MURRAY — Back when Murray defeated Adair-Casey 64-26 in late September, in the game that essentially decided the Eight-Man District 6 championship, there was a lingering feeling this rivalry wasn’t finished for the 2012 season.
“Certainly, we’d like another opportunity in the (playoff) quarterfinals and play better,” A-C coach Wade Anderson said after the Sept. 21 contest in Murray.
As it turned out, the ninth-ranked Bombers (10-1) indeed to get that opportunity Friday night, in a 7 p.m. quarterfinal matchup with No. 2 Murray (11-0) at Mustang Field. As in last year’s playoff game in Adair, the winner advances to next week’s semifinal round in the UNI-Dome at Cedar Falls.
Last year, A-C won the regular season game, 80-40, as the Mustangs were hampered by two costly fumbles. In a wild playoff rematch, Murray turned the tables, 70-54, on the way to finishing as state runner-up.
In this year’s regular season game, it was A-C’s mistakes that opened the floodgates for Murray’s surprising 38-point victory margin. The Mustangs took a 56-20 lead in the third quarter against a Bomber squad that came into the contest ranked No. 1 in the state on the Associated Press poll, and No. 4 by the Des Moines Register.
Mustang junior running back Andrew Rider, since sidelined by a broken arm, ran for 173 yards and five touchdowns, including a 55-yard punt return, for Murray in that game. He ran in the opening touchdown from 20 yards.
A-C star running back Clayton Plowman went 53 yards on a pitchout on the Bombers’ first play to tie it 6-6.
But, when tight end Sam Rockhold took a 15-yard pass from Austin Halls for Murray’s second touchdown late in the first quarter, the Mustangs never trailed again. Plowman was slowed by a sprained ankle in that game, but still managed 135 yards on 24 carries.
“As a team we are definitely playing better,” Anderson said Wednesday. “Our line has jelled and Plowman is at full strength, and running hard. We have to shore up the mistakes we made in the first game.”
Plowman has carried 194 times for 1,924 yards and 34 touchdowns in 11 games. Four other Bombers, including quarterback Gunnar Dinkla, have rushed for more than 400 yards.
The Bombers have 851 yards passing compared to Halls’ 1,557 yards and 29 TDs for Murray. Seth Nerness has 983 yards rushing and Rider has 837. Halls, who raced 77 yards for a TD Monday, has gained 642 yards for 2,199 total yards passing and rushing.
After the first meeting, Murray coach Keith Shields praised his players in the trenches.
“We felt good about matching up with them speed-wise with them,” Shields said. “The big question was, could we match up with them physically?”
The answer was on the scoreboard. Halls and Murray’s backs praised the efforts of offensive linemen Eddie Otto, Cole Weir and George Barber and tight end Sam Rockhold.
Defensive end Seth Nerness led the defense in that game with 11 tackles, and Otto had nine from his linebacker position.
“It took all eight guys doing their job,” Shields said. “Plowman is a threat on any play, from anywhere. You can’t tackle him high, and a lot of times you can’t tackle him with one guy.”
Now, Nerness is the feature back on offense, with the absence of Rider. In the past two games, Nerness has gained 106 and 153 yards. Anderson said his team doesn’t get much relief, despite the loss of Rider from the Mustangs’ attack.
“Nerness is a great athlete,” Anderson said. “We knew he was a good back. He’s a little bigger than Rider. We’re facing a top-quality back no matter what.”
Barber is back at full strength in the line for Murray after a week seven injury against Colo-Nesco, and Cody Scroggie returned at receiver last week with four touchdowns and 161 yards receiving.
So, both teams should be at full strength other than Rider’s absence for the Mustangs. Sophomores Scott Funke and Matthew Barnes, as well as senior Devin Shields, have all gotten some time on defense in place of Rider.
“We were on the other side of this boat last year, having lost in the middle of the season by a fairly wide margin and an opportunity to get a second chance,” Shields said Wednesday. “We know they’ll come out and be ready to go.”
If HLV had defeated A-C on Monday, the Mustangs would have played at Victor Friday. Another game at home is a bonus, Shields said.
“Our kids are mature enough, they could have handled the situation no matter what,” Shields said. “But they were awfully excited to have an opportunity to play back here in Murray one more time. Especially the upperclassmen.”
Murray’s Oct. 5 game at Colo-Nesco was the team’s only road game since Aug. 31. Friday’s winner plays the winner of 10th-ranked Clarksville vs. No. 3 Gilbertville Don Bosco on Nov. 8, at either 9 a.m. or noon.