The Early Lead: The dream season continues
By BRANDON HURLEY
From bottom feeders to the elite in just 12 months.
Even the legends don’t produce this quick of a turnaround.
From 1-8 a year ago to 7-1, ranked in the top 10 and sitting tied atop the district with just a week remaining, the Greene County Rams are THE feel good story of the year.
A six-win, and even possibly seven win improvement is nearly unheard of in football, let alone at the high school level, where they typically only play nine games a year.
The most telling factors for this sudden success are simple – Greene County’s conditioning, their ability to adapt, adjust and shake off adversity, even within their own locker room (the week seven win over Atlantic comes to mind) all while not only learning how to win, but how to close out those victories as well.
That’s something we heard head coach Mitch Moore harp on all of last year during a grueling 3A schedule and throughout the offseason – can this team learn how to win?
I’d say they’ve done a pretty good job of that this fall, seven wins and four plus weeks in the rankings thanks to their best start in more than a decade. They’ve done it all in mostly dominant fashion, trailing in just two of their eight games, outscoring opponents 306 to 74.
The Rams have a chance this Friday to match their best regular season run since 2007, when Jefferson-Scranton/Paton-Churdan went 8-1 before falling in the first round of the playoffs to Hampton-Dumont. That team also lost to Kuemper, not entirely relevant, but interesting at the least.
Learning how to win is a real thing. By my recollection, there were just three close games last year that could’ve went in Greene County’s favor. Every game this fall has either been a win or they’ve had a chance to win or at least tie in the final quarter (the 16-8 loss to Kuemper), making the turnaround even more astounding.
When was the last time that’s happened here? We’d probably have to go back to 2011 at least, maybe even as far back as that 2006-2007 stretch in which J-S/P-C won a combined 19 games.
Moore attributes the late season success, back-to-back gritty wins following their only loss of the year to Kuemper, to a fine-tuned stamina that is often unmatched by their opponents.
“It’s what we did this offseason and what we are continuing to do from a strength and conditioning standpoint to put ourselves in a position to not be worn out in the fourth quarter,” Moore said. “We do an outstanding job of working out and continuing to stay in great shape. We bought into our strength and conditioning program and that’s helping us coach football games.”
There’s more to it, though. There’s a confidence throughout the program, and a belief, as cliche as that sounds, in what Moore and his coaching staff have created this last year and a half, in what the student athletes have created. The program has continued to build excitement, from instilling new traditions like the flag wave before the game, hashtags (#R2D or, Road 2 Dome) and an overall improved marketing scheme.
“There’s a belief that, ‘hey, let’s listen to the coaching and make some in game adjustments and do things where we can finish games,” Moore said. “It starts with our leaders who continue to lead throughout the game.”
The Ram program has transformed its look, from new jerseys, both home and away, to eye-catching logos and sayings splashed throughout the high school. You betcha that creates an extra sense of pride and motivates the players to perform better. On top of that, there’s an additional factor, at least among the senior class, a group that’s tired of losing. One that’s fed up with lingering near the bottom. They wanted to taste success for the first time, and they’ve done it. Now, let’s see how they perform in the biggest game of their lives Friday. They’ve certainly earned it. Two wins in two years before this is punishment enough.
Let’s get down to the hearty meat and potatoes and see exactly what the season finale means, shall we?
Everyone’s attention is turned to 10th-ranked OA-BCIG (7-1, 3-1) and rightly so.
There’s quite a bit on the line, as I covered in the week 9 preview. A possible district title and automatic playoff berth.
But let’s back up a moment, shall we and discuss how this year’s playoff field will be determined. Things will be little different than in the past. The Iowa High School Athletic Association is no longer granting two automatic playoff berths per district. Only the nine, 2A district champions are guaranteed spots, the runner-ups aren’t automatic anymore. The IAHSAA has moved to the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) to determine the seven at-large teams.
Greene County sits at 7-1 overall and 3-1 in 2A, District 9 play, tied with OA-BCIG and Kuemper. The Rams sport an RPI rating of 12.
Here’s what can happen as far as ninth-ranked Greene County’s district title and playoff hopes go:
• If Kuemper losses to Shenandoah (which is unlikely, the Rams beat them 62-0) and Greene County knocks off OA-BCIG Friday, the Rams are the 2018 District 9 champs.
• If Greene County wins and Kuemper wins, the Knights are the district champs, earning an automatic playoff bid.
• If OA-BCIG wins and Kuemper wins, the Falcons take home the title because of their head-to-head win a week ago.
• If OA-BCIG wins and Kuemper loses, OA-BCIG still wins the title and Greene County and Kuemper (depending on their week 9 outcome), all tie for second place, setting in motion a messy playoff process.
Let’s examine Greene County as runner-up, first. The new IHSAA qualifying rules state they will not play the district 9 champion again in the first round, if they were to make the playoffs. The new system is set up to avoid first round rematches. That’s good, especially if the Rams want to host a first round playoff game if they somehow won the district.
The seven at-large bids will be granted to the non-district winners with the highest RPI number, which is determined by taking into account your record, your opponent’s record and your opponent’s opponents record. I know, confusing, but there is somewhat of a method to this madness, one that bodes in Greene County’s favor.
Greene County is tied with Atlantic for the best opponent’s opponents record in 2A, as they’ve won 350 games through eight weeks. The Rams have stayed at number 12 in the RPI Index ratings for two weeks (0.5882), which ranks them ahead of Kuemper (20) and Red Oak (24), both members of District 9. Ideally, the Rams want both Kuemper and Red Oak to win this week to bolster their RPI. Greene County’s RPI is also higher than district-leaders Crestwood (16) West Liberty (18), Williamsburg (19) and potentially Kuemper (if they beat Shenandoah).
What hurts Greene County most is their non-district slate, even though they ran through it without a single blemish. While the competition in district nine is relatively strong, the combined record of Perry, Nevada, Saydel and Gilbert is beyond dismal, as both Saydel and Perry are winless while Nevada and Gilbert have combined for just six wins, which comes out to a total record of 6-26. That’s one of the worst non-district schedules in the state.
Throw in Shenandoah’s winless record and you’ve got five teams on Greene County’s schedule with just a combined six wins and 34 losses. Obviously, not ideal in the grand scheme of the RPI.
What helps the Rams is OA-BCIG. The Falcons’ RPI sky-rocketed to eighth (0.6179) with their win over Kuemper, as their opponent’s opponents have won 346 games.
What will soothe Greene County faithful the most, even if the Rams were to win or lose Friday, is if their RPI stays within the top 16, which allows some leeway for an at-large berth. Right now, Benton (5) Chariton (6) West Marshall (9), Spirit Lake (11) and some version of Southeast Valley (7) or Algona (2) are all ahead of Greene County, all of whom (outside of SEV and Algona, who play each other Friday) will most likely not win a district title.
There’s still a lot in play, with five at-large bids likely ahead of Greene County, which leaves two left, making a win Friday all more important.
Union and West Marshall could theoretically cause a huge log jam in district 7 this week if West Marshall won, or Union could send West Marshall tumbling and Algona could give SEV it’s third loss of the year, likely knocking them out of the top 10.
That doesn’t even take into account what happens to OA-BCIG if they lost to the Rams. Their RPI sure wouldn’t take too much of a hit, though Kuemper would get the automatic berth thanks to the district title.
Regardless of a win or loss, fans won’t have to wait long to learn Greene County’s playoff fate. A list of playoff qualifiers, including the at-large and automatic bids will be released by midnight Friday. A full, 2A bracket with first round match ups should be available by Saturday morning, per the Iowa High School Athletic Association.
Brackets will be re-seeded once the final four is determined and before the semifinal games begin in the UNI Dome Nov. 10 in Cedar Falls.
I won’t even attempt to try and guess who Greene County could play in the first round. I gave it a try and confused myself. I’ll let the IAHSAA tell you all Saturday.
This is what we’ve been waiting for, and it’s finally here. Essentially, a win-or-go home game on Friday, so let’s make the most of it.
Enjoy, folks. I know I will.