The Creston/O-M football team finds itself in a familiar situation going into Friday’s homecoming game against Perry.
A year ago, the Panthers were riding high at 3-0, ranked second in the state in Class 3A, before being tripped up by ADM at home. The next week they rebounded to defeat Perry, 32-13, on the way to earning a playoff spot in District 1.
This year, Creston/O-M is coming off a heartbreaking 36-35 loss at ADM, after the Tigers scored twice in the final 44 seconds to overcome an 11-point deficit.
Now, the Panthers sit at 1-1 in district play and 3-1 overall. Perry is 0-2 and 1-3 after falling to Glenwood last week, 31-14. A week earlier, Harlan knocked off the Bluejays, 42-14.
Perry began the season with a 45-14 victory over Greene County (Jefferson) before losing a tight one to state-ranked Boone, 17-15.
“They are a good football team,” Panther coach Brian Morrison said. “I’d say they’re every bit as good as ADM and Glenwood. I just think Glenwood kind of wore on them at the end.”
A 21-0 run in a six-minute stretch of the second half lifted Glenwood to its 31-14 victory last Friday. Perry trailed only 3-0 at halftime, and took a short-lived 7-3 lead early in the third quarter.
Quarterback Will Whiton, one of the top athletes in all of District 1, ran a delayed quarterback sneak, found a seam and scampered for a 19-yard touchdown.
“No. 15 (Whiton) is very dynamic,” Morrison said. “He doesn’t throw a great ball, but a lot of it is set up off his scrambling ability and their ability to get open. He’s fast. He took third in the state in the 100 in 3A. If he gets out, he’s gone. We have to contain him. Same thing on kick returns. If number 15 is back there, we’re going to have a plan for it.”
Another top athlete in the district, Glenwood’s Spencer Smith, came up with the first of two key plays for the Rams, picking off a Whiton pass and returning it 47 yards. Smith later scored on a 4-yard run for a 17-7 lead late in the third period.
Late in the game, after a long fumble return set up another Ram score for a 24-7 lead, Whiton moved to wideout and Cavan Finn was inserted at quarterback. Perry quickly moved to the Ram 19, but an unsportsmanlike penalty killed the drive.
After the game, coach Jason Olejniczak, a former Iowa player, said his team has to stop playing undisciplined at key times, starting with this week. A quarterback and defensive back, Olejniczak was a two-time all-state selection for the Decorah Vikings, who won back-to-back state championships in 1987 and 1988 with him as the signal caller.
Olejniczak played four seasons at the University of Iowa and was a four-time All Big 10 Academic selection.
“They do a nice job,” Morrison said. “Last year was a very competitive game. I think they are better than they were last year, because they return more kids.”
In last week’s game, Whiton caught five passes for 78 yards and ran 12 times for 41 yards. Seth Stetzel is the primary returning running back and had 41 yards on 12 rushes.
“Even after a rough first half we ended up with over 300 yards of total offense, and when you do that in high school football you should win,” Olejniczak said. “We will get back to work to improve, because we still have a lot to play for in this district.”
Likewise for Creston/O-M, which has to put last week’s crushing loss in the rear view mirror.
“I think we’re over it,” Morrison said. “The kids are looking forward to Friday’s game and playing at home. This is my fourth year as a head coach, and I’ve never seen a team play and compete as hard as they did last Friday. That’s what is disappointing. But we can’t look back, we’ll look forward. There are going to be games like that every week in our district.”
The Panthers have had a key injury situation crop up in the interior line. Two-way tackle Jordan Thompson had knee swelling after the game, and was scheduled for an MRI today to get a diagnosis. He has not been practicing and is doubtful for Friday.
Junior Jake Gutschenritter will take Thompson’s spot at offensive right tackle, Morrison said.
The team catches a break in that junior Alex Tamerius, a starting linebacker last year, was cleared last Thursday after rehabbing from knee surgery from a soccer injury last spring.
With a week of practice in, Tamerius can step in at the weak side inside linebacker position manned by Seth Maitlen, as Maitlen works in as a backup across the defensive line Friday. Alex Chapman, who was playing a lot of defensive end, can slide over to Thompson’s tackle position, leaving Adam Baker and Tayler Pettit as the primary ends, with help from Maitlen.
Also, several players become academically eligible this week, and 6-7, 320-pound senior Alec Shields could see some time at defensive tackle.
Varsity kickoff is expected to be about 7:30 p.m., after the 4:45 p.m. freshman game. There are several homecoming activities planned at halftime and prior to the game.