2A Football: THAT’S A PLAYOFF WIN, BABY
By BRANDON HURLEY
URBANDALE - Patience defined greatness in Greene County’s generation-defining victory.
A methodical, time-killing third quarter drive replaced the Rams’ usual quick-strike offense, propelling the state’s eighth seed to an emphatic first round playoff win.
Greene County fought back from a pair of one score deficits and used a dominant defensive second half to snag the first postseason win in GCHS history, a 35-21 victory Friday, Nov. 1 over Des Moines Christian.
It was a dominating and well-executed performance. The Rams held the Lions scoreless for 35 straight minutes while ripping off 28 unanswered points.
As the final seconds ticked away, years of suffering, anxiety and disappointment evaporated. The Greene County Rams were victorious.
“(This) is amazing,” Greene County senior Tyler Miller said. “This group of seniors, everybody works their butt(s) off. We really came out and got the W. Last year, it was a tough one (losing to Benton in the first round). This year, it was almost a revenge game.”
Greene County (9-1) has come quite a long way since a two year, two-win stretch a handful of years ago.
After enduring a 1-8 campaign as sophomores and a demoralizing playoff loss a year ago, the Greene County senior class achieved redemption. They are proud owners of history and a game from returning to the Dome.
It was that long, second half drive that did it. The Rams showed their resiliency after falling down 14-7 in the opening frame. They were the ones poised and unflappable.
The game-sealing drive was set up on their own 44 after Greene County sacked DMC’s Jackson Waring on a fourth down attempt. What ensued was a master class in ball control and poise.
The drive was spearhead by nearly 10 carries from senior tailback Colby Kafer and capped off by the night’s star, Carter Morton. When Morton’s short touchdown run put Greene County up 28-14, only a minute remained in the period. Realizations of a playoff win were creeping closer thanks to the most important drive in GCHS history.
“That was huge because we were still on the edge,” Greene County head coach Caden Duncan said. “But once we went up by two scores and playing the way we were – obviously we can’t relax at all in the playoffs – but it let us take a deep breath and refocus. We had a good response and then we went into finish mode.”
The Greene County defense, which allowed just a single second half touchdown with four seconds remaining in the contest, rewarded the methodical Ram offense on the ensuing drive. Linebacker Nick Breon recovered a Des Moines Christian fumble to kick-start another back-breaking drive.
The Ram offense took advantage of the early fourth quarter turnover, as quarterback Brent Riley’s second and final touchdown found the hands of Breon on a game-sealing 27-yard touchdown on fourth and seven.
That back-breaking second half sequence defined a dominant showing. A win that came off the heels of Greene County’s only regular season loss a week prior. Breon noted how the demoralizing defeat to OA-BCIG, 35-13 in week 9, though it ended hopes of an undefeated run, was a much needed wake up call.
“I think that was for a reason,” the two-way player said. “At that point, we thought we could walk in and beat everyone. That just made us want to kill someone.”
Miller, who’s committed to man the Iowa State offensive line next fall, reiterated Breon’s comments. While Greene County would’ve loved to enter the playoffs with a perfect record and a higher seed, the loss in Ida Grove provided a boost in motivation. There was still a lot to play for, capturing that elusive postseason win, in particular.
“Coach (Caden) Duncan said last week was good for us,” Miller said. “It was an eye-opener. It showed what we needed to work on. We fought it out. We battled. It just feels awesome.”
The ball-hawking Greene County defensive front bottled up Waring for the final three quarters. After coming into the contest with 34 total touchdowns and more than 2,300 total yards, Greene County was able to neutralize the talented dual-threat.
Once the Rams fell down 14-7 after a pair of seemingly easy DMC drives, the defense switched up the game plan, shifting a fourth guy onto the line, bolstering the once three-man front. The move flustered Waring and company.
“We were just messing with them with twists (and other things),” Miller said. “I think they got confused. They couldn’t stop me and Gage (Michaelson) inside. It was good.”
Adversity struck early in the Des Moines suburb, and the Greene County Rams showed the poise they’ve developed while compiling one of the most spectacular runs in county history. A 17-3 mark over the last two years, playoff satisfaction after failing the first four tries.
United as one.
The Rams refused to panic. Just like he has so many times before, Morton took matters into his own hands. The senior’s 95-yard kick-off return tied the game at seven, then a few drives later, his 32-yard touchdown rush pulled Greene County out of its final deficit of the night, tying the contest once more at 14. Though the Rams fell behind 14-7, it initiated the comeback, pumping adrenaline through the entire roster. They proceeded to score four straight touchdowns to take a commanding 35-14 advantage. Greene County’s patience had paid off.
“Ever since we were sophomores, we talked about overcoming adversity,” Miller said. “It started with (Mitch Moore) and continued with coach (Caden) Duncan, he’s preached it. We are just looking for the next thing. We know that we still have to deal with it and come out on top.”
When it was all said and done, Morton had tallied nine catches for 125 yards, a receiving touchdown, two rushing touchdowns and the return score. He punched into the end zone three times in the opening half, giving Greene County a comfortable 20-14 lead at the break. The Rams ran with the advantage over the final two quarters, out-scoring DMC 15-0 over a 23-minute span.
Morton now has 20 total touchdowns this fall, hauling in 12 receiving touchdowns to go with three rushing scores and a school record five kick returns for a touchdown. He’s tallied 999 receiving yards on 49 receptions. The receiver has been vital in Greene County’s success. Without him, the Rams would not be a win from the UNI Dome.
“Carter’s really, really smart. He knows everything that’s going on (within) the offense,” Duncan said. “Obviously, he’s extremely explosive. He does everything as hard as he can. If it was up to him, he would never come off the field. We have to force him to come off some times.
Duncan continued, “He’s very aggressive and very violent with his movements. He can break tackles and he’s only 165 pounds. He’s strong and so fast.”
Greene County’s Colby Kafer, after carrying the ball 29 times for 96 yards Nov. 1, is now third in 2A with 1,352 rushing yards. Riley threw for 177 yards and two touchdowns, completing 15 of 20 passes (75 percent) and bumping his season total to 2,202 yards (fifth in 2A) and 29 TD passes (second in 2A). The senior gun-slinger has now compiled 4,882 career yards, just 118 yards short of 5,000. Riley would be the first passer in county history to reach such a mark.
The Rams (9-1) are one win from the UNI Dome, advancing to the 2A quarterfinals thanks to last week’s win. They’ll face third-seeded and undefeated Algona (10-0) Nov. 8 on the road.
Greene County’s slogan since day one of camp has been “committed to excellence.” The Rams sure looked the part the final three quarters a week ago. But, there’s still another goal to achieve. The run isn’t done. For a unit that’s won 17 games the last two years, the time is now.
As Duncan brought his team together following the first round win, he left them with a few electrifying words.
“Quarterfinals, if you don’t know what that means, it means you’re one game away from the Dome,” Duncan said in the post game huddle. “Be smart, stay together and be locked in. Let’s go win a ball game next week and go to the Dome.”