FOOTBALL: ONE WIN FROM THE DOME
By BRANDON HURLEY
BY THE NUMBERS
Class 2A quarterfinals: #8 Greene Co. (9-1) at #3 Algona (10-0)
What to expect: Algona leads the state in rushing with 282 ypg and 45 rush TDs
X-Factor: Can the Ram defense slow a dynamic and powerful rush attack? The defensive line of Tyler Miller, Gage Michaelson and Joe Patterson could yet again play a key role
The gridiron action may be a tad deceiving come Friday night.
Football fans can expect to see a gaggle of misdirection and a heavy dose of the ground game as the Greene County Rams embark on a rare matchup in the 2A quarterfinals.
They’ll hit the road to take on third-seeded Algona (10-0), the state’s top rushing attack (282 ypg). The Bulldogs are riding a 10-game winning streak, aided by 57 total touchdowns, the third best mark in 2A.
Greene County sits a win from the state semifinals, looking for the first trip to the UNI Dome in GCHS history, which would be the first time a Jefferson squad has reached such a level since 2007.
It’s certainly new territory for this motivated Rams group. The 2020 senior class has won 17 games over the last two years, riding high off a historic playoff win a week ago. To avoid any type of let down, Greene County head coach Caden Duncan has his guys narrowing their focus in preparation for Friday’s showdown.
“We are going to take it as a regular game,” the coach said. “If you get too hyped up, obviously different things can happen. But in the back of our minds, everybody knows that it’s the farthest we’ve ever been as a group here. But it’s really important to treat it like a like every other game.
Duncan continued, “We’ve got to do our job. We’ve got to be disciplined. None of that stuff changes. You can talk about it a little bit, but you can’t build it up too much in your head and psych yourself out.”
It’ll be a high-octane battle in the Class 2A quarterfinals, with Greene County’s vaunted defense (14.1ppg) up against Algona’s fourth-ranked scoring offense (41.5 ppg). But, oh, Greene County can score, too, averaging 40 points per game to go with a well-balanced offense (393.6ypg, which is fourth in 2A)>
The Bulldogs are averaging 403 yards per game (third in 2A), averaging a state-leading 7.7 yards per carry. They’ve scored 45 touchdowns on the ground, tied with Mid-Prairie for the Iowa lead. Top-ranked Waukon is the next closest threat, having scored 32 times on the ground.
Algona knocked off 16th-seeded Central Lyon/George-Little Rock, 35-14 in the opening round Friday. The Bulldogs pulled away from a 14-all halftime score, holding CL/G-LR scoreless over the final two frames.
Algona features a multi-faceted rushing attack.
Veteran running back Wyatt Wegener is fifth in 2A with 1,218 rushing yards thanks to an insane 14 yards per carry average. The senior is tied for second in the state with 20 rushing touchdowns. He’s scoring at a rate of nearly one touchdown per every three rushes (87 carries). He’s also quite the receiving threat, hauling in 25 receptions for 599 yards and six touchdowns (24 yards per catch). Wegener has tallied 1,817 total yards and 26 touchdowns, most certainly the most dynamic back Greene County will have faced.
“We have to get him before he gets going out in the open,” Duncan said. “If he ever does break loose, or really at any time, we have to gang tackle. Get a rally going with as many white jerseys to him as we can.”
Three different Algona backs have rushed for at least 500 yards and six touchdowns. Garrett Schmidt has tallied 601 rushing yards on 80 carries (7.5 ypc), scoring nine times while Monte Bawden has toted the rock just 65 times compiling 505 yards (7.7ypc) and six touchdowns.
Wegener is a physical back with size and power. He’s not easy to bring down, breaking multiple tackles almost every time he touches the ball. Any attempts to take out his ankles will be met with a swift escape, as noted by his 14 yards a pop average.
“It’s going to be hard to single tackle him, and it’s especially hard once he’s turned his shoulders and he’s going north and south,” Duncan said. “He’s extremely fast and he’s strong. He’s just a really, really good athlete. We have to really try to contain him.”
Algona deploys a fair amount of misdirection, at times sending three potential ball carriers at the quarterback on any given play, hoping to dupe the defense. They tend to line up Wegener on the outside edge, giving him momentum before he reaches the handoff. The bruising back ran for 135 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries in the Bulldogs’ 35-14 win over CL/G-LR while Schmidt ran for 98 yards and two TDs in addition to Manske’s 79 yards and a score. Manske threw the ball just six times thanks to Algona’s 326 rushing yards and five touchdowns.
Deception is the main goal, which means the Greene County defense needs to be prepared for any possible outcome.
“It’s tough because if you’re staring in the backfield, you’re going to be really confused,” Duncan said. “You have to watch the linemen and be really disciplined. You have to know what your gap is, what your responsibility is.”
Misdirection and confusion aren’t Greene County’s only concerns, either. Algona has some decent size, spearheaded by senior Gavin Meints, who’s listed at 6-03 and 270 pounds. Wegener is listed at 6-2 and 190 pounds. He’s certainly no easy task.
“Even if you have everything perfectly lined up, they’re really big up front,” Duncan said. “They’re really fast running backs, they run really hard. They’re going to be tough to defend. We have to match the physicality and we can’t give up any big plays.
They’re very diverse. They have a whole bunch of different plays. It’s going to be a challenge.”
While Algona prefers to run the ball, and rightfully so, quarterback Tyler Manske can more than hold his own. He’s completed 61 percent of his passes for 1,187 yards and 12 touchdowns against just four interceptions.
Defensively, Algona gives up an average of 13.4 points per game. Webster City and Spirit Lake both scored more than 30 on the Bulldogs defense while Humboldt (2-7) rang up 27 in the season-opener.
Wegener is also a force on defense, tallying the third most tackles on the team (34.5) to go with a team-leading three interceptions. Cole Lewis leads the team with 68.5 tackles and six sacks (seventh in 2A). Algona is tops in the state with 27 team sacks. Additionally, the Bulldogs are eighth in interceptions with 11.
Duncan expects Algona to deploy a 3-3 defense, with three down lineman and three linebackers, two of which also play on the offensive line. It’s an in your face defense, aided by bone-crushing hits and again, deception.
“They are physical, run-stuffing type guys,” Duncan said. “They’re going to be tough to pick up when they blitz. They are big and strong. We’re going to try to exploit them in the passing game or at least, get out on the edges as much as possible, whether it’s the run game or the passing game, trying to use our speed.”
Algona’s secondary has speed as well, which may cause problems for a potent Ram passing attack. Greene County knows they have their work cut out for them.
Precision will be key. If the Rams can establish a quick lead, it may be tough for Algona to claw back in time with a run-heavy attack.
“Our offense has to be really efficient early on and we’ve got to finish when we get opportunities,” Duncan said. “We can’t have drives when get down in the red zone and then don’t convert on any points.
Hopefully, we can take some things away defensively and make them do some things that they’re not comfortable doing. Make them play from behind. That’s not something that they’ve had to do very often this year.”
Friday’s winner earns a spot in the 2A state semifinals Saturday, Nov. 16 at the UNI Dome in Cedar Falls.