Storm Lake football coach Bill McCabe admits his team played with little emotion and came out flat against Humboldt last week in a 46-20 loss to the district-leading Wildcats.
He added that that has to change this week, when the Tornado gridders lace it up against 0-5 Spencer at home Friday night.
"We aren't a big physical team like Spencer is, and if we don't play with emotion and aggressively and stand around, we can get pushed around," McCabe said. "And we can't let their 0-5 record fool us. Spencer has played a tough schedule and they have their quarterback back this week, so they'll give us a test."
There might have been reasons the Tornadoes came out flat against Humboldt, especially after two emotional district wins in close games over Algona and LeMars.
But the Tornadoes are still in the running for either a district title or a state playoff berth with a 2-1 district mark, especially with pre-season favorite MOC/Floyd Valley losing last week.
Humboldt is the only undefeated team in the district, but Storm Lake, MOC/FV, LeMars and Algona are all 2-1.
"It's pretty much a jumbled mess at this point," McCabe said of the current district standings.
"Hopefully, we learned a lesson last week," added McCabe. "The biggest key for us Friday night is to play with some emotion and purpose."
Spencer, which beat the Tornadoes 28-23 in overtime last season, has been hit with adversity this season.
It lost nine players to ineligibilities early in the season, but eight of those nine will be back this week, according to Tiger coach Jim Tighe.
Despite the problems, Spencer played well the first two weeks in a 9-0 loss to Denison and a 10-0 loss to Emmetsburg.
The biggest problem for the Tigers has been offense; they've scored just one touchdown all season.
But this week, they'll have Kirk Rose back at quarterback to run Spencer's option-oriented offense. He was the starter in the Tigers' win over Storm Lake in 2003.
"He's a big kid, about 6-3 and he runs the option well," added McCabe. "And Spencer has good size up front on both offense and defense. That's why we have to come off the ball hard and play with aggressiveness and some emotion."
Rose will be a welcome addition to the Spencer lineup, according to Tighe. Thus far this season, the Tigers haven't run the ball well.
"We played pretty well defensively in our first two weeks, but we haven't shown up in the last three," he said. "And when you've scored just one touchdown in five games, obviously you've struggled on offense.
"We've got to change that this week, because of Storm Lake's explosive offense. With them, no lead is safe, and they're one of the best teams in our district. We were very surprised at their getting beat by Humboldt last week."
Meanwhile, after losing to Emmetsburg, Spencer took a downturn, losing to MOC/Floyd Valley 34-6, to Humboldt 28-0 and to LeMars 40-0.
He knows his team is going to have to score points if it wants to stay with the Tornadoes. He's also concerned about the speed of the Storm Lake defense.
"They were able to stop LeMars very well, and they're an option team that has the ability to move the ball well," added Tighe. "We run an offense similar to LeMars with the option, so they're team speed on defense is definitely a concern."
McCabe, however, was quick to point out that Spencer has played a tough schedule. All five losses have come to state-ranked teams.
"On offense, we have to use our speed against them because we won't be able to overpower them because of their size," McCabe said. "We hope we can get their big kids running around the field and maybe wear them down to some extent.
"On defense, we've got to come off the ball well, get some penetration and use our speed. And in stopping the option, the first thing you want to do is stop the fullback up the middle.
"But Rose could present some problems. He's got good speed and a lot of experience."
So far this season, the Tornadoes are both scoring and giving up an average of 25 points.
The Tornadoes have been the most prolific passing team in the district. Senior quarterback Ryan Brandt has 111 completions in 180 attempts for 1,185 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Storm Lake has been diverse in its receiving corps as well. Junior Logan Masters has 38 catches for 425 yards, all-district returnee Ben Thompson 32 catches for 362 yards and Alex Kwikkel 17 catches for 173 yards.
"They have a lot of offensive weapons, so we'll have to play a lot better offensively," Tighe said.