Even though the Creston/Orient-Macksburg football roster is starting to shape up like a list of the walking wounded, head coach Brian Morrison still feels confident in his team as it heads into a non-district matchup at Winterset on Friday.
The headline-grabbing season-ending ankle injury to senior running back Bryce McIlravy is just one of several injuries hampering the Panthers.
Junior tight end and linebacker Cole Crawford is out for Friday’s game with a sprained ankle, but could be back next week. Sophomore reserve lineman Tayler Pettit is out for one week with an ankle sprain of his own.
Senior starting cornerback Caleb Thompson remains out with a hairline fracture in his lower leg, but will be re-evaluated early next week. Junior lineman Trey Benson remains out for the season with a broken foot. Sophomore kicker and reserve running back Conner Pals is sidelined until at least the playoffs with a sprained knee.
There is some good news on the injury front for the Panthers, however. Backup tight end Levi Eblen returns to the lineup after suffering from a knee contusion. Sophomore lineman Jordan Thompson also returns after missing the entire season, which also provides some flexibility in filling other spots.
Junior Trevor Frain will move from the fullback position to the feature back position, filling the spot vacated by McIlravy’s injury. Taking Frain’s spot at fullback will be senior Keenan Reese.
“He’s been a tremendous practice player, and he’s been a really good role player for us all year at inside backer, outside backer and then on offense taking reps at fullback,” Morrison said of Reese. “The progression was great this week. He knows what he’s doing. He’s been in tune for the last two and a half months. As far as what we’re doing package-wise, he understands it. He just needs to step up and be the guy for that position.”
Junior Gavin Leith will be the backup at the feature back position, and starting guard Adam Baker has seen snaps in practice at the fullback position for depth purposes.
“Offensively, we went back to last year’s deal where we have three different packages based on formation and based on play type,” Morrison explained.
Jordan Thompson’s return to the lineup provides depth on the line, and allows Baker to move to fullback, if needed.
“He got some time in the JV game, got some quality reps on both offense and defense, just getting him back in the swing of things as far as knowing what to do on the field. He looked good on Monday,” Morrison said about Thompson. “He can play both guard positions. Up front we haven’t had this much depth since the season started since we lost Trey Benson and Jordan Thompson.”
Defensively, Jesse Rathe has continued working at cornerback position, as has Maxx Walters. Sophomore Alex Nielsen is also preparing at cornerback, providing plenty of options for playing time at the starting position opposite senior Kainen Somers.
Even though this week’s contest is a non-district game, the opponent remains familiar for the Panthers, as the Huskies played in the same district as Creston/O-M as recently as last year.
Creston/O-M held a 24-game winning streak against the Huskies that started in 1983 and was snapped in 2008. Since then, the Panthers have gone 2-1 against Winterset, including last year’s 29-7 victory.
Morrison knows it will take a total team effort to defeat the Huskies, 5-2 overall and 4-1 in district play.
“I think this week is important for our kids to win because it’s Winterset, and it’s important for us to do well, because I think if you don’t progress week in and week out, you set yourself up to fail in our district, and we have a big game against LC,” Morrison said. “I expect our kids, especially the kids that are filling in for our injured starters to step up and play equally as hard as the guys that were playing beforehand.
“It’s a team effort. Football, I would say, is the ultimate team sport as far as number of players you need to perform on a Friday or Monday night, and it’s holding true this year for us.”
Morrison and his players are preparing for a Winterset offense that features a variety of different type of runs, that make it difficult to prepare for the Husky offense.
“They’ll run the option out of the three-back formation, they’ll run the power game with double isos, they’ll run a belly series,” Morrison said. “We’ll see a lot of veer, a lot of belly, a lot of option, and then just straight power football, mixed in with some counter and traps to offset their power run game.”
The Huskies lean heavily on senior running back Noah Kaldenberg, who has 12 touchdowns and 1,062 rushing yards on 155 attempts. Senior quarterback Cory Briney has also been efficient, passing for 846 yards and eight touchdowns.
Friday’s action kicks off with the freshman game at 4:45 p.m., followed by the varsity game at 7:30 p.m.