THE EARLY LEAD: Greene County lunging toward consistent greatness in odd year
By BRANDON HURLEY
An unusual fall has blossomed into an exhibition of elitism. Greene County’s latest victory is just another statement amongst a class of schools jockeying to become the new dynasty.
While the city of Jefferson has enjoyed its fair share of high school football glory throughout the years, rarely has Greene County’s largest town witnessed such consistent success as these current Rams have maintained. They’ve persevered through this strange year quite magnificently, carrying over their historic pace from last fall.
Greene County continues to carve its name deeper into the record books with each passing win, climbing the ranks as one of Class 2A’s most daunting giants. The Rams are in the midst of their third straight winning season, complete with its third consecutive playoff appearance. They’ve won back-to-back playoff games for the first time under the GCHS moniker, while also securing the first home playoff victory in school history. Greene County has truly undergone a remarkable transformation, only three years removed from consecutive one win seasons.
The statistics back up Greene County’s climb toward greatness as well.
The Rams have won 23 games over the last three seasons, aided by their 6-2 record this fall and a first round win, an all-time school mark that surely has raised the bar. The boys in black have lost just five times over the last 36 months, securing two playoff wins along the way, a feat that hadn’t been attained at any point during the last decade of play in Jefferson. Entering the 2020 postseason, Jefferson-based football teams had only won seven playoff games in 18 total appearances. Never before has a Greene County High School football team won more than a single postseason game in a given season, and no Jefferson-based squad has obtained more than one postseason win since the 2006 season when the Jefferson-Scranton/Paton-Churdan Rams won back-to-back games and reached the UNI Dome. That triumphant season actually kick-started a three-year run in which J-S/P-C won 24 games and lost seven across three seasons from 2006-2008.
These particular Rams (who boast athletes from the old East Greene school district as well as the still-standing Paton-Churdan district) faced a daunting task entering the fall schedule, not only needing to replace a slew of all-time greats, but somehow conjuring up their own encore to last year’s record-setting squad. That was before adding in all the challenges these youngsters were about to face thanks to COVD-19.
Greene County not only exceeded expectations and rallied around victories, but they channeled that momentum into a massive, program-defining playoff victory. There was no evidence of letdown last week as the 6-2 Rams came out and handled business in round one, cementing their rightful place in the record books.
The 49-0 stomping of Red Oak could have been much wider if not for Greene County head coach Caden Duncan’s humility, forcing his guys to ease off on the brutality. Still, the overall scope of a unique home playoff win is nothing to take lightly. This Greene County squad deserves its fair share of praise. They keep winning, despite a number of road blocks. It’s becoming the norm in Jefferson.
“(Last week’s win) validates some of the things we’ve been telling them since last spring when we met as a team,” Duncan said, having compiled a 15-4 record in two seasons at Greene County. “We told the team that we had full confidence in them and that they had an opportunity to step up into some new roles.
As the year has gone on, they’ve gotten more confident and much more comfortable in those roles. It’s great to see and it’s something we want to do every year from here on out. The mindset of reloading as opposed to rebuilding.”
The statistics certainly back up Greene County’s run of dominance over the last month or so, catapulting themselves up the standings. The Rams are currently ranked sixth in all of Class 2A with 38 total touchdowns, just a single score from tying fifth place Central Lyon/George-Little Rock. Top-ranked and undefeated PCM leads the state with a ridiculous 59 total touchdowns, including four on the defensive side of the ball. The Rams are ranked ninth in total yards with 3,238 while Iowa Falls-Alden, thanks to an extra game and PCM’s round one bye, has tallied 3,670 total yards while PCM, the 2018 state champion, is second with 3,605 yards. GCHS is tied for 14th in 2A along with Clarinda and undefeated Williamsburg, having intercepted 10 total passes. The Rams are tied for 10th with several others in fumble recoveries, having pounced on seven lose balls.
Quarterback Bryce Stalder is now sixth in all of 2A with 1,553 all purpose yards (1,060 passing, 493 rushing) while he’s tied for seventh in touchdown passes (13) thanks to his relatively easy four scores through the air while dismantling Red Oak. The junior ranks fourth in the state with 21 total touchdowns, tied with Central Lyon/George-Little Rock’s Zach Lutmer. Estherville Lincoln Central’s Ryan Schiltz is No. 1 in the state with 25 total touchdowns. Anamosa’s Graham Humpel has tallied 2,004 total yards to lead all of Class 2A.
These are all wonderful numbers for a Greene County program making significant waves in their quest to become a consistent state power. In order to truly solidify their claim as a cohesive great, the Rams must capture another playoff win this week.
Despite the oozing confidence, Greene County won’t be able to avoid the strangeness of 2020.
There likely will never be another round of “Pod championship” games, a contest in which Greene County hosts Clarinda at 7 p.m. Oct. 23.
The 2A, Pod 16 foes will duel for a chance to advance to the third round of the 2020 playoffs, staking their spot as one of 16 teams remaining. It’s an unusual year with an even odder schedule. For technicality’s sake and historical significance, I’m sticking with Friday’s playoff game between Clarinda and Greene County as a “Pod title game,” even if there aren’t many others around the state doing the same. Yes, this is the second round of the playoffs, but since the 16 winners on Friday will be shuffled around and re-bracketed, escaping your pod and slaying the other on comers deserves some kind of respect, doesn’t it? The female sports in Iowa have regional championships, while the sports of baseball and basketball have district and substate groupings, why not go in the same direction and reward these athletes in such an unusual year?
As broadcaster Quinn Douglas (a Madrid High graduate) and his colleagues have dubbed it, this year’s playoffs really are a “Gauntlet of Doom.” The Iowa High School Athletic Association is planning to re-seed the entire field in the round of 16 (which would be round three) and again for the semifinal round, which includes the final four teams in each class. That prospect alone creates an entirely different challenge. There will be two occasions during the playoff run in which teams will have no idea who they’ll play the following week if they pull out a win.
Think about it for a second. If your school plays well enough to advance all the way to the championship at the UNI Dome in Cedar Rapids, you will have battled through six rounds of playoff games, and two, complete re-groupings. Yes, all coaches stress the importance of taking it one game at a time, but any reasonable human looks ahead. It’s part of our nature. Not knowing who the next opponent could will stress a number of athletes, coaches and fans out, I guarantee it.
Regardless, here’s to a fantastic pod championship, there’s a lot on the line.