INDEPENDENCE - For Independence, the prep football season opener bore little resemblance to its winless 2016 campaign.
Even in defeat, a clear message was sent that there are brighter days ahead for the Mustangs.
Independence nearly matc ... »
Q: Who wins the “Battle has for the Boot” and is the annual rivalry game as big as it has been in the past?
JJ: Last week, Ames pulled off a surprising victory over Iowa City High, while Iowa City West beat its second straight top-10 team, downing Cedar Falls. The Little Hawks need to rebound, so I’m going with City High taking home “the Boot.”
As for the rivalry, this game remains an important and huge contest in Iowa City. The buzz still builds for the week. Outside of Iowa City, it doesn’t quite command the same amount of attention it did when both programs were contending for state titles.
Q: What team has done the best job “reloading” talent from last season?
KJP: Programs face questions when they graduate talent. Can they plug in new guys and maintain the same level of success? You’re seeing it from Cedar Rapids Washington. The Warriors graduated their top skill-position players on offense and some key defenders, but they are 3-0 with wins over state finalist Cedar Rapids Kennedy and Bettendorf. West Delaware has dominated its way to a 3-0 start without its all-time leading rusher and a new QB, beating Class 2A title contender Mount Vernon and perennial power Davenport Assumption.
The best “reload” might very well be two-time defending 3A state champ Pella. The Dutch graduated all-stater Noah Clayberg and Nathan Henry from a team that averaged 411 total offensive yards a game. Nick Finney has stepped in to replace Clayberg, throwing for 547 yards and rushing for 318. Avery Van Zee has taken over for Henry and has 204 yards and three scores. The Dutch average more than 35 points per game, racking up 377 offensive yards a game. Not bad when they allow less than 10 points a game.
Q: What winless team is likely to break into the win column this week?
KJP: Ankeny is 0-3, losing to West Des Moines Dowling, Ankeny Centennial and Waukee. All three are top-10 teams. Ankeny has another challenge with 2-1 Indianola. Ankeny might be the toughest 0-3 team around, so expect a victory this week.
Q: After three weeks, who are your predictions for Class 4A playoff qualifiers?
JJ: The top two in each district qualify. First the area. In 4A D5, Cedar Rapids Washington seems to be the favorite with Cedar Falls a top contender for the second berth. Waterloo West is 3-0 with a good coach and NCAA Division I player at QB (Devon Moore) and could very well beat Cedar Falls and reach the postseason. In 4A D6, I’ll go with Pleasant Valley and Dubuque Hempstead. In 4A D7 and D8, a good team is going to miss the playoffs. Give me Bettendorf and Iowa City High, leaving Muscatine out in the cold in D7. Cedar Rapids Kennedy and Iowa City West are my picks just ahead of Cedar Rapids Prairie in D8.
My other picks for the playoff field are Johnston, Waukee, West Des Moines Dowling, Ankeny Centennial, Lewis Central, Ankeny, Indianola and top-ranked West Des Moines Valley.