Des Moines will make its playoff presence felt in Wednesday’s first round.
For the first time ever, three city schools have qualified for the same postseason. It took until the eighth and final year of expanded 32-team playoff fields for East, Hoover and Lincoln to pile in, but it’s a meaningful milestone for the old Metro programs.
“It looks good for Des Moines,” East coach Greg Schoon said. “Now each team has to put its best foot forward in the first round.”
INTERACTIVE BRACKETS: State football playoffs
Schoon has the steadiest ship in town, getting the Scarlets (5-4) into the playoff five times in his six seasons in charge. Lincoln has gone through three coaches in that time; North and Roosevelt have only three postseason appearances total.
He’s seen the city’s kids get crushed for years on the gridiron. Winning and qualifying for Class 4A’s playoffs – definitive results in district football – are the best ways to show they belong.
“It shows there are kids here that are willing to work hard throughout the whole season,” Schoon said.
“A lot more kids are putting more emphasis on football as well, whether it’s summer time or 7-on-7 camps or getting in the weight room whenever they can.
“Each school has a feeder program and those numbers are getting stronger. All the suburbs have their tackle programs in elementary schools, and now you’re seeing city kids have more understanding. They’re not afraid to hit because they’ve done it for a few years now.”
East and Lincoln took full advantage of the postseason field booming from 16 teams to 32 in 2008, qualifying together for four straight seasons and in 2014. Hoover’s recent renaissance under coach Will Siffin brought them all together in 2015, just in time for the field to shrink back to 16 next season.
“We’ll support our Des Moines teams and try and get our Des Moines teams in the playoffs with us,” Siffin said last week.
All three have taken unique paths to qualifying, with Hoover and East going 3-0 against the rest of the Metro. The Huskies (6-3) are third in the state in passing and won three-in-a-row to end the regular season. Senior Wilfrid Kouakou has plugged in well at quarterback after three-year starter Brock Larsen left, and he’s got experienced weapons in Patrick Sullivan, Dom Marschel, Y’vez Quinn and Jerry Ziaty in his receiving corps.
“I think we had some doubters because of our past and we have a little bit of a slow start this season,” Siffin said. “People are starting to believe in what’s going on. And that’s why we’re trying to keep our kids focused, let them know that we could have one of the best seasons Hoover has had in two decades.”
Lincoln (4-5) finished behind Hoover in District 3, struggling after injuries and inexperience shook up a 4-2 start. Junior Trenton Tietjens will get the start at quarterback on Wednesday, taking his first playoff snaps in Derek Summy’s first season as head coach on the south side.
“I’m down to my fifth quarterback of the year, so that’s impacted the offense tremendously,” Summy said. “Up front we’ve lost a couple more guys and that’s where we struggle the most. My skill guys are the best guys I have on the field and I can’t get the ball to them, which is a problem.”
Summy was East’s offensive coordinator before he took over at Lincoln. His concepts remain for a Scarlet attack that has been up-and-down, but scored 18 touchdowns in the last three games. Brandon Trotter leads the run game with 987 yards and 17 touchdowns, and senior quarterback Jaron Turner has scored 14 times in his third varsity season.
“Ames is a pretty solid team and we put points up on them in a hurry,” Schoon said. “But we gave up 49. Each week our defense keeps working on something a little more, and hopefully this is the time of year that we can put all three phases together.”
Unsurprisingly, the trio are gigantic underdogs on Wednesday are taking on three suburban schools. Hoover’s regular-season losses came to bigger and stronger suburbs by a combined 165 points. The short trip to see physical No. 10 Johnston (7-2) is next.
East was blown out by Southeast Polk and Ankeny in district play. Top tackler Rory Walling is out injured. How will the results change in an 8 p.m. kickoff against run-minded and eighth-ranked Ankeny Centennial (7-2)?
“Just compete,” Schoon said. “We’ll see how the game goes and what my message will be afterwards depends on how we compete.
“We’re not afraid to play anybody. And we’re still young.”
Lincoln has the toughest task of all, taking on No. 1 Dowling Catholic (8-0) just five days after being slammed 76-6 by Valley. The one advantage the Railsplitters clearly have? The first round mismatch is in Des Moines at Williams Stadium.
“There’s still a significant gap between us and schools outside Des Moines,” Summy said. “It’s still a good sign to have three schools get in. We’re getting better, we just still have a lot of work to do.
“It was kind of like the taste of the playoffs with Valley, because it gives the kids an idea of what you’ve got to do to get to that level and it’s easier when they get to see that as opposed to just talking about it. They were embarrassed last week. So they understand the effort they’ve got to put in has to be a lot higher.”
While the city’s coaches appreciate the opportunity to get their younger players playoff experience, they know the window is closing on the chance to do it again. The redrawing of districts and change in playoff qualifying will make getting into 2016’s field of 16 a colossal challenge. Especially for three teams working hard to keep their junior high and freshmen participation numbers up.
“I think going to 16 teams is actually a good thing because it gives us extra motivation in the offseason,” Summy said. “It gives kids a little more focus, knowing if they want to get to that level, they’ve got to put in the time. I’m actually looking forward to that challenge.”
WEDNESDAY’S FIRST-ROUND SCHEDULE
7:00–D.M. LINCOLN (4-5) vs. No. 1 DOWLING CATHOLIC (8-0), at Williams Stadium
7:00–D.M. HOOVER (6-3) at No. 10 JOHNSTON (7-2)
8:00–D.M. EAST (5-4) at No. 8 ANKENY CENTENNIAL (7-2)