CEDAR RAPIDS — In soccer’s World Cup every four years, analysts always label one of the first-round pods as the Group of Death.
It means the four nations in the group are evenly matched. They’re all good, any of them could realistically win and advance, a couple of them will be eliminated right away despite being of very high quality.
When it comes to the Iowa high school football playoffs, here’s your Group of Death: Bracket B in Class 3A.
Western Dubuque, Washington, Cedar Rapids Xavier and North Scott all are ranked by The Gazette/KGYM. Western Dubuque is No. 1, Xavier 2, North Scott 4 and Washington 10.
Xavier is the two-time defending state champion in 3A. It beat Western Dubuque in last year’s final.
The teams have a combined record of 32-4, with one of those four losses coming because Washington inadvertently used an ineligible player for a couple of plays late in a game it would have won easily.
Tough, tough, tough bracket here. Tough.
“You play who they sign you up to play,” said Washington Coach James Harris. “We’re happy to play anyone. I agree, it’s a super tough bracket. Western Dubuque, being in the state championship game last year, being undefeated and beating North Scott and Xavier (this season), you could make the case they should be No. 1. Then you’ve got Xavier and North Scott, two perennially strong programs. North Scott is obviously a borderline 4A school. Then you’ve got the Demons in there. We’re excited we’ve got the opportunity to be in the playoffs.
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“It’s tough. But I don’t think anyone in the playoffs has an easy go of it.”
Your first-round matchups Friday, by the way, are Washington (7-2) at Western Dubuque (9-0) and Xavier (8-1) at North Scott (8-1). As Harris noted, Western Dubuque has given Xavier and North Scott their only losses but didn’t get the class’ top RPI.
The Bobcats are second behind No. 1 Solon, which gave Washington its lone loss on the field. Xavier finished the regular season with a RPI of 6, North Scott 9 and Washington 13.
District champs host first-round playoff games, which is why Xavier and its higher RPI are on the road against North Scott.
“I tell you, I’ve got such tunnel vision. I recognize that it’s tough, but, other than that, I just see it as what it is,” said Western Dubuque Coach Justin Penner. “I did have one of our coaches put into the RPI had Washington not had to forfeit that game. And I think their RPI would have been ahead of Xavier. They’re good. And, obviously, we know North Scott and Xavier are good, as well. Silver lining for us, I guess, is one of those teams is going to lose. Beating teams twice is tough.”
Xavier Coach Duane Schulte said he’s extremely proud of his team, which returned only three starters from last year’s back-to-back championship season. One of those returners, Iowa-bound offensive tack Josh Volk, sat out more than half the season as he continued to fully recovery from ACL surgery on his knee.
These Saints find themselves on the road for a first-round game against a North Scott opponent that plays a similar style offensively and defensively.
“I guess the system is what it is. We just go by whatever the system is,” Schulte said. “It kind of reminds me of last year when we had to play Pella in the first round.”
Those two schools had met in the previous two 3A championship games.
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“It seems they are going more by the (straight) numbers than the eye test, if you will,” Schulte said. “But I know they are doing the best they can to make it as fair as possible. It just seems like there will never be a perfect system, and this is the one we are going by now. This is what we’ve got to deal with, I guess.”
“Xavier doesn’t have the record is has for nothing,” North Scott Coach Kevin Tippet said. “They are very good defensively, their front seven gets a lot of credit and deservedly so. They do a good job of running to the ball, are very active, very physical. They do a good job of running the ball downhill offensively, too. I think it’s going to be a heck of a ballgame. We take a lot of pride in what we do, our defense has played very well all year, too. Our offense has kept getting better all year. I think it’s going to be a whale of a ballgame. And the fortunate thing is we get to play at home.”
The first-round winners in the Group of Death move on to play each other next Friday, with that winner making it to the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls for the semifinals. The first-round losers will be done.
“You first look at it and you think ‘Wow, it’s four really good teams.’ And it is,” Tippet said. “But you look at it, and I know it sounds cliche but we know we have to worry about ourselves right now. Class 3A is pretty much loaded all the way around. And it’s a pretty good group there that we’re in.”
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