West Marshall darted and dashed through the past two regular seasons without a defeat.
Then the Trojans sprinted head-on into football teams that corralled their speedsters long enough to deliver a knockout punch.
Spirit Lake stunned West Marshall two years ago in the state semifinals with a series of teeth-rattling hits that staggered Class 2-A’s most explosive offense and Carroll Kuemper shackled the Trojans in last year’s state quarterfinals.
“We’ve seen tougher teams that were stronger,” West Marshall fullback Devin Chesler said. “We learned from it and we’re trying to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
The sound of iron plates clanging against each other can be heard before the clock strikes 7 on some early summer mornings inside the West Marshall High School weight room. The noise symbolizes the Trojans’ commitment to adding strength this year to go with their trademark speed.
It also represents a need to shore up the offensive and defensive lines, two areas where graduation took its greatest toll.
“The story is whether we can develop offensive linemen and defensive linemen,” coach Ken Winkler said. “I think that’s the biggest issue with our football team.”
This much is known: West Marshall still has one of the state’s top playmakers in the backfield.
All-state selection Duncan Ferch led Class 2-A in rushing (2,264 yards) and touchdowns (40) last year as a junior. The 6-foot-1, 210-pound running back is sorting through scholarship offers from at least six Football Championship Subdivision programs, including Northern Iowa. He might attract interest from bigger programs once they figure out whether he’s a running back, outside linebacker or safety in college.
“Part of the problem right now with him is they’re not sure where to play him at the Division-I level,” Winkler said. “It’s probably a little bit easier to determine where to play him at the FCS level.”
The Trojans utilize Ferch in several roles, but he’s easiest to find and hardest to catch with the football in his hands. He ran for at least 100 yards in each of West Marshall’s first 11 games, topped the 200-yard mark five times and ran for 363 yards and six scores against Nevada.
Carroll Kuemper, though, strayed from its typical defensive rules and tried to surround the 6-foot-1, 210-pound running back with two defenders on every option play, hoping they could remove the big-play element from the West Marshall offense in the process. Ferch carried 21 times for a season-low 75 yards and Kuemper advanced to the state semifinals with a 22-13 victory.
“If he got to the corner, there was no way we were going to catch him,” Kuemper coach Chad Klein said. “We were trying to play smart, string plays out and slow everything up.”
Most teams, though, couldn’t keep pace with Ferch and the rest of West Marshall’s fleet-footed skill players.
Chesler and running back Elijah Streeter each averaged more than 6.5 yards per carry and both returned kickoffs for touchdowns last season as juniors.
“You can’t just take away one of us and stop us,” Ferch said. “Everyone can do something. It takes the stress away.”
Except for opposing defenses.
“We went a lot of years where we just had average speed,” Winkler said. “Then over the last five or six years we’ve been blessed with some kids that had pretty good speed and it’s been quite an asset for us.”
But Winkler knows this, too: The Trojans can only go so far with their fast feet alone.