Considering the back-to-back games Clay’s football team endured on Aug. 29 and Sept. 5, Coach Mike Donnelly admitted he and his squad could use an old-fashioned blowout victory.
"It would help,” Donnelly said. “I know mentally we’re a little tired and we have some people who are nicked up. If we could get a break, we would welcome it, but we don’t get it in the first six weeks. We just have to keep plugging away.”
The Eagles, who were 2-1 entering Friday night’s clash with City League rival Waite, outlasted the Springfield Blue Devils and their all-everything quarterback, Eric Page, 43-35 last Friday.
One week earlier, Clay suffered a heart-breaking five-overtime loss at Anthony Wayne.
Donnelly said the Eagles knew the first several weeks of the season would be a huge test.
“We talked in the spring and summer that we had to get ready for the first six weeks,” the coach said, “because they're going to be our toughest tests.”
The Eagles came close to entering the game against Waite (0-3) on a low note, but they stepped up on both sides of the ball to pull out an eight-point win a week ago.
“It was nice to see our defense step up and make a play,” Donnelly said. “Our offense made some mistakes for the first time this season, but our defense forced four turnovers. That was a big difference in the game. Our defense was able to come up with big stops.
“We stopped them on fourth down early in the third quarter and we scored on the very next play. After we had scored, the defense caused a fumble and we were able to score again after that. Up until then, we were just trading scores.”
Senior cornerback Matt Row had two interceptions against Springfield, and senior end Zak Knoop leads the team in tackles in defensive coordinator Mike Row’s scheme.
“We’re inconsistent at other positions right now,” Donnelly said. “The thing I can’t question is their effort. That defense is giving effort on every single play, and as a coach that’s all you can ask for.”
Clay senior quarterback Drew Kuns had one interception, his first of the season, and a center snap went over his head for another turnover against Springfield.
Senior tailback Mike Toth managed to help the Eagles overcome their miscues by carrying the ball 30 times for 190 yards and four touchdowns. The 5-8, 165-pounder also hauled in a 40-yard TD reception.
Toth has rushed for 389 yards on 85 carries through three games, and has scored eight touchdowns.
“What’s surprised me is his power when he has first contact,” Donnelly said. “He is always going forward at first contact. That’s one thing that surprised me. As far as him being able to read the hole and make cuts, we saw that last year. But, his power has been surprising for as small as he is.”
Clay was picked by the CL coaches to finish seventh in the league this season, but Donnelly said he hasn’t used that as motivation.
“Not at all,” he said. “We haven’t even talked about it. We’ve just talked about us and worrying about the next task at hand. We don’t worry about what people on the outside say.”
After their matchup with Waite, the Eagles then face consecutive CL games against three-time defending league champion Central Catholic and St. John’s Jesuit. After that, Clay has games against Bowsher, Scott, Woodward and Libbey.
Donnelly said the games against Central and St. John’s “will let us know where we’re at as a program.”
“That’s what we aspire to be, one of the top programs in the City League,” he said. “We’re not there yet. We’ll go into those games and use those games as a measuring stick for where we’re at. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain. They’re the ones with all the pressure.”