116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
The Gazette’s Iowa high school football staff pose and answer questions about the current season. See how much Jeff Linder, Jeff Johnson, K.J. Pilcher and Nathan Ford can gain for 4 Downs:
1st & 10: Is fullback still a prominent or productive position in high school?
Linder: I love “traditional” football, so I love the fullback … and in most cases, miss it. You still see it from time to time, but with the “modern” offenses, even at the high school level, it’s a rarity.
Johnson: Less and less in this day of shotgun spreads. But for certain teams, it definitely is prominent and productive. Cedar Rapids Kennedy comes to mind. East Buchanan as well.
Pilcher: I enjoy old-school, smash-mouth football. Don’t get me wrong. The innovative offenses and spread, quick-style offenses are fun to watch. Fullbacks are all guts, no glory. Most don’t mind. Cedar Rapids Kennedy has preserved its fullback and uses him effectively, building a 5-1 record. East Buchanan bullies teams with a full backfield and is 5-1 also. Different strokes for different folks, but, yes, fullbacks are still useful and utilized.
Ford: One thing I love about high school football is how many different styles of play you can find. Sure, the dynamic passing attacks are fun to watch but I’ll always appreciate the fullbacks playing big roles in bruising rushing games as well.
2nd & long: What district is the most compelling, entering the last weeks of the regular season?
Linder: A pair of area 1A districts hold a lot of intrigue. In District 4, MFL MarMac (5-1, 3-0) holds the upper hand, but closes with stiff challenges at Cascade (4-2, 2-1) and at home against Dyersville Beckman (4-2, 1-2), which was ranked No. 1 not so long ago. Waterloo Columbus (3-3, 2-1) and Sumner-Fredericksburg (3-3, 1-2) make it five quality teams playing musical chairs for four playoff spots. The four playoff spots have been determined in District 5, now it’s a matter of establishing a pecking order among West Branch (6-0, 3-0), Durant (5-1, 2-1), Mediapolis (5-1, 2-1) and Iowa City Regina (4-2, 2-1).
Johnson: Class 1A, District 4 really fascinates me. You’ve got five pretty darned good teams, in my opinion, in MFL MarMac, Cascade, Waterloo Columbus, Dyersville Beckman and Sumner-Fredericksburg. All five have a legit shot at claiming a top-four district spot and a corresponding playoff berth. Who will be left out? And what order will these teams finish?
Pilcher: My first thought is Class 4A District 4. Sure, Cedar Rapids Xavier is likely to run the gauntlet unscathed, but playing at Clear Creek Amana and hosting an unbeaten Newton team aren’t gimmes. The race for runner-up (assuming Xavier holds serve) is interesting and starts Friday when Cedar Rapids Washington heads to Newton. The Warriors are a game back of the Cardinals. A win and Washington has to like its chances for a runner-up finish and the final automatic playoff bid after last week’s win at CCA. BUT, CCA could manage second by winning two of its last three game and Washington beats Newton and stumbles the last two weeks. CCA hosts Newton in Week 9. Could mean something. Could mean nada. Only four statewide at-large bids exist and with similar competition with Carlisle, Indianola, Bondurant-Farrar and Norwalk in 4A District 5. Best not depend on a wildcard bail out.
Ford: There aren’t any bad teams in Class 3A District 2, which could make for an interesting last few weeks. Humboldt has pretty much established itself as the frontrunner, but you’re not going to see many blowouts. Gilbert, for example, is 1-5 overall but has lost both its district games by three points apiece.
3rd & short: What team seems more likely to win out the rest of the season?
Linder: Of the teams with three regular-season games left, I think five (Cedar Rapids Xavier, Iowa City Liberty, Solon, Mount Vernon and Williamsburg) are basically untouchable until the playoffs start. Of the teams with two regular-seasons left, I would say East Buchanan is least likely to stumble, though there are a handful of others in 2A and down that should be unscathed. Keep an eye on these two teams that are 2-4 … Marion and Washington (Iowa). Both have a pair of tossups left, and with some breaks, could make it to 5-4.
Johnson: A number of candidates here, but I’ll mention two in Williamsburg and East Buchanan. Yeah, I know I’m cheating since there are only two regular-season games remaining for each instead of three for the larger classes.
Pilcher: The “Pilcher Curse” is real. I will gladly take cash, credit and Venmo for me not to pick your teams. Give me West Branch. The Bears have Iowa City Regina in a huge rivalry game. They have been clicking on all cylinders. They whooped Mediapolis and Durant and close with .500-record Wilton. Tye Hughes has thrown for 704 yards and eight touchdowns, completing 73 percent of his passes. Andy Henson has been magnificent, rushing for 784 yards with a 7.5 average and 19 TDs. Henson is the leading tackler (34.5) and second only to teammate Logan Wright in tackles for loss (9-7). Trophy talk is warranted.
Ford: I expect Mount Vernon to finish the regular season undefeated. I believe the last time that happened was 2001, a year that started a streak of three straight state semifinal trips that included runner-up finishes the next two seasons.
4th & goal: Broken play and time to scramble. Discuss any high school football hot take of your choice?
Linder: Here’s a hot one, but not out of the realm of possibility: Currently one of only two unbeaten teams in Class 5A, Davenport West will not make the playoffs. The schedule finally gets challenging with two probable losses against Cedar Rapids Kennedy and Iowa City High, then a tricky regular-season finale against Muscatine. With a weak strength of schedule, the Falcons are iffy at 7-2 and almost an impossible qualifier at 6-3.
Johnson: I wonder how long the IHSAA will continue to conduct its state semifinal and championship games at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls. It is perfect because weather factors are completely taken out. But from what I hear, the rent is not cheap, then you take other factors into it, like that very bad foible last year when Cedar Rapids Xavier and Council Bluffs Lewis Central were about to go to the second overtime of their 4A semifinal, the lights went out because they were set on a timer not controlled by the IHSAA, and it took 20 minutes or so for them to come back on. That kind of stuff can’t happen.
Pilcher: Friday Night Lights has lost its shine in the bigger schools. Sure, it remains the grandest regular-season spectacle of high school competition, but stands aren’t as packed as they used to be. Listening and recalling old stories of Kingston Stadium’s past glory days, one realizes those crowds of 5,000-6,000 people or more don’t occur. Visiting sections have fewer than 100 people sometimes. Student sections and players’ families attend, but I don’t think the community is vested in it as much unless it’s a trip to the UNI-Dome to try to get in on title celebrations. Maybe technology — TV, radio, simulcasts, and social media — has impacted things. You don’t need to be there to find out what happened instantly. It’s the experience that sets it apart and some of that atmosphere has dissipated.
Ford: I like that state rankings aren’t unanimous. The current top-ranked teams in Class 5A, for example, are Ankeny (The Gazette), West Des Moines Dowling (BCMoore) and Pleasant Valley (The Des Moines Register, Radio Iowa, Bound). Good thing there is a playoff bracket at the end of this. Can you imagine if pollsters decided the champion? Oh, right, that used to be a thing. In 1971, the sportswriters selected 9-0 Waterloo East, but the coaches tabbed 9-0 Sioux City Heelan No. 1. And there was not one furious Facebook comment reported! The playoffs started the next season. Then-IHSAA executive director Bernie Saggau “acknowledged” in a 1969 Iowa Press Association report that “football play-offs would tend to eliminate football popularity polls in which high school teams are ranked each week …” Lucky for us that take wasn’t quite right. The popularity polls remain among The Gazette’s most-popular articles, even as we let the playoff system inevitably “prove the doubters wrong” and decide who No. 1 is ultimately.