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: Which 4A district seems to be the toughest, in which a very good team could get left out of the playoffs due to the new format?
JL: Such a scenario could arise in both District 7 or District 8. Perennial powers Bettendorf and Iowa City High reside in District 7, and Muscatine returns much of its skill personnel. Last year’s state runner-up, Cedar Rapids Kennedy headlines District 8, with Linn-Mar and Iowa City West both expecting to be much-improved from four-win teams a year ago.
Q: What are your thoughts on 8-player vs. 11-player football? Is 8-player, as some think, less of a game?
KJP: The answer is cliche, but football is football. The fundamentals are the same for both. Blocking, tackling, running, throwing, etc. The schemes are different but the skills are the similar. Less players on the field does not make it less of a game.
The difference is the inflated statistics. Simply, a 100-yard rushing game in 8-player still is impressive but it doesn’t hold the same weight as the same feat in 11-player. Even with the smaller field, there are less bodies to cover the field. One player can make a huge difference, being able to isolate the player 1-on-1 with a defender and giving them space to move freely. Big gains occur in both, but breaking the first line of defense usually means a big scoring play in 8-player more often than 11-player.
Q: What teams are most likely to post a turnaround season?
JJ: La Porte City Union went 4-6 last season, losing in the first round of the Class 2A playoffs to Waukon. But just about everyone from that team returns, including Northern Iowa recruit Brock Hadachek, son of head coach Joe Hadachek. Running back Isaiah Vaughn returns after rushing for 1,373 yards and 17 touchdowns. Two quarterbacks who got significant playing time are back. A lot of experience means the Knights are poised to be very good, definitely improving upon their 2015 record.
Q: Which area matchup jumps out at you?
JL: The Highway 1 rivalry could be renamed the Highway 1-sided rivalry, with Solon beating Mount Vernon 14 straight years. This could be the year the Mustangs snap the streak, with future Iowa Hawkeye lineman Tristan Wirfs and QB Drew Adams back from a 2A state-runner-up squad.
JJ: There are a lot of good ones, but how about Iowa City Regina and Cedar Rapids Xavier? If they play a game with half the drama of last season’s 38-35 thriller, it’ll be an instant classic. Make that another instant classic. Regina, which went on to win its sixth consecutive Class 1A state title, built a 35-7 lead but couldn’t hang on, as Xavier kicked a field goal on the last play of the game to win. The Gazette has Regina ranked No. 1 again in 1A (no kidding?), while Xavier is second in Class 3A, returning starting quarterback Bryce Schulte and top running back Maliki Wilson, among others. Could be another beauty.
KJP: If you had a stick to shake, you could hit a number of great games in Week 1. The game that caught my eye is Bettendorf at West Des Moines Valley. A top-10 matchup right off the bat with NCAA Division I talent on both sides, including Valley QB Rocky Lombardi, who is Michigan State bound, and Bulldog lineman and University of Iowa commit Mark Kallenberger. How will Bettendorf fill the skill players? How will they stack up in the early test. This could be the first of two games between the two with a possible state final rematch.