Aurelia's Myron Radke and his coaching staff have been working overtime in preparation for their football team's opening round state playoff game against Remsen-St. Mary's here Saturday.
"We're going to coach ourselves right out of this thing if we keep going this way," Radke said in jest Wednesday morning.
"You can do all the coaching you want but what it comes down to is they're a rugged team and we are too. And whichever team blocks and tackles best and does the fundamental things well is going to win. It's that evenly matched between the two teams."
Indeed. Aurelia, ranked second in the last state eight-man poll, edged Remsen-St. Mary's 28-23 last Friday in Aurelia to win the district title.
The Bulldogs had to come from behind to win. They trailed 23-8 after three quarters, but a blocked punt by Kolin Peterson set up the first of three fourth quarter scores and Aurelia preserved its district title and undefeated record.
"The blocked punt really got us going, and we were more determined in the fourth quarter than we were in the opening three," Radke said. "We were lucky to win it."
The Bulldogs hurt themselves with one interception and one fumble in each half in a game where they punted just once.
"We finally were able to run against them better in the second half," Radke said. "And we passed the ball to (tight end) Matt Berg a couple of times."
But Remsen-St. Mary's coach Ken Hajek knew his team let one slip away.
"Aurelia deserves all the credit," Hajek said. "They made their own breaks in that last quarter and made some big plays to win."
Saturday's matchup will pit two teams which prefer to run the ball but will pass when they need to.
The Bulldogs have rushed for 2,615 yards this season in nine games, an average of 291 yards per game. Quarterback Tyler Nelson has passed for 92 yards per game and thrown for 13 touchdowns.
The Bulldogs have been led on the ground by running back Brent Kai, who has rushed for 1198 yards on 196 carries, an average of 133 yards per game and 6.1 yards per attempt.
Remsen-St. Mary's rushed for 229 yards against Aurelia in the first meeting last week, something they'll have to duplicate if they want to win Saturday.
"We played good football for two and a half quarters the first game," Hajek said. "We had our running game going and kept the ball away from them in the first half. But they stopped us well for most of the second half."
Added Radke: "They run the ball extremely well, and we'll have to tackle well. They have some big kids in the offensive line and they're tough to go up against."
On the ground, Remsen-St. Mary's runs behind an offensive line that averages 270 pounds per player. R-SM's top runner, Mike Wiederholt, was a state sprinting champion at the Iowa State track meet last spring. He's a 5-foot-11, 170-pounder who has averaged 157 rushing yards per game.
Hajek said his top three offensive lineman are 295-pound Austin Stichen, 270-pounder Craig Holman and 240-pounder Ryan Haverkamp.
Defensively, Aurelia has been stingy, giving up an average of 70 yards per game rushing and 95 per game passing.
They're led on defense by linebacker John Ireland, who has over 80 tackles this season. Luke Dreier has 85 tackles this season, an average of nearly eight per game.
Added Radke: "We've got to find some way to neutralize their huge offensive line and we don't want Wiederholt to make long runs against us. Any way you look at it, the team that blocks and tackles best is going to win. It usually comes down to basics like limiting mistakes and turnovers."
"Our kids are looking forward to it, but like the first game, we know we'll have to play our best to win," Hajek said.