Now it’s time to play for real.
After two relatively easy non-district victories to start the 2013 season, the Creston/O-M Panthers are the likely favorite again in starting District 1 play at home Friday against Atlantic.
The Panthers have disposed of Chariton, 50-20 and Clarinda, 42-10. Atlantic, coming off a 5-4 season a year ago, needs to replace the bulk of its starting lineup on both sides of the ball.
The Trojans, under second-year coach Nick Ross, started the season with a 7-3 victory over Clarinda, before turnovers were converted into a series of early touchdowns in Carroll’s 47-0 romp last week.
“We just need to get over this whole ‘young team’ thing,” Ross said afterward. “It’s the second game of the year, and I expected us to come out and execute things better. We took a step back as far as that is concerned.”
All of the District 1 teams suffered key graduation losses last year, but perhaps none more significant than Atlantic. All of the primary playmakers — quarterback Harrison Hoegh and receivers Sam Markham and Dalton Franken — were seniors. Running back Jacob Dvorak would be a senior this year and led the Trojans in rushing a year ago, but is ineligible for this season.
Last year, the game was tied 6-6 at halftime in the Trojan Bowl. Creston/O-M rolled in the second half to a 32-19 victory, opening the third quarter with a “statement drive” of 81 yards on 14 plays, chewing up 6:15 of the clock.
Hoegh found Markham for a 79-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter, but it wasn’t enough as Luke Neitzel scored his fourth touchdown for a 32-13 lead. Neitzel rushed for 217 yards in the game and Bryce McIlravy ran for 140 more.
This year, Atlantic’s offense has not been as potent.
“The Carroll game was one of those things that just snowball on you when you turn the ball over early against a good team like Carroll,” said Creston/O-M coach Brian Morrison. “Against Clarinda, they were moving the ball well in spurts, but again, sometimes they turned it over.”
Atlantic used a six-minute offensive drive to hang on to the 7-3 victory over the Cardinals in week one. New Trojan quarterback Joe Walker connected with sophomore receiver Brendan Holmes on a 25-yard touchdown.
Walker finished 6-of-14 for 81 yards and the Trojans accumulated 156 yards on the ground while outgaining Clarinda 238 to 155 in total yards.
Carroll moved ahead 21-0 early in the first quarter last week, converting fumbles and poor snaps into scoring opportunities in the game’s first three minutes. Carroll racked up 328 yards of offense in the first half, holding a 41-0 halftime lead.
Holmes is the leading receiver to date with six catches for 74 yards, as Walker has gone 14-of-32 passing for 158 yards and no interceptions. Logan Steffens has rushed 37 times for 105 yards in two games. He is also the leading tackler with 18 total tackles. Reid Nichols has an interception.
“They’re more 50-50 this year,” Morrison said. “They’re good up front and they can run the ball more efficiently. They had really good receivers last year, and a good quarterback. We have to improve week to week to be good in our district, and our kids understand that.”
The Panthers successfully shut down Clarinda’s unique single-wing rushing attack last week, and had a good mix offensively.
“We did some good things up front on both sides,” Morrison said. “It was a really good performance. Our run game was good, and we mixed in some good passes off play action. Defensively, first and 10 was critical, and we got them in some second and long and third and long situations.”
Another positive was that the Panthers came out of the first two weeks with no significant injuries, other than a broken finger that has sidelined receiver/defensive back McClain Haines for the season after surgery was performed last Friday.
“It’s been hot, but the kids have been working hard,” Morrison said.
A new weather front has moved in with cooler temperatures, with Friday’s high expected to be in the mid-70s.
The freshman game kicks off the evening at 4:45 p.m.
Other district openers are ADM (1-1) at Glenwood (2-0) and Harlan (2-0) at Perry (1-1). Lewis Central (0-2) hosts Indianola in a non-district game.