The halfway point of a nine-game regular season will technically be at halftime of Friday night’s high school football games, but breaking down the stars and stats has to come before then.
RANKED TEAMS: Where they play Friday night
Class 4A opens district play this week. The entire state has had around a month of practice followed by a month of games to learn what’s good, what’s bad and what’s to come this season.
Ahead of Week 5, let’s offer some analysis and Take Five.
CLASS 4A WINDS THROUGH W.D.M.
When two high schools from the same town own two-thirds of the state titles since 2000, it’s a safe bet they’ll be contenders come playoff time. Two-time defending champion Dowling Catholic (3-0) may have started slow – a Week 1 cancellation in Cedar Rapids ensured that – but taking down rival Valley (3-1) last week was an obvious move forward for the Maroons.
“The game doesn’t guarantee you anything if you win it and it doesn’t prohibit anything if you lose it,” Valley coach Gary Swenson said before Week 4’s 38-21 loss. “But in the moment of that game, Valley and Dowling, yeah, it’s everything.”
Talent runs deeper for Valley and Dowling than any of their challengers across the state. Bettendorf (4-0), Fort Dodge (4-0) and Cedar Rapids Kennedy (4-0) are all off to impressive starts, and CIML squads like Urbandale (2-2), Waukee (2-2), Johnston (3-1) and Ankeny (3-1) have already shown the ability to take down favored opponents. But come playoff time, will smaller, slower squads be able to fight through injuries and traditional powerhouses that have the ability to play platoon football? Valley’s best skill position players are underclassmen and one of Dowling’s top athletes, Michael Zachary, is expected to return to the lineup soon. The championship game will be played in the UNI-Dome, but it still runs through West Des Moines.
SLOW IT DOWN
Ten players last season rushed for more than 2,000 yards and seven returned to have another go at the prestigious mark in 2015. The postseason can add as many as five additional games for Fort Dodge St. Edmond’s T.J. O’Tool and Sergeant Bluff-Luton’s Matt George to repeat the feat, but defenses and limited carries have slowed the pace so far. Belmond-Klemme senior Korby Sander is the state’s clear leader through four games with 1,088 yards and 21 touchdowns on the ground. Only 11 other players have crossed 700 yards through Week 4 – eight are in 11-player football – which is already behind the nearly 200 yards per game necessary to break 2,000. Continuous clock plays a part in fewer carries, as do adjusted game plans following 2014’s rushing romps. Albia’s Carter Isley and West Branch’s Luke Lenoch need to speed up production and stay healthy down the stretch to get 2,000 yards twice. Only Sander seems to have a remote chance at topping 3,000 yards like Maquoketa Valley’s Ryan Parmely did last season.
NICE RESUME; NOW FOR THE INTERVIEW
Dike-New Hartford has already handled its business. And there’s still most of the season to go.
The sixth-ranked Wolverines (4-0) are the poster squad for playing an ambitious schedule with work left to be done, knocking off three opponents that have been ranked this season and having two more gigantic district games in 1A-4. No. 10 Hudson (4-0) up next and South Winneshiek (3-1) as the focus in October. Dike-New Hartford’s resume looks great in September. Will it last when it matters?
Most of 4A feels the same way, as the large schools begin district play last. So what if you’re doing well to start: the wins to get you into the playoffs come over the next five weeks.
Fourth-ranked Fort Dodge (4-0) has blasted its opponents and leads the class in scoring offense and scoring defense. The stiffest tests won’t come until the Dodgers wrap up Week 8 and Week 9 with district favorites Waukee and Urbandale.
WELCOME BACK WINNING
Independence, now the sixth-ranked team in 3A, is 4-0 for the first time since 1973. Davenport West (3-1) has already won more games than it won in the previous five years combined. Cherokee (4-0) has bounced back from a 1-8 season to set up a huge Week 5 tilt against No. 3 Spirit Lake (4-0). Shenandoah (4-0) lost seven times in 2014 by an average of 30 points per game.
Wins are a welcome sight to communities across Iowa that have slogged through tough seasons. Whether these unbeaten or impressive starts continue beyond Week 5 remains to be seen, but football feels good right now.
Just ask fans from Anamosa. The Raiders snapped a 26-game losing streak last season before shocking 2A and finishing 7-3 with a playoff berth. Anamosa is on a winning streak now, starting like a powerhouse at 4-0.
STARS OF THE (HALF) SEASON
Getting to the UNI-Dome on a deep playoff run usually decides Iowa’s players of the year. But mid-season analysis requires some mid-week awards, and each class has players shining like all-staters through Week 4.
North Dakota State tight end commit Shaun Beyer has helped lead Cedar Rapids Kennedy’s return to the top of 4A, receiving, blocking, tackling, rushing and even throwing for six total touchdowns. Des Moines East’s Brandon Trotter has shown he’s a similar big-play threat, but Fort Dodge’s Sam Cook has shown his consistency as the school’s all-time leading rusher on an unbeaten start.
Top-ranked Pella is led in 3A by senior star quarterback Noah Clayberg, who has shown the athleticism over three seasons to run or throw his way out of any jam. Independence has gotten a similar season from Nicholas Holt, while running backs own the rest of 3A with West Delaware’s Coy Roussell and Creston’s Chase Schiltz putting up 200-yard rushing games consistently. Smaller class players have to do a little bit of everything, like Albia’s Carter Isley, CMB’s Blake Coughenour and West Burlington/Notre Dame’s Xavior Williams in 2A. A pack of standouts could arguably be 1A’s player of the month: Madrid’s Michael Santi is nearing 1,000 yards rushing at an absurd 14 yards per carry, while Dike-New Hartford’s Trent Johnson isn’t far behind. Underwood and Pella Christian quarterbacks Nick Pedersen and David Kacmarynski have been aggressive and efficient. The statistics stack up in Class A with the aforementioned Sander, Pleasantville star Zeb Adreon and top-ranked BGM’s workhorse Colton Massengale. Skill positions stand out with gaudy eight-player marks, but perhaps no single player has had a greater impact than Lenox (4-0) senior Spencer Brown, looking like a 4A defensive end on every down.