a touchdown on fourth down to give the Muskies a 31-21 lead. Then, senior defensive back Jake Shoultz sealed the victory with a 74-yard interception return with 1:14 remaining.
It was a game the River Kings definitely wished they could have back after allowing 23 unanswered points to the Muskies.
“We were thinking we’re going to get another stop, go up and see what we could do from there,” Camp said. “When they got up 10, the pressure was on a little more and then we threw the pick.”
Defensively, the River Kings kept Crowe in check for most of the night. Crowe did finish 22-of-27 passing, but his first three incompletions were interceptions, all turnovers the River Kings were able to turn into touchdowns.
Despite the three interceptions, Crowe was able to settle in, tossing two touchdowns while passing for 246 yards.
“The defense is finally coming around,” Camp said. “We put in a different package, and coach (Jon Wauford) did a great job adjusting. I thought our blitz package came in real good. Their quarterback was quality and throws the ball on a string, but we were able to get three picks. Our kids were getting to the right spots and did a good job breaking on the ball. I thought we did a nice job disrupting their routes and disguising our coverage.”
After Crowe threw a 13-yard touchdown to senior wide receiver Tyler Lloyd, the momentum seemingly shifted to Clinton with junior running back Dustin Caldwell scoring on a 20-yard scamper with 7:52 left in the second quarter and Carr connecting with senior running back Ryan Driscoll on a 14-yard score, giving Clinton a 14-7 lead.
“I thought Ryan was doing a great job running the ball,” Carr said. “The linemen were opening up big holes for him and everything was flowing and we started mixing in some passing.”
Muscatine tied it back up after Shoultz found Lloyd on a 35-yard reverse pass with 2:07 remaining in the second.
Once again the momentum shifted after senior linebacker Josiah Molina returned Crowe’s third interception 45 yards for a touchdown, giving Clinton the lead at 21-14.
Crowe threw his second touchdown with 7:16 left in the third quarter, and junior kicker Dylan Oldfield nailed a 20-yard field goal to give Muscatine a 24-21 advantage, putting the Muskies in the lead for good.
For the River Kings, the result was disappointing, but the team was able to show a lot of confidence in the loss.
“We played with a lot of heart,” Carr said. “We came out with a lot of heart at first, but Muscatine’s a great team. We had some tough breaks, but we had some good ones, too, and we played to the end. It just didn’t go our way today.
“I think a lot of people have been telling us these are some great teams we’re sticking with. We put in a lot of effort; we knew we would be up there. And we don’t want to settle in for just ‘could’ve.’”
Next Thursday, the River Kings will head to Davenport to play Assumption High School (3-1) at 7 p.m.
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