Football round 2: Rams rip past Clarinda in efficient second round shutout
By BRANDON HURLEY
The workhorse became the savior in Greene County’s latest playoff triumph.
Running back Nate Black stepped in and magnificently filled a void during the Rams’ Class 2A victory last week, tallying 189 rushing yards and a touchdown, helping power GCHS to its second straight shutout.
By no means was the junior underrated or an afterthought on a talented offensive unit, but he certainly proved his worth Oct. 23. The patient tailback carried the rock a whopping 39 times yet never seemed to tire, pushing GCHS to a 24-0 win over Clarinda for the Rams’ (7-2) seventh win of the year and sixth straight.
Black’s tremendous output had been building for some time. The first-year starter’s patience and ability to hit the open hole grew with each passing week. His strength improved as well. Rarely was he stopped on first contact. When fellow backfield mate Jackson Morton (279 yards, seven touchdowns) bowed out early last week due to an injury, it allowed Black sole position of backfield duties, and excel he did. He sliced through the Clarinda defense with remarkable ease while grinding out the tough yards when Greene County needed them most. His career night was what the Ram coaching staff and head coach Caden Duncan has come to expect out of their workhorse, leaning on his exceptional vision and brute power.
“He’s a tough kid. He’s really fast. He used his explosiveness to get where we call ‘north south,’” Duncan said. “He’s finding his holes and getting ‘north south’ right away. He’s done a good job with ball security , north south right away. Good job with ball security and he’s really close to busting a lot of longer runs. He was close (Oct. 23).
He’s running hard. He’s trusting his lineman, trusting his coaches and I’m really proud of how his improved and continuing to run hard for us.”
The Rams rebounded from an early stalled drive to put up 10 first half points for a two-score halftime advantage. The offense eventually put the Cardinals away over the final two periods, scoring on a Black’s lone touchdown from 23-yards out followed by a Jaxon Warnke reception touchdown.
Black has now tallied a team-best 725 rush yards in nine games for a 5.1 yards per carry average to go with six touchdowns. As a team, the Rams ran for 239 yards. Quarterback Bryce Stalder ran for 47 yards in addition to a five-for-nine for 88 yards and two touchdowns passing performance.
BACK-TO-BACK GOOSE EGGS
The defense is here to stay.
Stalder, who also routinely shutdowns down opposing receivers as a high-quality cornerback, was ecstatic in the postgame huddle following last week’s shutout. He was beyond pleased with another stellar defensive effort, and let his teammates know, pointing at the well-lit scoreboard and eliciting a scream, “That’s a goose egg.”
Keeping playoff teams out of the end zone is no easy task. But, Greene County has managed to do so in consecutive weeks thanks to a pristine effort. The Rams forced three turnovers, scoring 17 points off those fumbles, blanking a Clarinda squad which came into the game averaging more than 25 points.
The Cardinals did not have a single pass yard all night despite three completions while the Rams stifled CHS’ potent rushing attack (averaging 177 yards per entering Friday’s contest), holding Clarinda to just 105 yards on the ground.
Greene County has flown to the ball on defense over the last month or so and the remarkable statistics back up that notion. The Rams have recovered 10 fumbles, which ranks them fifth in 2A while they’ve intercepted 10 passes (16th) for a total of 20 takeaways. Greene County has outscored their two playoff opponents so far (Red Oak and Clarinda) by a combined score of 79-0. The defense has really risen to the occasion, and its paid giant dividends. They’ve not only improved their skillsets, but each defender knows how to correctly read an offensive set, positioning theirselves in the correct spots at the right time.
Following a string of strong defensive efforts, Greene County’s round two shutout was perhaps the most cohesive that particular 11 has played all year. The defensive growth has been a tremendous storyline, one Duncan believes can be attributed to comfort. A disciplined defense has been the difference between a .500 season and a deep run into the playoffs.
“We’re doing our job and we’re taking pride in doing our jobs,” Duncan said. “It’s not backyard football. As soon as the lights come on, we just do whatever. We have our assignment, we have our job. We’ve got to execute it.
I’m just really proud of how they’ve taken pride in it, too. We talked about having a goose egg on the scoreboard, so now we have two playoff goose eggs in a row.”
After getting gouged for 65 combined points in back-to-back games in early September (losses to ranked South Central Calhoun and Atlantic), the Rams regrouped and reassessed. The dedication is notable. The defense has not allowed any team since week three to score more than 19 points, holding opponents to an average of nine points per game during their six-game winning streak. The Rams have held offenses scoreless for nine straight quarters, last surrendering a touchdown to Shenandoah in the third quarter of their regular season finale back on Oct. 9.
Relevance was the goal.
Early offensive frustrations - including failed fourth down attempts and a inability to punch home a short touchdown - can often derail even the most stable of programs. Greene County regrouped in their round two playoff game and kept staying aggressive on defense. They found a way to manhandle Clarinda, providing no hope for a comeback. Back-to-back postseason victories are a rarity in these parts, to achieve such a mark in dominating fashion is a testament to the Greene County culture.
The Rams have won 24 games combined over the last three years after winning just two games the two years prior - one each in 2016 and 2017. The program continues to trend upward even in season that seemed like it was headed toward transition. Instead, the Rams have continued to pile up the victories. Success is part of the norm now.
“We have guys that are buying in. We’re committed to something more than ourselves,” Duncan said. “Last year was about being committed to excellence. They’re committed to the team now. The guys are believing now, too. We started the year with a lot of doubters outside of our team, and probably even within our team, of how good we can be. They’re a lot more comfortable, a lot more confident. We’re just taking pride in everything that we’re doing right now. We’re getting better every single week.”
Each convincing shutout and each playoff win is proof the long and tiring journey to greatness is worth the pain. The Rams have shown improvement each time out since their two-game losing streak in early September. They are on the right path, taking bigger and better strides each week.
“We talk about pounding the stone, going to work. You never know when that stone is going to break,” Duncan said. “The last hit isn’t any more important than the first hit. Eventually, it’s going to break so we can get where we want to be.”
The Rams advanced to the the third round of the 2A playoffs with the win last week, one of 16 remaining teams. They’ll take on undefeated PCM, the top-scoring team in the state, Friday in Monroe. Kick-off is set for 7 p.m.