Two months have passed since football season began in Iowa. As the temperature continues to drop, so do the number of area teams continuing their season. Wednesday will mark the first round of games in the newly expanded playoff format which allows the top four teams from each district.
All-told, 192 teams will battle it out over the next few weeks with three area schools still among those competing.
The Alta Cyclones (7-2, 4-2) lost their bid for the district title with an 18-12 overtime loss on Friday but still finished the season strongly enough to claim the third seed in the district behind Akron-Westfield (8-1, 6-0) and LeMars Gehlen Catholic (7-2, 5-1).
The Laurens-Marathon Chargers (7-2, 5-2) had a stellar run in their first season playing 8-man. L-M took a seven game win streak into mid-October before dropping close games to district leaders, Armstrong-Ringsted (8-1, 6-1) and North Sentral Kossuth (9-0, 7-0).
The Newell-Fonda Mustangs (5-4, 3-3) survived one of Class A's strongest districts to claim the fourth seed in district two. The Mustangs enter sub-state play on a bit of skid having dropped four of their last five, but all four losses were against other playoff qualifiers.
Having claimed either the third or fourth seeds, all three teams will be playing their first round on the road Wednesday night. Kick-offs for all three is 7PM.
Alta vs. Algona Bishop Garrigan
The Cyclones had their five game win streak snapped in an 18-12 overtime heartbreaker against Akron-Westfield. The loss dropped Alta down to the third seed meaning a first round matchup against the second seed in district two, Algona Bishop Garrigan (7-2, 5-1).
The Golden Bears enter the playoffs on a four game win streak. Their lone district loss was a 42-7 drubbing at the hands of Southern Cal, a team many expect breeze all the way to the Class A title game.
Much like Alta, the Golden Bears are a run-first squad having attempted only 66 passes the entire year. A stable of running backs led Bishop Garrigan to over 2200 yards and 27 rushing TDs this fall. Jack Bradley averaged over six yards per carry en route to 816 yards and 10 TDs this fall. Junior quarterback Brett Capesius is second on the team with 397 rushing yards to go with 657 through the air and nine total scores.
The senior-laden Golden Bears had the second highest scoring offense and gave up the third fewest points in district two.
The Cyclones led District 1 with 300 points scored on the season. Their 82 allowed was just one behind the district champions from Akron-Westfield.
Alta's 2375 rushing yards this fall was good enough for 10th in Class A. Their 32 rushing scores were fifth best.
Every Cyclone opponent knew full well how Alta would attack, but few have been able to slow them as their big, experienced offensive line continued to make holes for the explosive duo of Jack Mills and Michael Huseman.
The pair of seniors both average over 7.5 yards per rush as they've rolled for a combined 1674 yards and 23 TDs.
Head coach Kevin Hammer's sure-tackling defense has forced 24 turnovers this fall, three of which resulted in TDs.
The two squads shared two opponents this fall in Marcus-Meridan-Cleghorn and North Iowa Buffalo Center. Alta topped M-M-C 44-8 in week six. The Bears won 30-14 in week four. Against North Iowa, Alta prevailed 43-6 in week eight, Bishop Garrigan 42-6 week seven.
Laurens-Marathon at Ar-We-Va
Heading into their first season of 8-man ball, Laurens-Marathon coach had faith in his players' level of talent and experience. However, he was worried about their transition to the new class and it's differences. Looks like the Chargers handled the transition pretty well.
Laurens-Marathon reeled off seven straight victories to start the season. Their only two losses came to the second and fourth ranked teams in the state by a combined eight points. It's safe to say that the Chargers are a team that won't be getting overlooked this offseason.
Their first round opponent, Ar-We-Va Westside (8-1, 6-1) didn't lose a game until the season's final week where they fell to district champ Remsen-Union 61-51.
The two squads appear to be mirror images offensively. Both feature a 1000-yard rusher, a highly-efficient passer who can also tuck the ball and run, and explosive wide-receivers. Their margins of victory have also been nearly identical. L-M has scored 424 points this fall while giving up 184, a 240 point difference. Ar-We-Va's put up 408 points while allowing 171, a 237 point spread.
AWV's Ryan Schurke has 1186 yards and 19 scores on the ground this season.
Quarterback Jeremy Ehlers has completed 64% of his passes for 1275 yards, 22TDs and just five interceptions. Ehlers is the team's second leading rusher at 255 yards.
Senior wide-out Tyler Pawletzki has been one of the state's best players on both sides of the ball. Pawletzki has hauled in 35 receptions for 810 yards, over 23 yards per grab. His 16 receiving TDs rank second in the state in all classes, as do his eight interceptions.
Chargers' RB Gary Brechler has rumbled for 1022 yards and 16TDs this season. Senior QB Zach Lovin has completed 61% of his throws for 1544 yards, 26TDs and just four INTs. Lovin has ran for 152 yards and 8TDs.
Adam Woodin and Caleb Jamison provide a dual threat at WR. Woodin has 46 receptions for 679 yards and 11 TDs. Jamison, 38 grabs for 532 and nine scores.
Against common opponents, Ar-We-Va topped Spalding Catholic 61-0 while the Chargers won 36-16. Against Remsen St. Mary's Ar-We-Va prevailed 28-27 while Laurens-Marathon rolled 43-12.
Newell-Fonda at Akron-Westfield
The Mustangs started their season as one of Class A's hottest teams as they knocked off two Class 2A opponents to start the season as well as winning their first two district games.
The second half of the season wasn't as kind to N-F as they fell to the top three teams in their district as well as the second seed in District 1, LeMars Gehlen.
However, the playoffs mark a clean slate for the Mustangs as they prepare for the top seed in District 1, Akron Westfield.
The Westerners enter the playoffs on an eight game winning streak, most recently an 18-12 triumph over Alta to clinch their district title. A-W ranked second in points scored in their district at 29 a game and second in points allowed as they gave up just nine per contest.
The Mustangs averaged just over 22 points per contest while giving up 18.
Both teams rely heavily upon their ground games. Newell-Fonda has averaged 197 per game on the ground while Akron-Westfield is at 227 per game.
Josh Hopper leads the Mustangs with 1013 yards and 15TDs while A-W's duo of Christopher Carlson and Joe Sievert have totaled 1467 and 20 scores.
The Mustangs opportunistic defense has intercepted 12 passes on the season, but Akron-Westfield leads all of Class A with 25 INTs on the season.
Despite finishing undefeated in district play, the Westerners biggest struggles came against teams with strong rushing attacks. Against the physical ground attacks of Alta and Clay-Central-Everly, the Westerners had two of their three lowest scoring outputs of the season and won by a touchdown or less.
In games decided by ten points or less this fall, the Mustangs are 2-1.