Football: Are you ready? Rams to play first playoff game since ’14
By BRANDON HURLEY
VAN HORNE - Greene County High School’s Mitch Moore had one goal in mind when he took over head coaching duties last year — bring a championship to Jefferson.
And as the calendar turns the page toward the postseason, he’s one step closer to that reality as the Greene County Rams (8-1) embark on their first playoff journey in four years.
Friday’s first-round game pits a pair of teams starving for postseason success as the 10th-seeded Rams take on No. 4 Benton Community (8-1) in Van Horne, near Cedar Rapids.
Forty-seven combined years have passed since either team tasted postseason victory, as fourth-seeded Benton hopes to snap a 38-year drought, while Greene County is in search of their first playoff win since 2009.
It’s a favorable draw for the local squad, though they are squared up against a team stocked full of talented athletes. The Rams earned the 10th-seed because of their 10th-ranked RPI. PCM (9-0) snatched the No. 1 overall seed followed by Boyden-Hull/Rock Valley (8-1) and 2017 2A champion Waukon (8-1).
District 9 earned three playoff bids, as OA-BCIG slides in at the 11 seed. They’ll take on seventh-seeded Southeast Valley while district champion Kuemper Catholic drew the 16th seed and will take on top-ranked PCM.
Greene County must be ready when kickoff arrives Friday, Moore said.
On paper, the Bobcats should test the Greene County defense, but that’s nothing new to an 11-man unit riding high on confidence following their best performance to date. The Rams held OA-BCIG and their potent offense to six points and 219 yards in the regular season finale, cementing a spot in the playoffs.
Benton likes to run the ball behind a solid offensive line, as they’ll rely on bell-cow Matt Davis, who is fourth in 2A in rushing with 1,404 yards (156 yards per game) and 23 touchdowns. The senior is perhaps the fastest running back the Rams will have faced to date, a runner with some added strength to him.
“Oh my, they have got a running back that is as good as I’ve seen in a long time in terms of what he does and how they run their offense,” Moore said. “He is a downhill, hit-you-in-the-mouth first guy. He’s a one cut guy that can also go the distance.
“They’ve beat some really quality football teams playing in a hard district. But the one thing that completely sticks out on film is their running back, he’s a special player.”
Though not a single athlete on this current Rams’ roster has even a second of playoff experience, they’re confident entering Friday’s 7 p.m. contest, mainly because of their three-game winning streak, their overall team strength and their meticulous routine.
“Just be consistent as we have been all season,” senior wide-receiver Trey Hinote said. “Study film. We still lift two to three times a week, so physically, we’ll be alright. We’ll have to be mentally prepared, because we’ll have a long bus trip.”
The Bobcats average 32.5 points per game and have hit their peak as of late, highlighted by a 34-13 win over then-fifth-ranked West Marshall, who finished the year 7-2 and is the eighth-seed in the 2A playoffs.
Benton can throw as well, as quarterback Clay Krousie has thrown for 1,401 yards and 13 touchdowns at a 66 percent completion clip with only three interceptions.
Davis ran for a season-high 274 yards and five touchdowns in a 56-16 win over Nevada, the only common opponent between the two playoff foes. Greene County turned back Nevada 38-10 in week two and boast one of the stingiest defenses in the state.
The Rams are holding opponents to a mere 8.8 points and 78 rush yards per game while they have recorded the second-most solo tackles for loss in 2A (74), the most total tackles for loss (86) and the fourth most fumble recoveries (14).
As a unit, Greene County has forced 23 total takeaways.
The Rams are led by Bryce Hoyle and Nick Breon, who each have recorded 16 tackles for loss — the fourth-best total in Class 2A.
The Rams may have to get creative on the offensive side, as the Benton defensive front has wreaked havoc on backfields all season long, securing 27 sacks (second in 2A), led by Ethan Weirather’s nine sacks, which is also the second-best total in the state.
Benton’s defense allows 15.8 points per game, picking off 10 passes so far this fall, led by Nathan Michels’ four picks.
Greene County has the weapons to put up points on the Benton defensive front, as the Rams wrapped up the regular season in the top 10 in nearly every offensive category: Greene County is ninth in total offense (3,662 yards, 406 yards per game), tied for eighth in total touchdowns (46), seventh in points per game (39.4), sixth in passing yards (1,979) and fifth in touchdown passes (22).
Clint Dennhardt is 13th in the state in rushing touchdowns with 14, averaging 7.3 yards per carry.
“I think we have the advantage on the edge,” Moore said, “but boy, between the tackles, it’s going to be a tough, hard-fought football game.”
Friday’s winner will face either sixth-seeded Chariton (8-1) or No. 14 West Liberty (6-3) in the second round of the 2A playoffs Nov. 2.