116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
The Gazette’s Jeff Linder, Jeff Johnson, K.J. Pilcher and Nathan Ford answer Iowa high school football questions from readers.
1st & 10: Submitted by Subtext subscriber Chuck VanHecke: What is your evaluation of Class 5A Football?
Linder: The most compelling it's been in years. It's not just The Dowling and Valley Show. Other teams in Central Iowa suburbia have caught on and caught up, and Eastern Iowa has some threats in Cedar Rapids Kennedy, Cedar Rapids Prairie, Linn-Mar, Iowa City High, Pleasant Valley and Cedar Falls. First-round games won't be gimmes.
Johnson: I honestly think it's more wide open than it has been in a few years. As good and as talented as Southeast Polk is, it has a loss and was this close to losing last week to Cedar Rapids Prairie. Cedar Rapids Kennedy is the lone unbeaten team left. Maybe, just maybe, Eastern Iowa has caught up a bit to the suburban Des Moines powers. The proof will be in the postseason pudding, as I've been saying.
Pilcher: I think this has been the most balanced large class we’ve seen in years. Cedar Rapids Prairie’s performance Friday against Southeast Polk solidifies that notion. The Hawks were in it and had a chance to win it at the end after making some crucial mistakes, especially on special teams. Suburban Des Moines schools are crazy good with any team being able to win weekly. The Metro has three teams — Cedar Rapids Kennedy, Cedar Rapids Prairie and Linn-Mar — that have taken a big step forward. Cedar Falls and Iowa City High are among teams with wins over Central Iowa competitors. Pleasant Valley proved it has to be included in the picture after its win over the Little Hawks. Fun. Competitive. Balanced.
Ford: It's really, really fun. Covering the biggest class from Eastern Iowa the past few seasons seemed to come with the caveat that the Central Iowa powers would dominate the storylines at the UNI-Dome. Now it feels unpredictable and the list of championship contenders is long. Combined with the new playoff format, I can't wait for the postseason.
2nd & long: Submitted by Subtext subscriber Kyle Stahle: Who are the best running back, wide receiver and quarterback in Eastern Iowa?
Linder: I like Marcus Beatty of Independence at running back. At wideout, Monticello's Caleb Sauser is closing in on 1,000 receiving yards and averages more than 20 yards per catch. Eddie Burgess of Montezuma is hard to top at QB.
Johnson: Tough question, Kyle. I mean, you can't go wrong by picking Independence's Marcus Beatty as the top running back. His numbers and importance to his team can't be understated. The numbers for Montezuma quarterback Eddie Burgess are amazing in the 8-Player game. If you wanted an 11-player QB, there are guys in each class who have been stellar: Carson Blietz at Cedar Rapids Kennedy (5A), Jack Clemens at Western Dubuque (4A), Blake Timmons of Solon (3A), Preston Ries of Monticello (1A) and Gabe Kopriva of North Tama (A). Receiver wise, that's tougher. Monticello's Caleb Sauser leads the entire state in receiving yards, so you gotta mention him. I have to say Harrison Rosenberg of Clear Creek Amana impressed me when I saw him play a couple weeks ago.
Pilcher: I had Independence’s Marcus Beatty as my midseason MVP so it would be disingenuous to choose anyone else at running back. Quarterback is definitely Eddie Burgess. I’ve enjoyed the show, so far. Solon’s Blake Timmons is another solid choice. As for receiver, if we’re looking at Gazette-area players, I have to say Monticello’s Caleb Sauser. His numbers are impressive, ranking among the state’s best in receiving yards (933) and catches (45) with an average of 20.7 per catch. He also has eight TDs.
Ford: Tough to define "best" without getting the chance to see them all. Workhorse running back Marcus Beatty of Independence puts up insane numbers every week (236.8 yards per game), to the point that it's almost ho-hum when I see the box scores now. As far as receivers, North Scott isn't in the Gazette area but it's still Eastern Iowa and I was really impressed watching Oliver Hughes against Cedar Rapids Xavier a few weeks ago. And his teammate, Jakob Nelson, has even better numbers. Give me Eddie Burgess at quarterback. Anyone questioning his numbers because he plays in 8-Player at Montezuma hasn't seen him play.
3rd & short: Submitted by Subtext subscriber Matt Collins: Is the popcorn at Iowa City Regina really the best?
Linder: I'm not qualified to answer that one.
Johnson: Ha! Regina popcorn has been my favorite so far this season. And those who know me, know I don't say stuff like that lightly. Almost brought an extra bag home with me last Friday to give to notorious popcorn lover K.J. Pilcher.
Pilcher: Popcorn is awful. I would prefer any other concession item. Sorry, Regina, even if it was the best I can’t support it. I will say the chicken sandwiches at Prairie are the best.
Ford: I'll defer to Jeff Johnson, the staff's popcorn expert. My popcorn take is that it's always better with M&M's.
4th & goal: If you were picking entrance music for your team, what song would it be?
Linder: Pregame: This dates me a bit, but an instrumental intro from something Van Halen (I'll Wait, perhaps) or Rush. Halftime: Going The Distance, from the Rocky soundtrack.
Johnson: I have heard "Back In Black" and "Enter Sandman" so many freakin' times, it definitely wouldn't be one of them. You know what song always gets me jacked up? "Separate Ways" by Journey. At least the beginning. So there you go...
Pilcher: Give me a handful of Dropkick Murphys. My first choice is “Warrior’s Code” with “The Boys are Back” as the second pick or a halftime song. The more popular “I’m Shippin’ Up to Boston” or “Loyal to no-one” are always good. I’d love a team to take the field to “Freebird” by Lynyrd Skynyrd. FREEBIRD!
Ford: Anything but another AC/DC entrance. I do appreciate a good marching band playing the school song, especially if it's unique to the school (not "On Wisconsin" or the "Notre Dame Victory March"). And when the visiting team enters the field, the band can play the theme song from "Curb Your Enthusiasm.”