116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Coe Coach Tyler Staker’s message is business as usual.
He and the Kohawks know there is more at stake in the regular-season finale against Wartburg. A chance for an American Rivers Conference title and a postseason berth is still dangling in front of them.
“Obviously, there is a little bit more riding on it,” Staker said. “I think our guys understand that. We worked hard to put ourselves in this position. This is one of our goals. We started out the season to be playing in a meaningful game at the end of the year.”
Coe hosts No. 14 Wartburg for a 1 p.m. kickoff Saturday at Clark Field. The Kohawks enter in a second-place tie with Dubuque, trailing the Knights by a game. Coe’s title hopes rely on a Kohawk upset and Central win at Dubuque.
If Coe and Dubuque both win, forcing a three-way tie for first, the Spartans will receive the conference’s automatic berth since they have gone the longest without a postseason appearance. Coe won’t likely receive an at-large bid, but Wartburg might. Coe needs to win and get help from the Dutch to extend its season.
“This is fun and fun to be a part of it,” Staker said. “I’m proud of our guys for the hard work they’ve put in to earn this opportunity in front of them.”
The Kohawks (7-2, 6-1 A-R-C) have won three straight games. Coe’s defense has lived up to the high expectations that accompanied the start of the season. The Kohawks rank second in the conference, allowing 265.2 total yards per game including just 49.3 on the ground.
Coe ranks second with 30 sacks and 15 interceptions. Alex Aitchison, a first-team all-conference player in 2021, leads the league with 12 sacks, while Jay Oostendorp is tied for third with 6.5. They have powered the defense, while senior safeties Jack Shaw, Trey Holub and Bridger Aucutt have combined for eight interceptions. Some assisted by pressure from Aitchison and Oostendorp.
“It starts with some big playmakers,” said Staker, who praised defensive coordinator Cody Baethke. “Alex Aitchison is having a great year. He continues to get better and be a force. Opposing coordinators and players are having to figure out ways to get him blocked.
“Jay is having a phenomenal year. He has taken that next step forward. We knew he could with his athleticism and ability to take over a game.”
The offense has improved with the season. Carter Maske has emerged as the leader at quarterback, passing for 268 yards and three TDs in a win over Nebraska Wesleyan last week. Running back Ray Seidel has had moments, including three scores in a victory over Central.
Wide receiver Dominic Shepardson has been a consistent big-play option. He leads the conference with 69 receptions and has a team-high 751 yards and seven TDs.
“We’re just finding ways to get him the ball and getting him some space,” Staker said. “He has made some big catches when we’ve needed it. He’s kind of our all-around guy that has been a matchup problem for a lot of the opposing teams.”
Wartburg (9-0, 7-0) leads the A-R-C in just about every category and has been dominant. The Knights have averaged 48.4 points per game, holding opponents to a microscopic 5.2. Coe will have a monumental challenge in slowing down a team that has scored 211 points in its last three contests.
“My dad always said it’s a simple game,” Staker said of his late father and former Coe head coach Steve Staker. “Block, tackle and take care of the football. It is so true. I think those are the keys.
“It comes down to execution and doing the fundamentals, doing the little things right.”