The Early Lead: Defense is the early-season MVP
By BRANDON HURLEY
The score may not show it, but the Rams were closer to an upset than you’d think.
A 31-12 defeat on the scoreboard doesn’t look to encouraging, but for those in attendance, it was much closer than the 19-point margin.
Particularly, thanks to the tremendous defensive effort.
The Rams held second-ranked Dallas Center-Grimes of the scoreboard for the entire first quarter, and didn’t allow a first down until 14 minutes into the game. That, right there, was a win in itself, as I said in this week’s coaches show.
After a 41-7 shellacking a week prior – in which the running clock started early in the third quarter – it was a huge morale booster to come out and hold a highly-ranked squad stagnant.
When the Rams fell down 21-0 at the half, they could’ve folded, given up on the contest and let the score balloon, shifting their focus to week four. But no, the defense looked rejuvenated after a less-than-pleasing second period, stifling the DC-G offense, letting them cross the 50-yard line just once in the second half – on the opening drive.
They locked in, picked off two passes within 10 minutes of each other, bottled up dual-threat quarterback Damon Clapper and allowed just three offensive points.
The only DC-G touchdown of the second half came on a blocked field that was returned for a touchdown. Other than that, the Mustangs never threatened to score except for a field goal as time expired.
Clayton Smith was the far and away leader in Grimes, coming up with two interceptions, a pick-six and 10 tackles. He sparked that Ram defense and put a charge in the sidelines. It was a far cry from the second half in week 2, in which the Rams allowed two quick touchdowns early to kick-start the running clock.
Greene County’s coach, Mitch Moore, noticed what Friday’s performance – despite the loss – did to morale.
“To me, just watching the game and not playing in it and watching it on film, and comparing them to Harlan, I said ‘holy cow, they are a better football team.’ But now, going back and looking at it, that Harlan team was pretty big and pretty physical and they wore on us,” Moore said. “We are going in the right direction, we just have to find a way to learn how to win.
As frustrating it is to lose these games, we are really close to getting those little details right, close to turning a seven yard play into a touchdown.
The receiving core has potential and that’s where the Rams will need to key in on. In order for this particular offense to churn out points, with a smaller than average offensive line at the 3A level, is to get the wide receivers in space, making plays, using their quickness.
Carter Morton, a speedy sophomore, is one of those guys who was stepping up early last week. He made a couple of drive-extending catches in just his third varsity game.
“Carter Morton is a guy that works his tail off,” Moore said. “He’s a sophomore and has a long way to go, but he’s a talented kid. He’s long, he’s got some speed, he’s understanding the position more.
He made a great fourth down conversion, made a guy miss. But if he would’ve done the play right and turned to the outside, he might have scored.
He made catches in big time catches in big time situations.”
It’s a fairly young receiving corps that has shown brief flashes of brilliance. A group that has significant depth, too. Trey Hinote went over 150 yards in week one, Lance Hughes made a great touchdown catch in week one, Jordan Patterson has two straight weeks with a touchdown, and Morton is making strides. The receivers are the x-factor to an incredibly stagnant Greene County offense.
“The biggest thing that keeps coach Cole Jaeschke and I up at night is why aren’t we scoring?” Moore said. “We will look good in practice doing things. Trey Hinote is really, really talented. Lance Hughes is a talented kid and just needs to control his excitement. You add a kid like Jordan Patterson, a kid who’s done everything right since I’ve gotten here as your senior leader. I’ll take those four together with anyone in the state.
The coach continued, “What we’ve got to do from a receiver standpoint is refine those little things. Our alignment was just a little off. Catching the ball with your hands all the time, never letting it hit your body. The only way is to get more experience is playing on Friday nights, to really understand the pace of the game and the pressure that is on you with the spotlight.”
Yes, penalties hurt, and yes, the defense got a little lax in the second quarter, and there may have been a few dropped balls here and there, but the potential is there. You can see the team chemistry, you can see the communication throughout the team, you can see the positive energy. You can feel the changes being made. Many high school teams, when presented with a 21-point halftime deficit against the No. 2 team in the state would’ve thrown in the towel – and maybe past Greene County teams would’ve done the same, and in a way they did the week prior – but there’s something to these guys. They want to win, and win badly.
“You have to battle some adversity and you have to find ways to overcome those things,” Moore said.
With that, Moore knows, even in a loss, there were some great things to take away last week. His team, has a special feel to it, and they are starting to come together and become a cohesive unit.
“I’ve never been apart of a team that’s been 0-3 and had two standing ovations. That is a credit to our players,” the coach said. “They just play hard. They are understanding what it’s like to play for a team, fight for the guy next to you and not worry about yourself. You could see all 60 guys on our roster fighting, caring and helping each other out.
We are embracing the aspect that you can’t win without everybody.”
On to the picks for week 4…
Robert Lawson of Jefferson was our winner in week 3 of the Bee’s weekly football contest, picking 15 of 16 games correctly, winning the tie-breaker, predicting a total score of 810, which was just two off of the actual score (808). Kamden Kinne of Jefferson finished second with 15 correct picks (880 total score) while Lane Fields of Maquoketa came in third with a record of 14-2.
I went 13-4 last week and my season record sits at 37-12. Here’s what I think will happen this week.
1. Dallas Center-Grimes at Ballard
2. Iowa Falls-Alden at Gilbert
3. Perry at Boone
4. Webster City at Greene County
5. Carroll at ADM
6. Clarinda at Kuemper Catholic
7. Iowa State at Akron
8. North Texas at Iowa
9. Clemson at Louisville
10. Wisconsin at BYU
11. Tennessee at Florida
12. Purdue at Missouri
13. LSU at Mississippi State
14. Kansas State at Vanderbilt
15. Miami at Florida State
16. Northern Illinois at Nebraska