Panthers have motivation to avoid ‘hiccup’
If Creston/O-M players need incentive for Friday’s district game at Glenwood, all they need to do is look in the rear-view mirror.
One year ago, the Panthers claimed their first victory at Harlan since 1975, 42-20, taking a huge wave of momentum into the playoffs.
The bubble burst quickly in a 28-18 first-round loss to Spencer’s relentless rushing attack and physical defense. An underdog team had come to Panther Field and wiped away the team’s hopes and dreams.
“Their offense is just like Spencer,” Morrison said, describing Glenwood (2-4). “They are a power running team. They play hard. Some of their scores don’t show how competitive they are. They could have beaten ADM (21-14 loss). Turnovers made the Perry game bigger than it was, and special teams (returns) did that in the Harlan game. They can play.”
Now, Creston/O-M is coming off its first-ever back-to-back victory over Harlan (34-14), and heading into a road venue against an underdog opponent. Last week’s win moved the Panthers to No. 6 in the Class 3A Associated Press ratings, and No. 7 in the Des Moines Register, while dropping Harlan from second to ninth.
“I think we learned last year, in our district we can’t afford to have any hiccups,” Morrison said. “If we have a hiccup this week, we could be out of the mix.”
In District 1, ADM and Creston/O-M are each 3-1, while Harlan and Lewis Central are each 2-1. The Panthers have a non-district game at Winterset next week, before hosting Lewis Central in the district finale. Atlantic is lurking for a top-four playoff spot at 1-2.
Glenwood, 0-3 in district play, defeated winless Sergeant Bluff-Luton last week in a home non-district game, 35-15. Slotback Spencer Smith rushed for 169 yards and a touchdown for the Rams. Teammate Derek Jones, the feature fullback, added 164 yards and three touchdowns, including scoring runs of 6 and 54 yards that gave Glenwood a 14-0 lead.
SB-L pulled within 21-15 in the third quarter, but Glenwood scored on each of its last two third-quarter possessions.
“They are coming off a good non-district win,” Morrison said. “Their offense likes to put you in situations. It’s the exact opposite of a Harlan or ADM. You have to be careful thinking you can load up eight in the box and stop the run, because they will run vertical on you with four receivers and put pressure on your defense.”
And, it’s a defense not fully intact. Senior cornerback Caleb Thompson left the Harlan game with a lower-leg injury. He sustained a hairline fracture, Morrison said, and is sidelined. It’s the second year Thompson’s season was interrupted by injury, as a bone disorder in his foot kept him out several weeks at the start of the 2011 season.
Starting tailback Bryce McIlravy, junior receiver Maxx Walters and converted outside linebacker Jesse Rathe, also a receiver, could all be involved in that position this week.
“Bryce will play more defense than he has in the past, there’s no doubt about that,” Morrison said.
The other injury involves the kicking game and reserve corps at running back. Sophomore Conner Pals, who has made 14 of 18 extra point kicks, suffered two strained knee ligaments in Monday’s JV game and is out indefinitely.
Punter Alex Nielsen and Trevor Luther, who has been handling kickoff duty, are contending for PATs this week.
Creston/O-M’s offense will face an aggressive defense in this year’s Glenwood team, coached by former AHST coach Cory Faust, a Greenfield native and 1997 graduate. Faust guided AHST to a 68-26 record and six state playoff appearances during his nine years at the helm.
“Their base defense has a four-man front and they’ll try to stop our best run plays with their alignment, taking the A and B gaps,” Morrison said. “They’ll blitz their outside backers off the edge. They bring a lot of pressure and thrive on creating big plays on defense. If we get the right play called, it could be really good for us.”
Creston/O-M quarterback Luke Neitzel is the second-leading rusher in the district, behind ADM’s Jordan Grove, with 783 yards on 101 carries. McIlravy is close behind, fifth among district runners with 537 yards.
Glenwood’s Jones, the primary ball carrier in Faust’s “flexbone” offense brought over f’rom AHST, ranks third with 612 yards. Smith, the dangerous threat to break big plays at slotback, is seventh with 365 yards. He also has two receiving touchdowns.
Ram split end Sam Jameson has 13 catches for 204 yards and two TDs, just ahead of Walters, Creston/O-M’s leading receiver, at 200 yards and two TDs.
Glenwood quarterback Corey Bertini has completed 43.6 percent of his 94 passes for 649 yards, with four TDs and seven interceptions. Ball security has been a Neitzel strength, as he is 41-of-81 (50.6 percent) for 609 yards with eight TDs and only one interception.
Creston/O-M inside linebacker Trevor Frain is by far the leading tackler on either team, ranking sixth in the district with 61 tackles, including eight for losses. Neitzel leads the district secondary players with five interceptions. Glenwood’s Mitch Bowden has three.
Glenwood kicker Brandon Bichel has made 90 percent of his PAT kicks and has a 37-yard field goal.