Clinton is making its first state football playoff appearance since 2004 and is 0-6 in its playoff history.
Excitement is running high for the Maroons, who realize there is no pressure on them when taking on unbeaten and fourth-ranked No. 1 seed Althoff (9-0) in the opening round of the Class 4A state playoffs.
“We were just excited to have that chance,” said Clinton coach John Hayden, whose team had to beat Sullivan-Okaw Valley last Friday just to qualify. “There was some drama but we came out on top and we’re excited.”
There’s plenty of excitement on the Althoff side as well as the Crusaders have posted historic and record-breaking offensive numbers all season. Is there a chance Althoff might get caught looking a bit further down the playoff road instead of focusing on upset-minded Clinton?
“If this was our team last year, maybe I’d say that but these guys are veterans,” said Althoff coach Ken Turner, whose team averages 45.2 points per game. “We talked about taking it one game at a time. They won’t look past these guys or their record. They know we’ve got to go out and play.
“We can’t overlook a 5-4 team. Records don’t matter, you’ve got to be ready to play.”
They’re clicking right now. They’re the heart and soul of our defense, reading and making plays.
Althoff coach Ken Turner on linebackers Bryson Strong and Chris Branson
Clinton (5-4) vs. Althoff (9-0) at Lindenwood Stadium in Belleville, 7:30 p.m.
Althoff is fourth in Class 4A.
This is the 22nd playoff appearance for Althoff which won state titles in 1980, 1989 and 1990 and is 36-18 in the playoffs. This is the seventh playoff appearance and first since 2004 for Clinton, which is 0-6 in the playoffs.
4,507. Althoff has 4,507 yards of offense, an average of just over 500 yards per game
Clinton’s productive offense centers around junior quarterback Noah Griffin (107-of-172 passing, 1,380 yards, 13 touchdowns, eight interceptions; 531 yards rushing, eight TDs) and junior running back Alec Cooley (218 carries, school-record 1,731 yards, 21 TDs).
“He’s probably more strength than speed,” Hayden said. “He’s not slow but he’ll definitely lower his shoulder.”
The top receiving targets are Tanner White (35 catches, 483 yards, six TDs) and Logan Winter (32 catches, 397 yards, four TDs).
“They actually do a lot of the things that we do as far as throwing the football and what we run out of the spread offense,” Turner said of Clinton, which has surrendered an average of just under 40 points per game to opponents. “They face a lot of teams that use the spread.”
Defensive standouts include linebacker Dalton Whitted (183 tackles), Andrew Kelley (118 tackles, four sacks) and Collin Underwood (127 tackles).
Teams have trouble deciding what to take away from an offense that has produced 4,507 yards and averages 45.2 points.
At the controls is senior quarterback Jordan Augustine (151-of-210 passing, 2,542 yards, 28 TDs, six interceptions; 232 yards rushing five TDs).
Running backs Malik Easley (829 yards, 11 TDs) and Jaylon Bester (791 yards, 12 TDs) are both capable of breaking long runs on any play.
The top receivers are Jackson State recruit Keenen Young (53 catches, 869 yards, 13 TDs), C.J. Coldon (44 catches, 960 yards, nine TDs) and Tarkus Ferguson (25 catches, 337 yards, one TD).
Inside linebackers Bryson Strong (117 tackles, nine sacks) and Chris Branson (98 tackles, two sacks) anchor the defense.
“They’re clicking right now,” Turner said of his Strong and Branson. “They’re the heart and soul of our defense, reading and making plays. They are two physical kids and guys with a lot of varsity experience.”