Small College Sports

Coe football has no margin for error in American Rivers Conference race

Kohawks look to bounce back at home against Buena Vista

Coe's AJ Christensen dives to recover the ball after he blocked the punt of Luther's Canon Reece (not pictured) during the third quarter of their college football game at Clark Field at Coe College in northeast Cedar Rapids, Iowa on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Coe's AJ Christensen dives to recover the ball after he blocked the punt of Luther's Canon Reece (not pictured) during the third quarter of their college football game at Clark Field at Coe College in northeast Cedar Rapids, Iowa on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Coe football entered this season with title aspirations, despite being selected fifth in the preseason by American Rivers Conference coaches.

The Kohawks’ hopes remain intact, but the margin of error became razor thin after their first conference setback last week at Dubuque. Their response will reveal the team’s mettle.

“I feel like we’ve rebounded well this week,” Coe Coach Tyler Staker said. “We know that if we want to accomplish the goals that we want to accomplish — and that is to play for a conference championship — we don’t have any room for error.

“We have to take it one game at a time and put forth our best effort every single week.”

Coe will attempt to stay in contention with league leaders when it hosts Buena Vista in an A-R-C contest Saturday at Clark Field, beginning at 1 p.m. The Kohawks are 3-2 overall and 2-1 in the A-R-C. Buena Vista is 2-3 overall, but is winless in three conference games.

“At this point, we still control our own destiny,” Coe senior running back Tyler Dralle said. “If we win out, we’ll be conference champs. We’re just going to take it one week at a time and I know this next game is a very winnable game for us.”

The Kohawks have won four straight games in the series, including a 35-33 victory the last time the Beavers traveled to Clark Field. Staker said last year’s game was close until the Kohawks pulled away late, 35-14.

Staker said the focus is on themselves. The opponent is inconsequential.

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“My big message to our players is it is all about us,” Staker said. “We get better every single week. It’s not necessarily who we play, who we’re about to play or what everybody else is doing. It is making sure we take care of ourselves and be the best we can be week in and week out.”

The 20-14 loss to Dubuque was a learning experience. Coe had its chances, converting just one of four drives in the red zone. It was a tough lesson to learn but a good example of how Coe needs to improve.

“If you learn and grow from them, it’s going to make you a better football team,” Staker said. “That’s the goal and what we’re looking to do.”

Dralle ranks third in the A-R-C with 339 rushing yards and is tied for second with four rushing touchdowns, including one against the Spartans. He reminded teammates in practice about the importance of finishing possessions with points.

“We’ve got to execute,” Dralle said. “Make sure we stay focused.”

A bright spot so far this season has been the Kohawks’ punt return unit. In addition to Eric Aguilar ranking second in the conference with a 13.7 average and a TD return, A.J. Christensen has a blocked punt and TD return in consecutive games.

“He’s done that two weeks in a row,” Staker said. “He’s been a big spark in our special teams, especially with what he’s been able to do the last two weeks. Overall, we’ve played well in that area. Our punt return team has been really solid.”

Buena Vista ranks among the league leaders in sacks and likes to bring pressure, according to Staker. He said the Beavers will fight the entire game. Staker also praised BV wideout Eric Pacheco, who has 638 receiving yards and two TDs on 35 catches.

“He’s a very good player,” Staker said. “He does it all for them.

“He is a guy we need to know where he is lined up and we have a guy accounted for him at all times.”

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Coe travels to Nebraska Wesleyan next week and then has a tough final third of the season against the top three teams in the A-R-C standings (Wartburg, Simpson, Central). The Kohawks are concerned with immediate business and will let everything fall into place.

“We’ve got a strong senior class,” Staker said. “We’ve got good leadership. Those guys have done a really good job of rebounding from last week.”

Comments: (319) 368-8679; kj.pilcher@thegazette.com

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