Even before the two teams met last season, Ames coach Bruce Vertanen could see the parallels between his program and City High.
As Vertanen looked at potential non-district opponents, those similarities stuck out to the veteran coach.
“We kind of purposely went after these matchups because we thought we were like schools,” Vertanen said. “We thought we were very much like City High and very much like Cedar Falls, we have three schools that are in university towns, old traditional high schools, with similar demographics and similar size so I thought it was a natural game to play.”
This year the similarities between the two newly formed rivals that meet on the eve of the annual showdown between Iowa and Iowa State are impossible to ignore.
City High (0-2) and Ames (0-2) are each looking for their first win entering Friday’s 7:15 p.m. battle for the Little Cy-Little Hawk trophy at Ames Stadium.
Both teams have faced challenging early schedules with back-to-back games against teams ranked in the top six in Class 4A.
The teams share a common opponent, losing to second-ranked Cedar Falls, and each team has sustained key injuries, losing their starting quarterbacks in the opening quarter of Week 1.
“We are quite similar as far as circumstances,” City High coach Dan Sabers said. “I know we have both played two very good teams to start of the season and I think both coaches would say we had our chances to be successful and we didn’t get it done. I think there are some real similarities so it will be real interesting to see which team really wants to come out and put some things together and win a ball game.”
Despite difficult season-opening losses that saw each team lose their starting quarterback to injury both have showed flashes and had chances.
Ames lost senior quarterback Michael Frankl for the season to an injury in the first quarter of a 28-16 season-opening loss to sixth-ranked Ankeny Centennial.
Backup quarterback Ethan Hahn threw for 233 yards last week but Ames turned it over four times in a 21-18 loss to Cedar Falls.
“The last game we just made too many mistakes,” Vertanen said. “We were on the one yard line going into score and we put the ball on the ground and they had a recovery and the game really swung on that turn of events.”
City High junior quarterback left in the first quarter of a 35-21 Week 1 loss to Cedar Falls and fell to third-ranked Bettendorf last week.
The Little Hawks have committed seven turnovers on the season, including four in a 44-7 loss to Bettendorf last week.
“Considering the injures that we’ve had I keep telling our guys we just have to hang in there and this will be good to us if we just hang in there and keep believing,” Sabers said. “I think it is pretty clear to people that if we get a little help here we can do a lot of good things yet and I am confident that my team believes that as well.”
Frankl threw for 332 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 94 yards and two scores in a 44-20 Ames win at City High last year.
Even without Frankl on the field, the key for City High will be keeping a potent Ames offense off the field.
Ames rolled up 512 yard of offense on 78 offensive snaps in last year’s win in Iowa City.
“There tempo is impressive,” Sabers said. “I think in the first half of last year’s game there was 97 plays ran and I think about 65 of them were there’s. They were just really, really making it happen.”
In Hahn’s first career start at quarterback the Little Cyclones had 348 yards of total offense last week against Cedar Falls.
Hahn has completed 27-of-61 passes for 340 yards in relief of Frankl this season.
City High junior Jared Taylor is 22-for-50 for 387 yards passing and dour touchdowns since replacing Wieland in the opener.
The key for City High Friday will be the play of a Little Hawk defense that has been better than its scores indicate.
City High is allowing 326.5 yards of offense per game after facing two teams ranked in the top three.
“We’ve got to a better job against their high tempo offense than we did last year,” Sabers said. “Last year we knew they went quick but until you actually experienced it you didn’t realize how quick. We learned a lot from last year’s game about their tempo and how quick they go so I think that is going to help us this year.”
Reach Ryan Murken at 319-339-7369 or firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @rmmurken.