Football: Predicting the future
by Brandon Hurley
I'll admit it, I was off a bit last year. But that's a good thing, isn't it? Journalists are meant to be wrong, if we were right all the time, what would be the fun in that?
But, here I am again, ready to do battle with the hottest talking heads of the area. The Rams were 8-2 overall last year, tied atop Class 2A, District 9 at 4-1 with Kuemper Catholic and secured a return to the playoffs. I predicted them to go 5-4, still a massive jump off of back-to-back 1-8 seasons.
This season certainly has high expectations heaped on the Rams. Greene County will lean on a heavy stable of returning starters in what should be another promising year.
Let's not dwindle any longer, allow me to introduce the second annual Jefferson Herald football prediction column. A piece in which I break down all nine games and try to guess how the Rams do. At the end, I'll provide my predicted record and where I believe Greene County will land in the district standings. Remember, these are guesses.
I have high expectations for the Rams this year, who take aim at a district title and potentially, a home playoff game.
And yes, you'll have to read through the entire column to find out my prediction. Here's to hoping I'm a little more spot on this time around. Life takes practice. Boom goes the dynamite.
Week 1 vs. Perry (Aug. 30)
2018 result: 14-6, Greene County
The annual battle for the historic Cowbell, one of Iowa's oldest rivalries, remains intact for yet another year.
On paper, this should be a slaughter, in Greene County's favor.
Perry didn't win a single game last season, losing nine straight. The Bluejays scored just 15 total touchdowns, averaging 11.5 points per game. Piling on that long losing streak is the loss of dual threat quarterback Kaleb Olejniczak, who totaled 12 touchdowns and 1,127 yards last year, which accounted for 80 percent of their scoring. That's a pretty tough one to replace.
The Bluejays do return two of their top pass catchers but they need to find a new running back, as well. Defensively, Olejniczak was far and away PHS' top tackler as well (101 tackles). Cole Snyder is the only returning defending with at least 40 tackles in 2018.
While the last two Cowbell matchups have been incredibly tight - Perry won in OT in 2017 and Greene County won by just eight a year ago - I see the Rams not having too much trouble this time around. Greene County comes away with their fourth Cowbell victory in five years, a nice warm up for a somewhat tricky regular season.
Week 2 at Nevada (Sept. 6)
2018 result: 38-10, Greene County
This should be a decent early season test for a 1-0 Greene County squad. Though Nevada was just 3-6 last season they return one of the top statistical quarterbacks in all of 2A. Kody Kruschwitz threw for the fourth most yards in the state as a junior, tallying 2,247 yards and 20 touchdowns while completing 61 percent of his passes. The soon-to-be senior will have to rely on a new stable of receivers this fall, though, as his top four pass catchers graduated in the spring.
Greene County held Kruschwitz to just 192 yards and a single touchdown, forcing an interception and a 52.6 completion percentage last fall. The 192 yards were well below the gun-slinger's average of 250 yards and two touchdowns per game.
Defensively, the Cubs graduated five of their top six tacklers as well.
Because of what Nevada lost, and despite it being Greene County's first road game of the year, I see the Rams pulling this one out with relative ease. Nevada may put a couple touchdowns on the board, but their defense is nowhere near talented enough to curtail the Brent Riley and company.
Week 3 vs. Saydel (Sept. 13)
2018 result: 68-0
Greene County absolutely blasted an out-matched Saydel squad a year ago in Des Moines. And while I think this should be yet another blowout in favor of the hometown Rams, I don't think it'll be as gory. I could be wrong, though. Greene County has certainly surprised me before.
Saydel won just a single game in nine tries last year and only scored more than 10 points on three separate occasions. The Eagles averaged a dismal 6.6 yards per play while the defense allowed a staggering 42 points per game, just twice holding an opponent under 20 points.
Quarterback Cash Lee, who accounted for 1,387 total yards and eight touchdowns graduated. Their top running back is gone as is their top receiver. If we know anything about high school football, the most unlikely players can step up and have a huge impact. But I don't envision Saydel grabbing hold of that notion.
Many of the Greene County athletes that crushed the Eagles a year ago are back. Quarterback Brent Riley threw for three touchdowns, one of which went to Carter Morton while tailback Colby Kafer ran for 117 yards and two touchdowns.... on just seven carries.
With red-hot Greene County back home, this should be a relative cakewalk. It could turn into a blood-bath quickly. A win here will boost Greene County's record to a perfect 3-0 with a big showdown waiting the following week.
Week 4 vs. Gilbert (Sept. 20)
2018 result: 46-7, Greene County
***EDITOR'S NOTE: Gilbert quarterback Matt Barragy graduated in the spring. He will not be under center for the Tigers****
This easily is the toughest non-district game of the year and could become a gigantic swing game. By now, if they weren't already, Greene County should be ranked in the Class 2A top 10, undefeated and looking to cap off yet another undefeated non-district slate.
I see this as a narrow loss for Greene County for a variety of reasons. You may look at Gilbert's 3-6 record a year ago and wonder why I'd pick the Tigers to pull off the upset. For starters, they are a 3A squad, which generally means they have a deeper roster.
Outside of their blowout loss to Greene County in 2018, the Tigers only lost by double digits on two other occasions. Three of their losses were by nine points or less, including a six point loss to North Polk. The Tigers also played in a fairly respectable district last fall with Ballard, Norwalk, Bondurant-Farrar and Carlisle. Three of those teams posted winning records and not a single club won less than three games.
Sprinkle a revenge factor into that and there's definitely a fire burning under the surface. The Tigers certainly don't like getting embarrassed on their home turf at the hands of a 2A squad.
It's tough to predict who will carry the ball out of the backfield, as six guys gained at least 100 yards a year ago and all but two were underclassmen. They'll have a new quarterback under center as well. Gilbert's leading tackler, Cooper Hurn (73 tackles) is back as is Cayden Mesken, who recorded 12 sacks to go with 16 tackles for loss. The defense should be improved, which is why I see Greene County falling in a relatively tight one, dropping them to 3-1 on the year.
Week 5 at Shenandoah (Sept. 27)
2018 result: 62-0, Greene County
Class 2A, District 9 play begins with quite the trek.
The long, dreaded road trip to Shenandoah arrives in week five, a 268 mile round trip cruise to southwestern Iowa. The Rams absolutely demolished the Mustangs a year ago, setting a number of defensive records en route to finishing off a 5-0 start. Greene County, despite the long road trip, should be extremely motivated to kick-start the district slate. They'll be fresh off a loss to Gilbert, ready to get back on the winning track. Shenandoah did not win a single game last year, losing nine straight. They struggled to score on a weekly basis, putting up double-digit points on just two occasions. The Mustangs were shut out twice and allowed an average of 38 points per game. This won't be a 60-point thrashing like it was a year ago, but I could easily see the Rams winning by a four touchdown margin to get back in the win column with authority.
Week 6 vs. Kuemper Catholic (Oct. 4)
2018 result: 16-8, Kuemper
This is THE game of the 2019 schedule. If it all breaks down the way it should, Greene County and Kuemper Catholic should yet again be the favorites to win the district title. These programs have traded blows the last several years. The two previous meetings have been decided by no more than eight points though Kuemper clings to a three year winning streak. Not only will this pit the district's top two teams against each other, but it will also feature two of the area's premier players as well. Greene County offensive tackle and ISU commit Tyler Miller will hope to keep KHS defensive end and Nebraska commit Blaise Gunnerson out of the backfield. A rare Class 2A matchup of two highly touted recruits. It becomes even more spicy knowing Gunnerson didn't even see the field last year because of an injury.
The Knights will be hungry to make it four straight victories. They return their quarterback from a year ago, Cole Collison, who threw for 1,262 yards and 14 touchdowns. They do have to replace their running back Nate Wendl (790 yards, five touchdowns) and top receiver Justin Schaefer (20 rec., 352 yards, 4 TDs) but the defense should be fairly strong yet again. Kyle Snyder (82.5 tackles) will be tough to replace at linebacker, but the Knights are notorious for rolling out a strong defense.
This is probably the toughest game for me to decide. Both teams will be well coached - Kuemper rarely makes mistakes - and the intensity of the rivalry should heat things up a bit as well. On paper, Greene County should win this one, with the returning talent they have on offense and defense and the comforts of the home crowd cheering them on. This has to be Greene County's year, right? The Rams, led by a huge game from the dynamic duo of Brent Riley and Carter Morton, pick up the much needed victory in a tight one to move to 5-1 on the year.
Week 7 at Atlantic (Oct. 11)
2018 result: 35-21, Greene County
Last season's breakout was in jeopardy early on in the Rams' home bout with Atlantic. The Trojans took each of Greene County's first two punches in stride and actually held a halftime lead. Then the Rams turned it on and eventually prevailed.
I believe Greene County will be in for quite the scare yet again this fall. The Trojans will be a tough out even if they can no longer rely on the elusive Chase Mullenix (1,119 yards, 6 TDs) at quarterback. The Trojans were a mere 3-6 a year ago and struggled to score points at times. They do return leading-rusher Tyler Moen (416 yards, seven TDs) who was also their top receiver at 34 catches, 378 yards and three touchdowns. Collin Mullenix could pose a decent threat as he scored a few touchdowns as a sophomore. I don't exactly know why, but I feel the Trojans have the potential to pull off the big upset. Maybe it's the hangover from a massive win over a rival or they just overlook the Trojans, but there's something here.
Atlantic won't win, though it'll be close. There's a game or two this season that may surprise a few people and come out of left field. This isn't one.
The Trojans make this a high-scoring affair, somewhere in the high 20s, low 30s range but they can't spoil Greene County's hopes of an undefeated district season. The Rams overcome the pesky Trojans and improve to 6-1 overall and a perfect 3-0 in district play.
Week 8 vs. Red Oak (Oct. 18)
2018 result: 35-14, Greene County
Red Oak was the surprise team of the district, for a brief moment a year ago. That notion has me a bit weary as we trudge into week eight. The Rams should be ready. Greene County manhandled a red-hot Red Oak team last season by three touchdowns, and this year's home tilt shouldn't be much different. Red Oak started the year on a 4-2 tear, definitely surprising this writer before finishing on a three-game skid to wrap it up at 4-5. A season of promise quickly derailed.
The Tigers will struggle on offense this go around. They averaged 20 points per game a year ago but must replace their starting quarterback and a running back. This shouldn't be that much of a cakewalk though Red Oak's strength (rush offense) will be Greene County's forte yet again on defense. Justin McCunn (729 yards and 5 TDs) and Carter Maynes (704 yards, 4 TDs) split carries with Codie Bentley (767 yards, 8 TDs) a year ago. Now that Bentley is gone, Maynes and McCunn should see an even greater uptick in carries.
I just don't see a one-dimensional offense having much luck against Greene County's front seven that includes Tyler Miller, Will Hansen and Nick Breon. The Rams snuff out the Tigers, winning by a couple of touchdowns and improve to a sparkling 7-1 while remaining a perfect 4-0 in district play.
Week 9 at OA-BCIG
2018 result: 49-6, Greene County
Greene County should be highly-ranked at this point with a 7-1 record. But a season finale way out west is never an easy task. I think this is the year it'll be too tough to overcome, even for the sizzling Greene County Rams.
OA-BCIG may be a bit of a mystery at quarterback hoping to replace the electric Kaden Ludwig, but they do return one of the best wide receivers in the entire state in junior Cooper Dejean. The then sophomore led the district with 66 receptions, 1,023 yards and 12 touchdowns a season ago. Dejean was third in 2A in yardage, fourth in receptions but was tied for first with 12 touchdowns. He'll only get better this season as his pure athleticism continues to blossom. Then junior Jake Nieman was fourth in the district last fall with 500 yards, 43 receptions (2nd) and four touchdowns. That right there is easily the top receiving duo in the district. Even if the Falcons can't even sniff Ludwig's production from a year ago (3, 387 yards and 44 touchdowns, which was the best total in 2A), they'll still have a pair of trusty receivers to chuck the ball to.
The Rams did, a bit shockingly, dismantle OA-BCIG in last season's finale, but that may add some extra fuel to the fire. The Falcons were on an absolute tear, entering the game at 7-1 before Greene County blew them out. I think this year's contest will be a bit different, a high-scoring affair with the Falcons prevailing. Almost an exact reversal a year later. OA-BCIG doesn't spoil Greene County's district title hopes, but the Falcons do halt that cherished perfect league record.
With a 7-2 overall record and a pretty dang solid 4-1 record in district play, I see the Rams winning the Class 2A, District 9 title. Kuemper will likely stumble one other time along the way and I can't necessarily see OA-BCIG, even with their talent at receiver, able to pull off the district title.
Allow me clear the air a little bit now the predictions have passed over. Greene County certainly has the talent and potential to be an eight-win team again this year. Heck, they may even run through district play with an undefeated record. There's that much returning skill and experience to choose from. Heck, the Rams will be a fairly confident squad at that. They'll be tough to stop on offense, but the question is whether or not the defense will be strong enough to keep others off the board.
Once the dust settles the Rams will sit comfortably at 7-2 overall, earning an automatic bid to the Class 2A playoffs thanks to their district title win. That honor should result in a first round playoff game at home. When was the last time that happened?
Strap in and brace for a fun and wild ride.