West junior Nate Boland won the starting quarterback spot from senior Xavier May. Barely. While Boland’s performance Friday against Linn-Mar probably solidified his spot, May is more than a capable backup and proved it by running, catching and passing well during his time on the field.
“It was a really hard decision. You’ve got two kids who did everything they were supposed to do for nine months,” West coach Brian Sauser said. “They were leaders in the offseason. Both are very good quarterbacks. It just kind of came down to the last week. I met with both of them. We talked about it. In the last week of practice, we evaluated ball security and moving the ball in third-down situations.”
Boland completed 14-of-21 passes for 239 yards and two touchdowns in the 49-14 rout at Linn-Mar. May completed 2-of-3 for 34 yards and one TD. He caught a pass for 14 yards and ran a couple times.
“Xavier would start for most teams,” Sauser said. “He’s 6-4, 200 pounds and a good athlete, so we need to find a way to get him on the field also.”
Sauser especially liked Boland’s calm demeanor on the field, and it fits with what he’s asking him to do, which is not be a clone of Charlie Rogers and run all over the field creating plays out of nothing but rather manage the game and get the ball to the playmakers West has in the backfield and on the perimeter.
* Opening loss: If the City High football team were a stock, you’d want to discount that 0-1 record and stay bullish. The Little Hawks lost their opener for the first time in recent memory, but coach Dan Sabers said his team will be just fine.
Turnovers were the story of the 28-14 loss to Cedar Falls. City had six, including one that took away a touchdown after an 80-yard drive.
“In all except for one, we were basically working hard, trying to get extra yardage, so I can live with that,” Sabers said. “We did a lot of good things. We didn’t have that many penalties. We had a rash of injuries in the first and second quarters and kids stepped up. We hung in there with each other. I was very proud of our football team.”
Sabers pointed to the play of sophomore Bryson Runge, who gained 146 yards after Amos Lavela had to leave the game with concussion symptoms.
“They were ready. You could just see it,” Sabers said. “They couldn’t wait to get out on that field and go. I loved that. We were very physical.”
Mitch Wieland won the quarterback spot in a battle with Tyler Stika. Sabers said that determination wasn’t made until the final day of practice. He was pleased with the way the players handled the situation.
“I really like my football team,” Sabers said. “We’re not down. We’re excited. To go up there and put up 400 yards of offense and turn it over that many times, wow, you’ve got to be doing a few things right.”
City lost Lavela early in the game after a defensive pileup. Lavela was projected to be the team’s main ballcarrier and likely leading tackler at the linebacker spot after having played two years as a down lineman on defense. Trainers made the determination that Lavela had to be removed from the game.
“They’re doing it the right way now and taking all the precautions,” Sabers said. “The game is so much safer than it used to be. The game is a great, safe game.”
* Bears bare their teeth: West Branch’s offense chewed up defending Class A state champion Lisbon 28-7 Friday. Cade Jones gained 211 yards on 15 carries and Bo Bower had 52. Cole Cook showed poise and a strong arm in his first appearance as the varsity quarterback.
“He’s not going to hurt you,” coach Butch Pedersen said. “He’s going to take care of the offense. He runs the option real well. For his first game, I thought he did really well.”
The defense also came prepared.
“I thought defensively we played real well,” Pedersen said. “We ran to the ball well. We showed three or four different sets on defense. I thought the intensity and the passion was real good on defense.”
Penalties (more than 100 yards worth) and special teams play were sub-par, according to Pedersen, but he liked what he saw from his two kickers.
“I thought the mental focus was real good,” Pedersen said. “I thought some of the technical things as far as reading the pads on defense and things of that sort need to be polished up. Take away the penalties and it would have been a pretty good opening game.”
* Solon opens stadium with victory: The Spartans gave up a touchdown to Mount Vernon but came from behind to win 21-11 in the inaugural game at new Spartan Stadium.
“That wasn’t part of the plan,” Solon coach Kevin Miller joked. “But I liked how our kids responded. We were down 11-6 at halftime. They didn’t panic. They didn’t point fingers.”
What Miller witnessed was the maturing of a team within the 48 minutes of one game.
“The first half, (the offensive line) struggled, but I thought in the second half they grew up,” Miller said. “I watched film (Friday night and Saturday morning), and it was evident they made substantial improvement in one half. That’s encouraging.”
Four new players are playing in the line for Solon, including a sophomore and two juniors. At halftime, some minor adjustments on the splits between linemen helped.
“They just needed to understand the physicality that’s involved with varsity football and just the speed of the game,” Miller said. “Once they adapted to that, I thought they performed real well.”
Likewise, the defense was much better in the second half, not allowing a first down until two minutes were left in the game. Players had to adjust to the Mustangs’ no-huddle offense and some plays and alignments they hadn’t seen before, and by the second half, they were comfortable reacting.
“It’s hard to believe that in a half I watched our team grow. I really did,” Miller said.
* Regals don’t miss a beat: Any thought that Regina might take an understandable step back with the graduation of a large, successful class was quashed by a dominating 47-0 victory at West Liberty, the team’s 29th in a row.
The Regals took full advantage of the playmakers they have, guys such as quarterback Mark Ward and receiver Alex Balke, both of whom have had to wait their turns behind all-staters. Ward connected on 14-of-20 passes for 237 yards.
“(Ward) has been waiting for two years,” Regina coach Marv Cook said. “He’s a tough kid. He plays hard, runs hard and he’s got a great arm.”
Balke, whom Cook calls a “difference-maker,” caught six balls for 149 yards and two touchdowns.
The foundation of Regina’s last two title runs has been the defense and Friday it pitched another shutout. On the few occasions that the offense couldn’t move the chains, the defense held firm and didn’t let the momentum sway.
“I wasn’t sure where that was going to be other than (Daniel) Gaffey and (Ben) Osterhaus,” Cook said. “Sometimes you see a guy (Osterhaus) as a junior, and it’s amazing to watch how physically they turn into a young man. And he’s one of those guys that did that.”
But what Cook really loves about the defense is that it doesn’t rely on superstar players but on what he called “a great nucleus of guys.”
“They may not be the biggest, the fastest, but they’re really active, smart kids,” he said. “When you have depth like that, I think it makes your team pretty strong. One, your practices are better, and two, everybody is hungry to play because they know if they don’t play well, then someone else is coming in, and three, you end up being good across the board.”