The first couple weeks of the high school football season in Iowa are loaded with interesting matchups. Teams either make the playoffs or not based on their district records, but this year these non-district games could be used as tiebreakers in the new playoff format.
But that’s not the only reason teams have to get motivated for early season games. Old rivals will be hooking up – and nobody will be thinking of these contests as pre-season.
The cities of Emmetsburg and Spencer are only 25 miles apart, and these neighbors first played football in 1913. Neither is fond of losing to the other. Back in the heyday of the series, it was not uncommon for the game to draw 3,000 fans in Emmetsburg, many of which would start showing up as early as 2:00 p.m. to get good parking spots on the roads with views into the stadium.
Friday’s game is in Spencer. Emmetsburg, winners of nine state titles, has a roster full of upperclassmen and will be trying to shake off three straight mediocre seasons – and three straight losses to the Tigers. Next week the E-Hawks play Estherville, a rival they first played in 1910.
Grundy Center will be playing Gladbrook-Reinbeck Friday – for the 98th consecutive year. For those of you that are bad at math like me, that dates back to 1919. Gladbrook-Reinbeck are the defending Class A state champions, while Grundy Center is a team on the rise that features senior Bryce Flater, who led Class A in rushing last season with 2,103 yards – including 199 in a week 8 loss to the Rebels.
One of my favorite matchups this week is North Fayette at Decorah. Despite being just 35 miles apart, these two storied powerhouses with similar philosophies don’t have a long history with each other – but they’ve played some entertaining games recently. Plus, I have a history with both programs that keeps them both near and dear to my heart! Read more about that here.
I’ll be in Van Meter where my hometown Earlham Cardinals will be taking on the Bulldogs. Using the word bitter to describe the rivalry between Earlham and Van Meter might a stretch, but it can get a little edgy. Earlham folks are (generally) friendly with Van Meter people; parents of kids from both schools (occasionally) socialize with each other (out of season); and both towns are clean, comfortable places to live. (Earlham’s convenience store is nicer.) But separated by just 12 miles and with a long history of hard-fought athletic contests between us, things can get weird on game days —no matter if it’s varsity football or an old-folks’ shuffleboard tournament. I know because I’ve been involved in a few (minor) youth sports dustups in the past. (Instigated by them, of course.) For both sides, losing to one another feels like an acid bath.
Hopefully any weirdness will be at a minimum Friday, because the football should be stellar. Van Meter went to the Dome last year in 1A and lost a tight game in the semis to Western Christian. They graduated some key seniors from that team, but have some good athletes that will step up. Earlham has been trending upward the last few seasons and is led be a solid, experienced group of upperclassmen. And for Class A, they have some BIG boys. (As long as the IHSAA doesn’t start classifying bacon as a PED, it should be a good season for the Cards.)