Few coaches probably understand how Marv Cook feels better than the person who will match game plans against him tonight.
Solon coach Kevin Miller was in Cook’s position not too long ago as the leader of his own dynasty.
Cook has led the Regina football team to 43 consecutive victories and to three consecutive state titles. Victory No. 43 was similar to most of the previous wins during the streak, with Regina pounding West Liberty 42-14 in Friday’s season opener.
Miller oversaw a similar streak at Solon, leading the Spartans to four consecutive state titles from 2007-10. The first three titles were won in Class 2A and the fourth in Class 3A. The Spartans also won 42 consecutive games during that stretch before losing to Regina in 2010.
The Regals haven’t lost since and will put their streak on the line tonight at Solon, which pounded Mount Vernon 31-8 in Friday’s season opener.
“I don’t think you concentrate or focus on the streak, I really don’t,” Miller said when asked to put himself in Cook’s shoes. “I just think you focus on your football team and focus on improving every week. And I don’t think you take anybody for granted. That’s why you get to that point of winning that many games in a row. You focus on the process.”
Cook said it’s all about living in the moment and remembering that most of the players who are responsible for the winning streak and the three state titles have graduated.
“That’s truly what you have to do and we were blessed to have some student-athletes that played two and three years ago, but unfortunately, they’re gone,” Cook said. “So we deal with what we have and these kids relish their opportunity to be a part of something.
“But ultimately they need to understand that they’re controlling what they need to control and that’s taking care of this week.”
The Solon-Regina rivalry has become one of the state’s top annual showdowns in high school football. The winner of each of the past seven games has gone on to win a state title.
“As a high school kid you should want this, you should want this kind of atmosphere and opportunity to go out and be in that kind of environment,” Cook said. “Hopefully, they’re relishing it. They’re cherishing it. And it should make for a fun atmosphere and menu to play high school football.”
Tonight’s game will provide a new wrinkle for Cook now that his son, 6-foot-5 junior Drew Cook, is Regina’s starting quarterback. Coach Cook credits his assistants particularly, former Iowa receiver Ed Hinkle, for making it a smooth transition for him and his son.
“Coach Hinkle does a phenomenal job with the pre-stuff during the week and all the coaches put in their feedback and what they think and then coach Hinkel compiles it and comes up with a strategy and ultimately we’re going to try to execute the strategy as best as possible,” Marv Cook said. “And obviously we face some good coaches so we’ll have to make some adjustments. But whole-heartedly we’re going to do what we do and try to play to our strengths, and like every coach, hide our weaknesses.”
Miller has struggled to find weaknesses in the previous three Regina teams that defeated Solon and finished 14-0 overall.
“I feel like the last few years they’ve done just a better job than we have or I have as a head coach in preparing our football team, not only from a schematic standpoint, but they played tougher and more physical than us,” Miller said. “So I have to do a better job of making sure that our kids are better prepared to go out and play with a team like Regina who again is tough, they play physically tough.
“It’s just going to be a great challenge for our football team. There is no question about it. I’m hopeful that this time around our kids will perform at a higher level and compete at a higher level because we’re going to have to, otherwise we’re going to take it on the chin like we have the last couple years when they really dictated the style of play.”
Drew Cook ran 39 yards for a touchdown and threw a 10-yard scoring pass to senior halfback Riley Dixon in his starting debut Friday. Dixon scored three touchdowns in the game and is coming off a junior campaign in which he rushed for more than 1,600 yards.
“We’ve got a lot to prepare for,” Miller said. “(Drew Cook) does a great job of managing their offense and taking care of the football. I’ve never seen Regina ever put themselves in compromising situations. They just don’t. They value the football. They don’t turn it over.
“They have terrific defense, and their special teams are outstanding. When we were in the streak, we did the same thing. We valued the football. We played great defense. And the rest takes care of itself.”
The Regina seniors are just one victory from finishing undefeated against Solon. The teams can’t meet in the playoffs because Regina competes in Class 1A and Solon competes in Class 3A.
So, tonight’s game is the last chance for the seniors on both teams to face each other.
“We’re trying to make it a fourth year of really getting after it with them,” Dixon said. “They’re a well-coached team, and they like to get after it, as we know.
“The tide was turned three years ago. They had the win streak. And, obviously, that meant a lot to them. So we have it now, and there’s pressure. But we don’t really think about the pressure. It’s just go out and have fun and play football.”
Solon also unveiled a new starting quarterback last week as speedy senior Jacob Black shredded Mount Vernon with 287 total yards, including 255 in the first half. Black transferred to Solon last winter after starting at quarterback for Monticello as a sophomore and junior.
He showed his dual-threat capabilities Friday by rushing for 149 yards and passing for 138 yards. One of his completions was an 85-yard touchdown pass to Connor Ham.
“He’s phenomenal, a great athlete,” Cook said of Black. “You can tell he’s a great leader and a difference maker.”
Linebacker Elliot Halsch plays a similar role for Regina on defense, in addition to being a 6-2, 220-pound running back. Halsch said tonight’s game will be different for him because he’s now a senior and one of the leaders on the team.
“It’s more exciting to lead the team,” Halsch said. “Last year, I didn’t feel as much of a burden about it. But this year, you have to play your best to help the team out.”