Friday night's 2005 season-opening matchup with Sheldon should be a familiar one for the Storm Lake High football team.
Sheldon features a wishbone offense with the goal being to control time and possession with power running. The Tornadoes favor a wide-open offense that favors the pass over the run.
Storm Lake faced a number of power running teams last season, most notably in close wins over Algona and LeMars.
Those two were crucial district victories, and Friday night's game in Sheldon isn't a district tilt. But it is the opener, and both teams want to to set the tone for the rest of the season with a win.
"I think in high school sports, there's a big carry-over effect from week to week," SLHS coach Bill McCabe said. "That's why the first game is always so important."
The Tornadoes return five starters on offense and two on defense off last year's team that finished 6-3 overall and 5-3 and tied for second in the district.
Among the offensive returnees are second-team all-state slot back Logan Masters and 6-6 wide receiver Derrick Randall.
That pair of seniors, along with Tornado sophomore quarterback Mitch McCabe, are what most concerns Sheldon coach Matt Meendering.
"We took our lumps up at Storm Lake last year (SLSH won 34-6), but we are a more experienced team now than we were then," he said Tuesday night.
"On the other hand, Storm Lake has Masters back, and we'll have to know where he is on the field at all times. Randall is another kids that's tough to defend.
"And (Mitch) McCabe got into the game in the fourth quarter against us last year and we know he's a talented athlete; he can cause big problems if he gets out of the pocket."
The Orabs finished 4-5 last year, including 4-3 in their Class 2A District. Meendering started a large group of juniors who had little varsity experience at the start of last season.
Sheldon finished the 2004 campaign strong, and Meendering feels he has a veteran group this year, with eight returning starters on offense and seven on defense.
"As last season progressed, we got better each week," Meendering said. "We should be better this year, but I think we still have a lot of work to do."
Sheldon runs a three-back, wishbone offense, similar to a number of teams in the Tornadoes' district. Playing against the wishbone puts a premium on not making mental mistakes, McCabe said.
"We've been working against the wishbone all week in practice," coach McCabe said. "On defense, you have to carry out your assignments, and you have to stay disciplined and avoid mental mistakes."
The Tornado coach added that in season openers, there will always be mistakes, even on seemingly simple things like lining up correctly. He just hopes they don't cost his team touchdowns Friday night.
McCabe also expects Sheldon to do a lot of blitzing to disrupt the Tornadoes' potentially explosive offense.
"They did a lot of that last year, and we handled it well and made some big plays against it," he said. "If our kids don't make a lot of mental mistakes against the blitz, we should be OK."
Sheldon has even more to worry about defending the Tornadoes' offense, which looked explosive at times last Friday night in an intra-squad scrimmage at Tornado Stadium.
"The best defense we have against their offense is simply keeping possession of the football," Meendering said. "And that's our goal on offense. We want to chew up clock with our running game and not let Masters and their other outstanding athletes hurt us."
On offense, the Orabs return most of their starting backfield, including senior quarterback T.J. Miller, senior tailback Scott Kruger and fullback Shane Still.
Last season, Kruger was the team's leading rusher with 656 yards in nine games. He's a 5-foot-10, 185-pounder.
"Scott is a compact kid who's very strong and runs with a lot of determination," Meendering said. "Shane (Still) does some running at fullback, but is a outstanding blocker.
"At quarterback, T.J. isn't an outstanding runner or passer, but he's experienced and runs our wishbone offense well. He makes good decisions."
Up front, the Orabs return four of their five interior linemen, including tackles Brian Fisher (6-2, 215) and Simeon Brown (6-1, 210) and senior guards Tyler Lloyd (6-foot, 235) and John Shea (5-9), 230).
Sheldon's top receiver, 5-11 senior Tyler Ommen, also returns.
Shea and Lloyd play on the interior in the Orab defense, while Brown anchors the linebacking corps.
"We know we have our work cut out for us on defense," Meendering said.
"The biggest key will be knowing where Masters is at all times. Also, it will be important for us to put pressure on (Mitch) McCabe, but at the same time, keep him contained. He can hurt you if he gets out of the pocket."
Coach McCabe, meanwhile, says his team will be ready to and healthy. Lineman David Iehl suffered a mild concussion last week but should be ready to go Friday night.
"We just have to play smart, avoid mental errors and play up to our ability," he said. "If our kids do that, we'll be satisfied and we'll let the chips fall where they may."