Storm Lake High football coach Bill McCabe, his staff, and his players might want to sit back and enjoy what has happened over the past two weeks with two big district wins over Algona and LeMars.
But the Tornadoes won't have that luxury. They'll play road warriors this Friday when they travel to 3-0 Humboldt for another key district tilt.
"We just don't have many breaks once the district season starts," McCabe said Sunday evening. "But after the last two weeks, I think our kids have found out that we can stay with anybody in our district."
Storm Lake wide-out/outside linebacker Alex Kwikkel, a senior, agrees.
"We're playing with a lot of confidence right now and we know we can beat anybody in our district," said Kwikkel, who has been key on both sides of the ball the past two weeks.
"I think the biggest difference between our team this year and last year is the improvement in our offensive and defensive lines," he added. "Our offensive line didn't give (quarterback) Nick (Sorbe) much time to pass last year.
"Now this year, Ryan (Brandt) is getting more time in the pocket and he's been putting the ball right on the money. And our defensive line and our defense overall has gotten much more physical with other teams this year and that's made a big difference."
The Tornado defense started getting physical with Algona in the second half a week and a half ago, and it helped. Storm Lake shut out Algona's big and physical rushing attack in the last two quarters and came away with a 31-27 victory.
Last Friday in Storm Lake, senior kicker Jose Martinez booted a 34-yard field goal with just 6.7 seconds left in the fourth quarter for 16-14 win over LeMars, defending district champs and state playoff qualifiers in each of the past three years.
Storm Lake fell behind 14-13 late in the fourth quarter, as LeMars' physical offensive line began wearing the Tornado defenders down.
But SLHS got the ball back with 47 seconds left at its own 35 yard-line after the LeMars kickoff went out of bounds.
"I felt we just needed to get to their 30," McCabe said Sunday. "That would make it a 47-yard field goal for Jose and we all know he can make that on a regular basis.
"Right after LeMars scored and we had the kids on the sidelines, they all looked relaxed and I think they all felt we could still win."
"We had 47 seconds and a time-out left and that's more than enough time for our explosive, high-powered offense to score," added Kwikkel. "Plus, we have a lot of confidence in Jose; he has a very strong leg."
Kwikkel caught a 16-yard pass down the middle from quarterback Ryan Brandt to start the drive. Then Brandt hooked up with halfback Jay Severson for two medium-range gains on the next two plays.
"We had our receivers layered down the field on both those middle two plays in the drive," said Brandt, a senior. "But our deep guys were covered pretty well on both plays so I threw the ball short to Jay and he made a great play by getting out of bounds and saving us a timeout."
On the next play, Brandt hooked up with talented junior wide-out Logan Masters for a 12-yard gain.
"It was the exact same play that Alex caught his pass on earlier in the drive," said McCabe. "It was just right down the middle of the field and the LeMars defenders were laying back a little bit."
That gave McCabe what he wanted, as it put the ball inside the 30 at the LeMars 28 yard line, but with about 11 seconds left, time for one more play with one Storm Lake time-out still remaining.
At that point, McCabe called for Brandt to sneak the ball into position for the field goal.
"We just wanted Ryan to get the ball in the middle of the field for Jose," added McCabe.
Surprisingly, Brandt ran for 11-yards on the sneak, putting the ball at the LeMars 17 with just 6.7 seconds left.
"As it turned out, the LeMars defense was very spread out on Ryan's sneak, so he was able to take it a few yards longer than we had thought he might be able to," McCabe said. "It all worked pretty well at the end."
Then, the game was in Martinez' hands. The senior, however, had missed an extra-point attempt in the first half. But according to Brandt, no one's confidence was wavering about Martinez' ability to make the kick.
"We all wanted the game in his hands; we have a lot of confidence in Jose because he's just a great kicker," added Brandt.
After the game, some fans stormed the field, McCabe said, after a victory that might have been the biggest - so far - in his hopes of restoring Storm Lake to football prominence.
"We have a lot of experience back this year and that's the biggest difference," the third-year coach said. "And our defense has been outstanding. A lot of credit has to go to Jeff Brennan, our defensive coordinator, and to assistant Brian Van Batavia. They've done a great job getting our defense prepared for other teams."
Nevertheless, it was back to work for the Tornadoes on Monday, when the LeMars game was already ancient history.
"But the whole team has a lot of confidence now that we can beat anybody we play," added Brandt. "But we're still playing them one at a time, and our main focus now is on Humboldt."
NOTES: According to McCabe, three teams are all 2-0 in district play, including the Tornadoes, Humboldt and MOC/Floyd Valley.