Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Dickinson County teams look to rebound after 0-3 week

(Editor's Note: This is the eighth installment of a weekly series previewing prep football in Dickinson County. The rankings are according to the Associated Press poll.)

Braeton Nitzchke

Harris-Lake Park (4-2, 2-2) vs. #9 GT/RA (4-2, 2-2)

Entering last week, the Wolves and Titans were playing for their playoff lives.

Sixth-ranked Harris-Lake Park needed to beat fifth-ranked Newell-Fonda and ninth-ranked Graettinger-Terril/Ruthven-Ayrshire needed to beat unranked Clay Central-Everly for both teams to maintain a shot at the postseason.

The Titans defeated the Mavericks 48-6 in Ruthven. The Wolves fell 20-7 in Newell.

This week, they're simply playing for pride.

Graettinger-Terril/Ruthven-Ayrshire, behind the potent 1-2 rushing attack of seniors Jacob Conlon and Kolton Roth, present a problem very similar to that of Newell-Fonda.

"They are, once again, they've got a good running quarterback and a very good running back. They're always super physical," H-LP coach Lane Gunderson said. "They're a team a lot like Newell-Fonda that is going to want to run the ball as much as possible. If you can't stop them, they'll do the same thing that Newell kept doing, just running it, running it, running it."

At the beginning of the year, the Wolves' rushing defense looked to be a strength. Now, after suffering injuries to key players, the Wolves will need several athletes to step up if they hope to slow down the Titans' ground game.

"That's another thing that has been so frustrating for us as coaches," Coach Gunderson said. "If we ran out those guys that we ran out in the first quarter of the North Iowa game, there's nobody that was just going to line it up and say 'We're going to run it down your throat.' It would have been impossible. But now it is possible against us. We have to do a great job of planning, preparing, and making sure that everybody does their job. Then, hopefully, we'll have enough horses to get them stopped."

Coach Gunderson said that might be asking too much of several of his freshmen.

"We're asking guys to do I mean I'm asking Lucas Gunderson to play middle 'backer at 140 pounds and take on seniors who have been playing varsity football for a long time and who are super physical," he said. "That is a lot to ask a young man. Some of the other guys are in different positions than they started the season at. They're battling and they're doing their best, but it's going to be a tall order again. We're going to work as hard as possible."

A boon to the Wolves' offensive attack will be the return to senior quarterback Bryce Perkins, who was forced to sit out of the loss to the Mustangs.

Last season, the Wolves and Titans squared off on a blustery night in Ruthven. This time around, Coach Gunderson believes his team will be able to have success through the air.

"Getting Bryce back will help us a ton because we can be so much more diverse on offense and challenge them in ways that we couldn't last year when had to play in 30-40 mph winds," he said. "I think we'll present more problems for them than we did last season. The whole thing is, we have to keep Bryce upright and give him a chance to get the ball to the guys. If we can do that, I think we've got a good chance. But I know they have a ton of seniors who are proud guys just like our guys are and they're going to play extremely hard. That's a team that's only lost by three points to two great teams in St. Mary's and Newell-Fonda. They're a fine team. We know that. We will be ready and give it everything we have."

Most importantly, the Wolves want to have a good showing in their final home game of the season.

"We talked about it and we talked about it before the year that we really have to enjoy these home games that we have," he said. "We were so fortunate to get to play seven home games last year and have the support that we had. We knew that, after we got beat by St. Mary's, we were only going to have four home games this year even if we made the playoffs. We've already been talking about making sure that we enjoy these opportunities to play at home. The nice thing is, the guys never took it for granted before. It isn't like they didn't enjoy it last year or they took anything for granted. They full enjoyed it when they got the chance last year and they've done everything they could in home games we've had so far this year I know our guys will be ready and we'll do everything we can to win that last home game."

Adam Skopec

Spirit Lake (5-2, 3-2) vs. #5 Sergeant Bluff-Luton (7-0, 5-0)

Coming off of a tough road loss to Storm Lake on Saturday, the road doesn't get any easier for Spirit Lake, as the Indians take on undefeated and fifth-ranked Sergeant Bluff-Luton at home on Friday night.

Coach Josh Bolluyt says the Warriors have the most explosive all-around offense that the Indians have seen yet this season.

"They're explosive offensively," he said. "They're really big and physical up front. To be honest, it's probably the first team we've played all year that is explosive at every position. Both wide receivers on both sides are averaging 20 yards a catch and can catch it and take it to the house. Their running back is averaging close to 10 yards a carry, and that's a credit to their guys up front, but he's an explosive running back. Their style of play is a lot of zone read, bubble and speed out. They run a lot of the same plays we do. Offensively, they're as explosive an offense as we've seen and they're balanced."

Bolluyt said the Warriors don't attack over the top of a defense as much as they take short passes and turn them into bigger plays. A trait that can be even more maddening to a defense.

"I think what makes it difficult to defend is you can't double cover a guy on the edge and jam him on the line of scrimmage and play over the top," he said. "They really run option football, but they run it through the quarterback throwing the ball. Even though they aren't throwing the bubble screen, you've got to have a guy defending the bubble screen, so they open up run lanes that way. It means that you have to have some guys make one-on-one tackles against really good players, and that's the challenge. They have a good scheme, they run it well, and they have really good players running it. It'll be fun."

Bolluyt said the Warriors are also solid on defense.

"Defensively, they run to the ball better than any team I've seen on film at this point in the year. They're athletic and fast. I wouldn't say they have this Division 1 defensive tackle or something, they're just really solid across the board. All 11 guys are very athletic and they play really good team defense. They're undefeated for a reason and they're a good team. I'm excited for the challenge and the opportunity."

In order to pick up the victory, Bolluyt said his team will need to be at its best.

"We have to play well; to play the best we're capable of playing," he said. "I don't mean like we have to play outside of who we are by any means. We just have to play well and consistently well. We have to create some turnovers, some short fields, and those kinds of things. We need to create explosive plays and limit their explosive plays. If you watch them on offense, their running back averages 10 yards a carry, but like anybody with that average, it's because he has an 80-yard run here and there. Their receivers average 20 yards a catch, but they're not throwing it 30 yards downfield. They're throwing bubble screens and a 3-yard speed out and those guys break a tackle and go for 60 yards. Their statistics are a little skewed that way. It looks like they're throwing it down the field, but really they just spread the field so well horizontally then their guys do something with it fate they catch it. We've got to tackle well."

More than anything, Bolluyt is excited to see his team compete on Friday night.

"We get to play at home," he said. "I feel like our guys will respond this week and I'm excited to see how we compete. That's our word of the week, so we'll see how we compete on Friday night."

Logan Abrahamson

Okoboji (2-5, 0-5) vs. Alta-Aurelia (2-5, 1-4)

Both Okoboji and Alta-Aurelia are coming off of losses this past week.

Okoboji lost 44-0 at Unity Christian and Alta-Aurelia lost 20-13 at home to Emmetsburg.

Neither team is playoff eligible.

Last year, the Warriors dominated the Pioneers at home, winning 43-6. Kaleb Sleezer, a junior at the time, led the way with 11 carries for 98 yards and two touchdowns and also caught a 33-yard touchdown pass in the game.

Okoboji coach Jon Allen says Sleezer is the Pioneers' main concern heading into Friday night's matchup.

"Last year, Alta gave us a lot of trouble last year with their triple option. It's really a lot of the same characters that will be coming at us," he said. "Kaleb Sleezer is a good percentage of their offense. He's about 40 percent of the offensive production on that team. He's a good running back. He's ran for almost 700 yards on the year. That triple option was so tough for us to stop last year. We put together a plan to play some responsibility football. We had two of our starting linebackers go down pregame. We had some players trying to make reads instead of playing responsibility football and, boy, they ran all over us. Hopefully this year we have more linebackers able to play this positions and we'll have more of them ready to do their job, which is what you have to do when you play triple option. You can't read and sit back, you have to make sure that your gap is covered and your player is the one being tackled Hopefully, we'll be able to stop them a lot better than we did last year."

In order to pull off the win, Coach Allen believes his team will need to eliminate mistakes.

"We're going to have to play a clean game, limit our penalties, and make sure we don't turn the ball over," he said. "We've done a pretty good job of that with ball security. We only have a couple of fumbles on the year. We need to make sure that we don't throw any interceptions. And we need our kids to step up and start playing some tough-nosed football. We have some younger kids that are starting to realize this is a whole different ballgame. When they do that and gain the confidence needed to play at this level, I think they'll start seeing some success. But Alta is a pretty good football team and we'll need a few things to go our way. We just need to take pride in defending our home turf and putting on a good show for our fans these last two weeks."

Allen said his team, especially the seniors, are looking forward to playing at home after back-to-back road trips.

"I think it's important for the seniors," he said. "It's just nice to be at home after being on the road for a couple of weeks. We can have our team meal. It's not as much work as it is to get everything ready to go on the road. I think the kids have taken a lot of pride in the games that they get to play in front of all of their neighbors and friends. It's just a more exciting atmosphere when you make a big play. Our crowd has always been great, loud and a lot of fun to play in front of. I think the kids really enjoy playing at home and, hopefully, they can step up and play some good football in front of our faithful fans here."

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