FOOTBALL: PREDICTING THE UNPREDICTABLE
By BRANDON HURLEY
The district race is as wide open as ever.
A year filled with uncertainties likely will produce one of the most compelling district races in quite some time.
Questions abound dominate the preseason headlines. Everything from who will step up to fill the shoes of a historic class to what’ll happen in this wacky, COVID-19 shortened schedule. All teams qualify for the playoffs this year, but how exactly will that impact the game? Some teams will most certainly need a period of quarantine, but when and who is the question.
And if that weren’t enough, we will endure a new, one-year district cycle this fall. The toughest thing to do when new district assignments and classifications are released is to predict how the season will shake out. When you add in an ongoing global pandemic and a huge roster turnover, it all gets a bit murkier.
In Greene County’s case, the unpredictability of the 2020 schedule will likely play in their favor. A fairly young, relatively inexperienced squad will benefit from a district grouping in transition.
Class 2A, District 9 certainly was one of the hardest hit groupings in terms of graduation last fall, as many of the returning and new members look to replace a number of key players.
The biggest domino that fell Greene County’s way is OA-BCIG’s departure down to Class 1A. The Class 2A defending state champions had been a member of Greene County’s district the last two seasons, tallying more than 20 wins along the way. Also gone is Kuemper Catholic, though that’s not as pleasant. Having a built-in, nearby rival as a district foe made things quite interesting the last two years, though I digress.
District 9 is rather saucy, if not winnable for any team on the board. And that’s quite the motivator in Greene County’s case. New to Greene County’s 2A district are 2019 playoff-qualifier Des Moines Christian and Clarinda High School. Returning are Red Oak, Atlantic and Shenandoah.
Before we continue, let’s discuss some of the schedule quirks. COVID-19 forced a bit of a tweak about a month ago. Each school is allowed to play a maximum of seven games. All 2A squads will play their five required district games with a possibility for two, non-district games. Greene County’s non-district opponents are Perry and South Central Calhoun. The 2020 season will begin as normal on Aug. 28, but only last seven weeks. The playoffs consist of six rounds, with the first wave of 32 Class 2A games beginning on Oct. 16.
I’ll preface this column by saying I have no idea what will happen this fall. This year’s prediction is a complete guess, more so than previous years, and I suggest not putting much talk into it. As I’ve done so with this column in the past, I’ll analyze the schedule on a game-by-game basis, predicting the outcome of each. Remember, these are my opinions. I will be right on some and I’ll be drastically wrong.
I also haven’t performed the greatest as a whole, though I did correctly predict the Rams would win their first playoff game in Greene County history a year ago.
With eyes on 2020, head coach Caden Duncan begins his second year at the helm, with a new quarterback, new running back, new top receiver and a revamped offensive line. The 2020 senior class compiled 17 wins and just four losses over the last two years, including securing the consolidated school’s first playoff victory. Brent Riley graduated as Greene County’s all-time leading passer, Colby Kafer tallied the best rushing career in school history, while Carter Morton not only broke the school’s all-time receiving mark, but he became the Rams’ best kick-returner in history. That’s all before you mention the gigantic hole left behind by 6’9” all state offensive lineman Tyler Miller, who is now on scholarship at Iowa State. There are a lot of gaps to fill this year, and it could be rough going for a bit. But, the schedule is rather favorable (only 3 out of Greene County’s 7 opponents last year posted a winning record), like I stated earlier. And GCHS does receive the benefit of having four home games in seven weeks. Regardless, I strive keep the annual tradition alive, which means, I now bless you with the third edition of my football prediction column. Let’s go.
Week 1 (Aug. 28) at Perry
2019 Record: 0-9
Last Meeting: Greene County won, 54-0 in 2019
Ah, the delicious and tantalizing Cowbell game. Greene County has won two straight in one of Iowa’s oldest rivalries, including a spectacular 54-point shutout a year ago. The Rams have won four of the last five meetings between the two schools, with their only loss during that span a 17-14 thriller in overtime. The Bluejays have lost 18 straight games dating back to the 2017 season, going winless in each of the past two seasons. PHS is in a similar boat as Greene County, needing to replace its quarterback, running and top wide receiver.
With that being said, I’m going to take the Rams in this one, despite the massive roster turnover. A new era needs a statement win, and I don’t see Greene County being the team willing to snap Perry’s long losing streak. The Rams get on the board with a 1-0 start to an odd season.
Week 2 (Sept. 4) vs. South Central Calhoun
2019 Record: 10-1
Last Meeting: S. Central Calhoun won, 12-6 in 2014
The Titans of South Central Calhoun have become a perennial football power over the last decade. SCC won 10 straight games to open the 2019 schedule, losing to eventual state champion Van Meter, 10-6 in the Class 1A state quarterfinals. SCC is a dazzling 29-3 over the last three years, compiling 26 regular season wins along the way. This is certainly as tough as non-district games get.
The Titans have a decently stocked cupboard this fall, with quarterback Cole Corey (887 yards, 7 TDs, 6 rushing TDs) leading the way. SCC must replace their top two running backs from a year ago, the duo of Landon Schleisman and Keagen Meyer combining for 21 TDs and 1,300 yards, though junior Blake McAlister (597 yards, eight TDs) should fill in quite nicely. The Titans’ top tackler, Brennan Holder (61.5 tackles, 5 sacks), returns as does their top ballhawk, Jordan Khommanyvong, who picked off a team-best four passes.
I’m sad to admit it, but South Central Calhoun comes away with a victory in Greene County’s home-opener. The Titans are too tough of a program for a re-building Ram team to overcome. GCHS slides into district play with a 1-1 record.
Week 3 (Sept. 11) vs. Atlantic
2019 Record: 4-5
Last meeting: Greene County won, 26-0 in 2019
Class 2A, District 9 play begins in week three, leaving us with a bit of an unusual feeling. But hey, these are the games that really matter, right? Greene County is still in search of that elusive district title after tying for the honor in 2018 and losing grip of the trophy in the regular season finale a year ago. Is this the year? It all starts with the all important game one.
Greene County’s defense will help knock Atlantic out in this one. The Trojans are reeling as they enter the 2020 season, praying they can find a replacement for Class 2A’s leading rusher in Tyler Moen (1,909 yards, 20 touchdowns). Where do the Trojans, who have historically been a run-heavy squad, find their next workhorse? Garret McLaren does return at quarterback for his junior season after throwing for six touchdowns while the Atlantic’s top four leading tacklers are back as well. This may be a fairly low-scoring game, but I think Greene County pulls it out to start district play undefeated, launching themselves back over .500 with a 2-1 record.
Week 4 (Sept. 18) vs. Des Moines Christian
2019 Record: 8-2
Last meeting: Greene County won, 35-21 in the 2019 playoffs
This week 4 matchup has the potential to become the most thrilling game of the entire slate. When you combine DMC’s revenge factor after blowing a first half playoff lead last fall to these same Rams and their access to their state-of-the-art training facilities and talent pool, it sets up for quite the spicy showdown.
Though the Lions must replace 2A’s ninth-best passer in Jackson Waring (1,764 yards, 37 total touchdowns, 3 INT), they’ll be able to restock rather nicely. DMC will sprinkle in a new quarterback, new running backs and an entire new receiving corps, so Greene County definitely has a shot. In the end, DMC pulls out a nail-bitter, sending GCHS to 2-2 overall and 1-1 in district play.
Week 5 (Sept. 25) at Red Oak
2019 Record: 0-9
Last meeting: Greene County won, 60-8 in 2019
Greene County absolutely throttled the hapless Tigers last fall, and unfortunately, things may not go much better this time around. Red Oak possessed rather small and short bench last fall, so I’m sure they don’t have much talent to choose from in 2020. I won’t spend much time dwelling on a team that has lost 12 straight games. The Rams continue their roller coaster season and bump back up to 3-2 overall and 2-1 in district play with an emphatic victory.
Week 6 (Oct. 2) vs. Clarinda
2019 Record: 5-4
Last Meeting: Greene County won, 28-25 in 2013
It’s been several years since these two schools met on the gridiron, so it’s tough to say what we will have in store. The Cardinals were red-hot to open the 2019 schedule, winning four straight games before losing four of their last five. Clarinda could be a rather sneaky team in district 9, even a dark horse title contender, if you’re into that kind of thing. As a 1A squad a year ago, the Cardinals managed to knock off three 2A teams (Shenandoah, Red Oak and Atlantic) all in succession. As a junior, quarterback Michael Shull tallied 12 total touchdowns and nearly 700 yards from scrimmage. He’ll have two of his top four receivers from last fall to throw to, in Cole Ridnour and Xander Pullen. Three players who combined for more than 130 carries and nearly 500 yards and 12 touchdowns are back as Shull, Brendon Stogdill and sophomore Wyatt Schmitt should form a fairly formidable backfield. Clarinda’s secondary should be quite the force as well, as they return a trio of men who corralled six interceptions while recovering five fumbles. This is probably where Greene County unfortunately gets knocked back to earth, with Clarinda sending the Rams to 3-3 overall and 2-2 in district play with a week remaining.
Week 7 (Oct. 9) at Shenandoah
2019 Record: 2-7
Last Meeting: Greene County won, 49-7 in 2019
In an odd and wide open year like this, the district 9 race may likely come down to the final game of the regular season. It wouldn’t be too hard to imagine a gridlock at the top of the standings this late in the schedule, and Greene County likely will be in play for the championship. Thankfully, Shenandoah hasn’t been too formidable of an opponent over the last few years. The Rams have absolutely obliterated the Mustangs’ ground game the past two meetings, and likely, that’s what GCHS will have to do again. Shenandoah must replace their do-everything quarterback from a year ago. As a senior, Kyle Cerven tallied 15 total touchdowns and 1,357 yards, leading the squad in passing and just 50 yards behind in the rushing category.
Shenandoah does return its top rusher, with Morgan Cotten compiling 494 yards and four touchdowns as a sophomore. They’ll need to replace their top pass catcher though Blake Herold hauled in 21 receptions for 212 yards and three touchdowns as a freshman. The defense needs replenished as well, with Shenandoah’s top two tacklers and a trio of their best ballhawks taking stage right for graduation. I’m going with my gut here and giving Greene County the victory in the season finale, securing a winning record (4-3) and a high placement in the district standings with a 3-2 record.
The luxury of automatically qualifying for the 2020 playoffs is nice and all, but entering the postseason with a winning record of 4-3 will be quite the boost for a young and hungry Greene County program. I trust the coaching staff led by Duncan, offensive coordinator Cole Jaeschke and company to have these guys prepared. And who knows, maybe Duncan can type into some of his new dad mojo and pull off a few surprises. Only time will tell, so let’s get it cracking and enjoy some Friday night football.