week 9 Preview: GAME OF THE CENTURY
By BRANDON HURLEY
Win and the celebrations begin. Finally, the tantalizing showdown has arrived.
In a way, the playoffs get underway Friday. Fourth-ranked Greene County’s Week 9 finale has it all. It’s what we’ve all been waiting for.
The 8-0 Rams travel to Ida Grove Friday to take on fifth-rated OA-BCIG in a regular season finale of unbeatens.
Not much gets better than this. A Top 10 battle for the ages. Two incredible offenses. Sixteen combined wins, no losses between the two. Sheer and utter dominance in the de-facto Class 2A, District 9 title game. Winner takes the championship with a perfect 5-0 record, securing an undefeated regular season and an automatic playoff birth.
Even Greene County’s most veteran athletes can’t help but take notice of the magnitude of Friday’s battle, either. They’ve had this one circled for awhile.
“This is the fun part of high school football. It’s a great feeling to know that, an 8-0 versus an 8-0 team (are going up against each other),” Greene County linebacker Nick Breon said. “Just soak it all in and have a fun time. It’s going to be a fun night.”
Friday night’s tilt may be as big a game any Ram will ever take part in, across all sports. A win and the district title is theirs. What adds an even more interesting layer is how Greene County was the last team to beat OA-BCIG in the regular season, a 49-6 thrashing in the 2018 finale, stopping the Falcons short of a district title.
The rare, high-stakes competition can set even the most even-keeled athlete over the edge. The challenge, Greene County head coach Caden Duncan said, is to prevent his guys from getting too emotional.
“We’re going to be fired up. Everybody’s going to be fired up, to an extent. But we (have) to keep it controlled,” the coach said. “We’ve done a pretty good job of that. We’ve had a few games this year that were kind of our marquee games and we’ve come out very composed and very, very, very intense, but kind of a controlled intensity.”
A Greene County win not only secures a district title and an undefeated season, but it essentially guarantees a top four seed come playoff time. A win over the fourth-rated team in the Class 2A RPI rankings would likely vault the Rams inside that top four (they are currently sixth), almost assuring two home playoff games. Greene County hasn’t been faced with an high-stakes opportunity like this in 13 years. The magnitude of the moment isn’t lost on the first year head coach, but his job now is to keep his guys level-headed.
“I’m hoping (our intensity and composure) is going to continue, but we have to take it one game at a time,” Duncan said. “We can’t be looking at how this going to set us up for playoffs or anything. We’re going to play a good team and we (have) to be focused on them and do everything that we can do to win a ballgame and win a district championship.”
If that’s not enough ammunition to excite even the most casual of football fans, the dazzling statistics certainly should do it. Here comes an onslaught of mouth-watering numbers to warm you up for Friday’s blockbuster.
OA-BCIG is unlike any offensive juggernaut the Rams have faced over the last two seasons. They can really light it up, and strike quick.
Greene County is averaging 44 points per game, the third best total in all of 2A. Guess who is No. 1? OA-BCIG, scoring at a magnificent clip of 50 points per game. The Falcons have failed to score 50 just three times this year, each of which exceeded the 40 point mark. Adding to that, OA-BCIG is third in all of 2A statistically with an average of 411 total yards per game.
Greene County isn’t far behind in seventh with a sparkling average of 399 yards per contest. OA-BCIG is first in 2A with 50 total touchdowns while the Rams are tied for fifth with 42 touchdowns. The Falcons have been nearly unstoppable at home, averaging 49 points per game in their four wins while allowing a stout 8.25 points per contest defensively.
It’s quite the challenge for a veteran Greene County defense, but certainly not one the Rams aren’t ready for, as they’ve held opponents to an average of 10.6 points per game.
“We’ve got to keep them in the pocket as much as possible. We’ve got to lock down the receivers,” Duncan said. “We’ve done a pretty good job of locking down receivers over the year. Our defense has been very good, but we have not seen a quarterback quite like (Cooper DeJean) yet. He’s very explosive with his arm and his legs.”
Ridiculous athleticism is the easiest way to describe OA-BCIG quarterback Cooper DeJean.
The junior has cemented himself amongst the pantheon of the most incredible athletes in Class 2A history. The gun-slinger led the state in touchdown receptions last year and was one of four receivers to break the 1,000-yard mark, only to become the state’s most prolific, dual threat quarterback this year. Can’t be many occasions in history when a 1,000-yard receiver becomes a 2,000-yard passer the following year.
DeJean has compiled 2,714 total yards and 44 touchdowns, both the top marks in Class 2A. He has thrown for 2,036 yards (fourth in 2A) while tossing a state-best 30 touchdowns.
Greene County quarterback Brent Riley isn’t far behind in second with 27 passing touchdowns and just three interceptions to go with 1,786 yards.
Greene County offensive lineman Tyler Miller doesn’t seem to think the Ram defense will have much trouble slowing DeJean and company. While the junior signal-caller has speed unlike anything the Rams have faced this year, Miller believes a little physicality will shake him.
“We have to contain him because he’s such an athlete. He’s a good player,” Miller said. “But we also have a bunch of athletes on our team. I think across the board we are better and (we have) a lot of athletes to track him down and contain him. I’m not worried about it.”
DeJean’s pure speed and ability to make accurate throws on the run is what makes him so dangerous. He also does not shy away from contact. He’s not afraid to tuck the ball and run straight up the gut or directly into contact. He’s remarkably dangerous with his legs, rushing for 678 yards and 14 touchdowns, tied for the seventh-best total in the state, averaging a spectacular 11.9 yards per carry. He’s garnered some light interest from the University of Iowa, taking an unofficial on campus visit last month, while he’s also had looks from Iowa State and North Dakota State as well.
DeJean’s accuracy and incredible touch makes him even more dangerous when combined with his exceptional athleticism.
Breon and his defensive counterparts have spotted a hole in DeJean’s game on film, though. They aren’t going to allow him to see the entire field and pick his spots, they are going to meet him with contact.
“If you get a chance, you have to hit him. Hit him as hard as you can,” the linebacker said. “He’s a really good player. But we have to hit him, that’s all we’ve been talking about.”
Not only must the Rams keep an incredibly close eye on DeJean, but they need to slow down wide receiver Jake Nieman, who’s second in 2A with 864 yards and 13 touchdowns on 48 catches. Those 13 touchdowns are tops in the state, only ahead of Greene County’s Carter Morton and Columbus Catholic’s Ben Sinnott, who each have hauled in 11 touchdowns.
OA-BCIG’s electric offense will be Greene County’s stiffest test since their week two nail-bitter against Nevada. The Cubs were the only Ram opponent to score more than 22 points on them.
“We’re gonna try to contain them as best as possible and we might give him some different looks,” Duncan said of Greene County’s defensive game plan. “We’ve played a lot of man-to-man coverage this year and we’ve been locking people down for the most part. I’m looking forward to how we match up. I think we have some pretty favorable matchups.
I want to keep the pressure on them. We’ve been an attacking defense all year, the bringing the fight to the offense, and that’ll continue this week.”
Defensively, the Rams are fifth in 2A with 11 interceptions while OA-BCIG has come away with nine picks, three alone from, who else, but DeJean, two of which went for scores. Oh, DeJean also wreaks havoc on defense, too. He took an interception back 36 yards for a score last week against Kuemper Catholic, one of his six total touchdowns in the 41-0 win.
As a team, the Falcons have scored five defensive touchdowns to go with four special teams touchdowns. OA-BCIG has held its last four opponents to seven points or less, including a 41-0 shutout of Kuemper. Duncan expects the Falcons to run a 4-3 base defense, with four linebackers roaming the middle, attempting to hid their lack of size.
“They aren’t very big, so we’re expecting that we can have some balance,” the coach said. “That’s kind of been a theme for the whole year. We don’t want to come out and just sling the ball everywhere. But we don’t want to just run the ball either. We’re going to come out with a balanced attack and find our matchups.
Duncan continued, “They’re very aggressive, very aggressive on defense, they fly around a lot of speed, things like that. Maybe we can take advantage of that if they are over aggressive.”
Quietly, Class 2A, District 9 has become one of the state’s most top heavy groupings. District 4 also lays claim to a pair of top five teams – No. 1 Waukon (8-0) and No. 6 Waterloo Columbus (7-1).
Greene County moved back up to No. 4 in the latest AP Class 2A rankings a week after falling to five thanks to Des Moines Christian’s 41-13 loss to unranked Chariton. OA-BCIG has reached its highest ranking at No. 5.
The Falcons’ schedule has been fairly light, similar to Greene County’s, minus a convincing win over Class 3A’s Storm Lake (48-26). The Falcons have an average margin of victory of 38.6 points per game. Greene County on the other hand, has been nearly as dominant, winning by an average of 33.3 points per game.
Friday’s victor, with kick-off set for 7 p.m. in Ida Grove, will have an inside track to the UNI Dome. Greene County is in search of its first undefeated regular season in 13 years and first home playoff game since 2013.
There’s so much riding on this showdown.
“A (win) would be huge. Especially, an outright district championship, not sharing it with anybody, no ties or anything like that,” Duncan said. “It really sets the bar high for the program and it’s something that no one can ever take away from you. Something that the kids will never forget and the coaches won’t forget. It’s just a really cool memory. It’s an important thing for the program and for the community.”