CLOVERDALE -- When late October comes in high school football, the formula gets simple: win or go home. Having struggle through a 2-7 regular season marred by injury, the Cloverdale Clovers, especially the seniors are getting that message loud and clear.
"It's set into the seniors head -- it's one-and-done or play as hard as you can and get to play another week," CHS coach Kyle Winkler said. "They're definitely aware of what's going on, so they're keeping everybody in full speed mode for practice, which is what I'd hoped we'd do every single week. But as reality comes closer for kids, they see the writing on the wall."
Cloverdale opens Class 2A Sectional 30 action at Monrovia on Friday. One key for the Clovers as they battle the Bulldogs (5-4) will be health. The Clovers have seen their share of injuries, most notably to quarterbacks Jordan Hayden and Jordan Brinkman as well as running back and linebacker Dillin Gray.
A return to health for the key pieces will be welcome for Winkler. Brinkman has been unable to practice during the week, but should be good to go on Friday.
"We're just trying to rest him up as much as we can until Friday. He's a very intelligent young man who can follow along with what we're doing in practice and know what all is going on. He's standing right next to the huddle, so he knows all the checks and changes we're going to have," Winkler said.
Gray, who is the main offensive weapon when healthy, will also be back in action.
"Dillin Gray got his sixth practice in Wednesday, so he'll be fit and ready to go come Friday," Winkler said. "That helps us out because that moves a guy back out to the wide receiver spot. That also gives us another linebacker we've been lacking here with Dillin Gray back in the middle.
"Everybody else is raring to go. Sam Spinks has been keeping everybody's spirits high, getting them ready for Monrovia," he added.
The spirits and general attentiveness have also been up across the board because even the younger players know they have a shot at seeing action.
"Attitudes have progressively gotten better over the last few weeks because basically everybody's gotten in," Winkler said. "Every kid's quite aware that the way things have gone this year, they are literally one play away from getting put in the game. They want to make sure they put their best effort into it, so they're paying attention in practice, knowing all the plays and especially where to line up on special teams."
When the two teams met in week three, Monrovia defeated Cloverdale 30-0. In spite of the final score, Winkler knows his team was a few big plays away from a closer outcome. His team is keying on the Bulldogs' counter play, which they use as a change of pace from their normal inside running with their fullback.
"We're confident that if we take away that counter play, then they're just going to have to earn every three to four yards that they get with their fullback. He is the mainstay of their offense, the fullback getting three or four yards, then they're in second or third and short," Winkler said.
"I've got them pretty confident that we know what they're doing on every down," he added. "Luckily for us, we play so many common opponents, we get the films on them when we play other teams throughout the year. We have a better idea of what they're running and when and where. It's a lot easier to game plan than the third game of the year when you only have two films on them."
In the past two weeks, the Clovers have attempted a couple of trick plays against Owen Valley and North Putnam. The coach said not to expect more against a team that predicates its success on controlling the ball.
"I'm not a big fan of the trick plays because you either hit them big and works out well or they hit you back pretty big and it's not worth running again," Winkler said. "With the rain possible and the personnel, we'll try to keep it tight to vest. We don't want to give a cheap turnover to a team that likes to run the ball so much they can kill eight minutes with one drive. We're going to try to keep sound football knowledge -- control the ball, no silly mistakes, don't throw a silly pass down the field to be picked off or have a 25-yard loss on the quarterback because he was running backward."
The Clovers and Bulldogs kick off at 7 p.m. Friday at Monrovia.