IOWA CITY — It had been a long time since Iowa City Regina did not play football in November and did not compete for a state championship.
The Regals’ 2018 season ended with a Week 9 loss to Dike-New Hartford, keeping Regina out of the playoffs for the first time since 2003. It was the first time Regina did not play in a championship game since 2009.
That’s part of life, said head coach Marv Cook.
Though staying at home in November was a different experience, given the Regals’ recent success, Cook said the 2018 season was a great learning experience for players and coaches. It provided lessons Regina is eager to use in its quest to return to playoff football in 2019.
“We want to think about it, make sure it doesn’t happen again,” said junior wide receiver Alec Wick about last season. “If we play our football, it should take us to good places.”
“The goal is always to get to the UNI-Dome and compete for a state championship,” said quarterback Ashton Cook, a junior and Marv’s son.
Staying healthy will help Regina reach that goal.
Injuries decimated the Regals in 2018. Ashton Cook missed four games. On top of that, Marv Cook said five or six other players were unable to play at different times, requiring younger and less experienced teammates to step in. A lot of sophomores and some freshman played wherever they were needed.
“It was a tough stretch,” Marv Cook said, especially given the team’s stout non-district schedule that included Cedar Rapids Xavier, Pella Christian, and Williamsburg.
ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT
But despite the injuries and inexperience, the Regals controlled their playoff destiny last year. The team’s only district loss was against Dike-New Hartford on the last Friday of the regular season.
It is something that bodes well for 2019 as injured players return healthy and greenhorns have much appreciated and needed experience.
Though the Regals need to replace their leading tackler and rusher from 2018, the team’s leading passer and receiver return.
Ashton Cook threw for more than 1,200 yards in just five games, and Wick caught 59 passes for 746 yards as a sophomore. Both are eager to help Regina recover from what was an off year statistically. Last season, the Regals gained the fewest total yards since at least 2008, and the team passed for more yards than it ran for only the second time during the same period.
Marv Cook said the Regals also return their kicker, senior Michael Dunn, as well as four lineman who received a lot of experience last year.
“We feel like we have a good nucleus,” Marv Cook said. “We’ve got a lot of great players, and it’s time for those guys to step up and make plays.”
The Regals have the same tough non-district schedule this year, which is something Marv Cook said his players gravitate toward.
It is a challenge they eagerly accept, he said.
Ashton Cook said he is looking forward to the Regals’ opening game at two-time defending Class 3A champion Cedar Rapids Xavier.
ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT
“I think it’s going to be fun playing on their new turf,” he said. “It’s going to be a good game, I think.”
The schedule does not get any easier from there. The Regals play a rising Anamosa team at home and then travel to Pella Christian in Week 3. Regina rounds out its non-district schedule with a home tilt against Williamsburg, meaning the Regals will have played three 2018 playoff teams in four weeks.
Regina begins district play with two games on the road against East Marshall and South Hardin. Games against North Linn and Jesup follow. The Regals finish the regular season with a Week 9 rematch against Dike-New Hartford on the Wolverines’ home turf.
Both Pella Christian and Dike-New Hartford beat Regina at home last year. When asked if he would like to return the favor and beat both teams on their home turf in 2019, Marv Cook was thoughtful and diplomatic. He said his players remember the games and have seen the footage, but “it’s an all new season and we have all new players at a lot of different positions.”
When asked the same question, Ashton Cook had a different answer.
“Absolutely,” he said.
Iowa City Regina Regals
Coach: Marv Cook (13th season, 139-16)
Last year: 5-4, missed playoffs
Top returners: QB Ashton Cook, WR/LB Alec Wick, G/DL Russell Hingst
Keys to making the playoffs: The Regals need to stay healthy, and notching one or two victories against non-district opponents will help. Regina will likely need to beat Dike-New Hartford to win the district and the automatic playoff birth.
Games to watch: Aug. 30 at Cedar Rapids Xavier will be a big test to begin the season. The Regals look to avenge a home loss to Pella Christian on Sept. 13 and Oct. 25 at Dike-New Hartford could decide the district title.
Aug. 30 — at 3A No. 2 Cedar Rapids Xavier
Sept. 6 — Anamosa
Sept. 13 — at No. 7 Pella Christian
Sept. 20 — Williamsburg
Sept. 27 — at East Marshall
Oct. 4 — at South Hardin
Oct. 11 — North Linn
Oct. 18 — Jesup
Oct. 25 — at No. 2 Dike-New Hartford