Football: Back on track
by BRANDON HURLEY
As the halftime horn rattled through the stands of Linduska Field last week, the once sturdy Greene County football team seemed destined for self-destruction.
Bickering, finger-pointing, blown-coverages, and general disgust had the Rams heading straight toward a demoralizing defeat against a sub .500 Atlantic team.
Things would only get worse in the third quarter as they fell behind by seven in the second half for just the second time all year before finally flipping the switch.
Greene County woke up from their mid-game slumber to rip off 21 unanswered points to not only capture a much-needed victory but also keep their postseason hopes intact.
Ninth-ranked Greene County shook off a heart-breaking week six loss to evade Atlantic (2-5, 0-3), in a 35-21 come-from-behind victory Oct. 5.
The triumph secured the Rams’ their sixth victory of the fall, their first six win season since 2011, while also moving them to 2-1 in 2A, district nine play, just a game and a half-back of Kuemper with two weeks left.
It was a championship display of grit for a team starving for momentum amongst sloppy and damp conditions.
“The resiliency and the effort of this team is why we came out and won in the second half,” Greene County head coach Mitch Moore said. “Not every game is pretty, but to win a game 35-21 at home in this weather, I’m as proud of this team as I have been all year. Our backs were against the wall.”
It was a gutsy performance from his now 6-1 squad, Moore said. The victory was a turning point for a unit teetering on the edge, in danger of suffering back-to-back losses and falling completely out of the district title and playoff chase.
Ironically, coach Moore left the motivating up to his leaders to bring the team back around and eliminate the bickering.
“Going into halftime, I talked to the guys briefly and then left the locker room,” the coach said. “I told the captains, you guys take it. You guys write the narrative. How are you going to respond? We’ve put in nine months of work not to have it crumble and let this game take our season away.”
Clint Dennhardt was one of those leaders, who could be heard harping on a cohesive brotherhood following the victory.
“We were arguing, and we don’t play well like that,” the senior said. “If we just come together and play together, we are a dangerous team.”
It was running back Colby Kafer who ultimately came to the rescue in the final two quarters, showcasing his signature shiftiness en route to a pair of back-breaking touchdowns.
Kafer needed just two plays to tie the game for the third time that night, springing himself around the left side of the line for a 35-yard touchdown, mere moments after Atlantic had taken a second-half lead, 21-14.
Two drives later and Kafer really drove the nail through the coffin. With the score tied at 21 early in the fourth quarter, the junior broke through the line, evading a handful of Atlantic tacklers before cutting back across the field with a few more jump cuts, eventually turning on the jets and into the end zone.
Kafer finished the night with 156 yards and a pair of touchdowns for an 11.1 yards per carry average. He was the difference between a devastating loss and a confidence-building victory.
“His speed (is what makes him so good),” Moore said. “He doesn’t go down with one guy tackling him. He can take angles and make guys miss. He’s got pretty good vision, too.
Most of his long runs are cutbacks.”
Dennhardt, Greene County’s utility knife who has now scored 14 touchdowns in seven games, noticed the potential unraveling, and took matters into his own hands. Moore moved the senior to his old quarterback position midway through the first quarter (Dennhardt played QB the last two seasons), not to throw the ball but to engineer a running game they knew Atlantic couldn’t stop. Dennhardt scored three times, taking direct snaps on various occasions and running right at the Trojan defense, daring them to stop him.
“I trust our offensive line and the guys to block for me,” Dennhardt said. “Whether I’m playing tailback or quarterback, I feel we are going to be successful either way.”
Dennhardt finished with 91 rushing yards on 11 carries, a 6.5 yards per carry average. The switch in offensive scheme was something Moore had confidence in, especially since starter Brent Riley struggled to connect with his receivers.
“We had that package in our offense, regardless of what we were doing,” Moore said. “You could tell that Clint wanted the ball in his hands. We practiced it all week and we knew we needed a third down package. That’s what we weren’t good at against Kuemper. We worked at it and boy it came to fruition.”
Dennhardt is first in the district with 10 rushing touchdowns and first in total rushing and receiving touchdowns with 14. He’s fourth in the league with 616 rushing yards for a 7.9 yards per carry average, which is tops in the district among players with at least 25 carries.
The Greene County defense stood tall when it mattered most as well. After surrendering several fourth-down conversions in the first half, the Rams locked in, holding on three separate second half fourth down tries, keeping Atlantic scoreless for the final 20 minutes while Greene County built their comeback.
Defensive lineman Bryce Hoyle was a monster most of the night, racking up 13 tackles and a sack. It was all thanks to a simple defensive rotation, Moore said.
“We put Bryce on the end and put Tyler Miller on the inside,” the coach said. “Bryce is so fast, he did a great job on containing the (edge). They couldn’t get outside on us. Our linebackers sat back instead of blitzing, so they could see the play happening. We really clamped down.
Really good adjustment by our coaching staff and our players all week. We found a way to respond.”
Carter Morton picked off two Atlantic passes, including a game-sealing pick in the fourth quarter.
Greene County is now second in 2A with 66 tackles for loss, only behind Spirit Lake, who has tallied 75 tackles for loss. The Rams have recorded 17 team sacks, which is 10th in the state. Nick Breon, who added 10 tackles last week, and Will Hansen (9 tackles) are tied for second in the state with 15 tackles for loss each.
Spirit Lake’s Ben Newman leads the way with 16 tackles for loss. Breon, Hansen and Brock Wuebker are tied for the district nine lead with four sacks apiece.
The Rams head southwest to take on Red Oak (4-3, 2-1) Friday, Oct. 12 in week eight action. With two weeks left in the season, it’s a pivotal game for a Rams team that wants to keep improving on their No. 12 RPI rating.
“Everybody is tired right now,” Moore said. “We have to find a way to gain an edge. Find a way to continue this momentum, to start fast and finish these two weeks out.”