The Spencer High football team will find out just how good its pass defense is when it hosts rival Storm Lake Friday night.
What Tornado coach Bill McCabe and his team will find out is whether it can sustain the improvement it showed on defense and its running game in a 28-26 win over Humboldt at Tornado Stadium last week.
"We're getting better at things," McCabe said Tuesday night. "Our defensive line played well last Friday and allowed our linebackers to come up and make plays.
"And some of our kids in the offensive line are showing improvement. Three of the four kids there hadn't played those positions before and they're getting better."
So, he added, is his team's performance overall.
"We're focusing mentally for longer stretches of each game," he added. "Earlier in the season, we'd play well, then have long lapses. We haven't seen that the last couple of weeks."
The Tornadoes enter the game 3-3 overall and 2-2 in district play and will vie for their first winning streak of the season Friday in Spencer.
Spencer enters the game with an identical 2-2 district mark and a 2-4 mark overall.
"They're a very sound football team fundamentally," said McCabe. "Defensively, they just don't make many mistakes. They won't beat themselves and offensively, they're a very physical team."
Spencer's two wins came against Spirit Lake and Humboldt (35-7). The Tigers lost to Denison 9-7, to MOC-FV 14-7 and to district power LeMars 35-7.
"We've had a very difficult schedule so far," said first-year Spencer football coach Jim Tighe, who coached previously at Monticello.
"But we've been improving each week and at this point, we just want to finish the season strong."
Tighe's biggest concern is stopping Storm Lake's potent passing attack.
That's led by the district's top passer in Tornado quarterback Nick Sorbe. He's passed for 1,278 yards in six games and thrown eight touchdown passes. That's am average of 213 passing yards per game.
That's translated into some productive numbers for Storm Lake receivers. Three of them - Ben Thompson (29 receptions), Jay Severson (25 receptions) and Alex Kwikkel (19 receptions) - are among the district leaders.
"We haven't seen a passing offense like Storm Lake's yet this season - it's going to be a test for us," Tighe said. "We want to get good pressure on Sorbe, but we know we can't bring everybody on the rush because they have so many kids who can catch the ball."
Tighe, meanwhile, said at times his offense has struggled, but that's been against teams like LeMars and Emmetsburg. The Tigers are averaging just 10.3 points per game but are giving up just an average of 16.5 per game.
"Our defense is pretty physical," Tighe said. "But overall, our kids have picked up the new defensive and offensive schemes well. It's always an adjustment for the kids when a new coach comes in."
Spencer is indeed one of the top teams in the district in defense. The Tigers are giving up an average of 254 total yards per game, including 160 yards rushing and 98 passing. Spencer is third in the district in rushing defense and fourth in passing defense.
Offensively, Spencer runs the wishbone with it's top option being the fullback dive. Tiger fullback Cody Nelson is second in the district in rushing with an average of 84.5 yards per game.
"We've got to stop that first option, which is their fullback," McCabe said. "And their quarterback (Kirk Rose) makes good decisions on the option and looks like he runs pretty well."
The Storm Lake coach added that his defense received a lift last week with the return of linebacker Brian Burke, who had been out with injury the previous two weeks.