Domeward Bound

road-dome3One of the hard facts of football is that only a few teams get to say they won their last game of the year. And losing that last game is difficult. Especially for a good team like Earlham that had every reason to believe that they could win their first round playoff game. They fell 37-6 to Bishop Garrigan in Algona. For the seniors, the final loss means they’ll probably never play organized football again. For everybody else, they’ll get another shot – but that won’t be for another nine months. Losing stings.

Earlham’s season was filled with interesting contrasts. Their four losses came at the hands of teams with a current combined record of 39-1. The two Class A teams that beat them are perennially good parochial schools that currently sit at numbers 1 and 2 in the BCMoore rankings. (St. Albert and Bishop Garrigan.) Their other two losses came at the hands of two rugged 1A teams that are still in the playoffs. (Van Meter and Madrid.)

Their six wins consisted of one forfeit (they would have won!) and five wins on the field by an average margin of 40 points. So there weren’t any tweener games for these guys. Some valuable seniors and good leaders will be graduating, but they’ll return a solid, experienced group that will be primed to make a deeper playoff run next season.

There’s no place like Dome

A trip to the UNI-Dome is on the line Friday for the teams remaining in the playoffs and all the matchups are fantastic. A few that look especially intriguing to me:

1A – Madrid at Van Meter: This is a re-match of a Week 9 gem. The Bulldogs had only allowed one touchdown all season until the Tigers scored three against them that night, but Van Meter prevailed 31-24. They “held” halfback Michael Santi to 183 yards, and they’ll have to keep him from running completely wild again. Van Meter’s passing attack is very good, and they have a stud running back (Carson Rhodes) of their own.

2A – Union, La Porte City at North Fayette Valley: Another rematch. NFV thumped the Knights 56-21 in week 8. The TigerHawks rushed for over 400 yards that night so the Knights defense will have to do better than that. The Knights have a good passing game and they’ll have to sling it to win this one on the road. Crazy prediction: NFV won’t pass much. I tend to be neutral in games when my home town team isn’t playing, but North Fayette holds a special place in my heart!

3A – Pella at Solon: These teams have more hardware than True Value – Pella is two-time defending champion and Solon won four titles in a row from 2007-10. That seems like a long time ago for the Spartans, but they are back knocking on the Dome’s door after a couple of “down” years. Two of the best coaches in the state, Solon’s Kevin Miller and Pella’s Jay McKinstrey, will match wits in this one.

MISC

There are 16 undefeated teams left in the playoffs.

About 20 percent (9 of 48) of the teams remaining in the playoffs across the six classes are parochial schools. By my count, there are 23 parochial schools in the state with football programs, and 10 of those made the playoffs – and that’s with a few perennial playoff teams NOT making it this season. A tendency of public school parents and fans is to hate on the parochial schools, but I’m not in that camp. 

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The 300 Club

30aCoach Randy Hinkel of Madrid has been a head football coach for 34 years, so it’s not very often that he’s the “young whippersnapper” on the sidelines. But that will be the case this Friday when his Tigers take on the Gaels of St. Edmond of Fort Dodge, led by 84-year-old Dick Tighe, now in his 61st year as a head coach. Tighe has 428 coaching wins to his credit, while Hinkel has 306 – so it’s an intriguing matchup of coaches who are members of the coveted 300-win club.

Matchups of coaches who have achieved this milestone are rare, but less unusual in Iowa than in other states. Of the 113 coaches in the U.S. who had reached 300 wins by the end of last season, 11 of them are Iowa coaches. My math skills aren’t great, but even I know that that’s almost 10 percent. Not bad – and it certainly speaks to the quality of football coaching we have here. Tighe is 9th on that national coaching wins list while Hinkel is 104th. Also members of the 300 club are Jerry Pezzetti of Ankeny Centennial and Gary Swenson of West Des Moines Valley. When their teams hook up in week 8, it will be the latest in a matchup that has occurred almost annually for the past two decades.

Even with the legendary coaches calling the shots in The Jungle in Madrid on Friday, it will be the players that take center stage. Since going to the Class A title game in 2010, Madrid has had a couple of lean years by their high standards. But having been bumped up to 1A this season, the Tigers are off to a fast start with a 4-1 record.

St. Edmond’s only blemish last year was a loss in the 1A title game to Iowa City Regina. (Hardly a reason to fire the coach!) This year they have dashed out to a 5-0 record and are currently ranked third in the state.

Both teams are piling up more points than a lot of basketball teams. St. Ed is averaging almost 41 points per game while Madrid is scoring 39. And both teams are getting to the end zone in a similar manner – via the run game. Madrid’s rushing heritage is legendary, and they are living up to it this year by leading all Iowa classes with 2,095 yards. St. Edmond is second behind the Tigers in class 1A with 1,625 rushing yards. Interestingly, both teams are also together at the very bottom of the 1A passing statistics. The Gaels have attempted just 17 passes in five games; the Tigers only 12. But when your stable of running backs can average seven or eight yards a carry, why pass?

This game is also a critical District 7 matchup. When the districts were announced last winter, the coaches in this one probably cringed when they first had a look. It’s loaded with perennially good teams, and six out of the seven teams currently have overall winning records. In the current “extra round” era when mediocre to just plain bad teams can still make the playoffs, a quality team might actually get left out in this district this season. Madrid already has a district loss, so this game is especially significant to them.

Something will give when these two giants meet Friday. One defense will bend too much; there will be a critical turnover or two; an unsung kid will make the play of a lifetime. Just don’t bet on either of these coaches to screw something up.