VAN METER — Two undefeated, state-ranked teams will walk onto the football field here Friday night when Mount Ayr and Van Meter square off in a key Class 1A District 7 contest.
Only one will walk away as the last remaining unbeaten in District 7.
Mount Ayr enters at 5-0 overall and 2-0 in District 7. Van Meter is 5-0 overall and 3-0 in district play.
“Definitely the winner of the game is in much better position when it’s all said and done,” said Delwyn Showalter, co-head coach of the second-ranked (Des Moines Register) Mount Ayr Raiders. “It’s going to be a battle, no doubt about it. They bring almost everyone back. We bring a lot of people back. I expect nothing less than a hard-fought game. It’s going to be a lot of fun. We’re excited for the challenge.”
In last year’s contest, played in Mount Ayr, the Raiders came away a 25-13 victor. Mount Ayr was successful in containing Van Meter’s rushing attack in that contest, holding the Bulldogs to just 90 rushing yards in the contest.
Van Meter averaged 150 rushing yards per game last year.
“I thought we kept them from getting to the corner,” Showalter said about last year’s game. “We forced them back to the inside quite a bit. We were able to get a lot of guys to the ball, took away their cutback lane and didn’t give them a lot of opportunities to get to the outside.”
Mount Ayr’s defensive line came up big in that game. Showalter expects the Raiders’ defensive line to be one of the biggest keys in Friday’s matchup once again, as the Raiders attempt to shut down Brandon Brittain and Cody Blackwell in the run game again.
Blackwell averages 113.6 rushing yards per game, while Brittain provides a dual-threat at the quarterback position, averaging 100 rushing yards per game.
“Those two definitely carry the load for them,” Showalter said. “Brittain is a dangerous runner because you have to rush the quarterback when he’s in his throwing mode, but if you get upfield too far, he’ll pull it down and run on you. Blackwell does a nice job on their power game. He’s a strong runner with a good burst of speed.”
The Mount Ayr defensive line appears to be rounding into top shape at the right time for this challenge, however.
“Our front four might be the best front four since I’ve been here in the last 16 years,” co-head coach Derek Lambert said. “They’re extremely quick and big. That’s a good combination.”
“They’ve gotten better every ballgame,” Showalter added. “They’re doing a good job as a unit. We’re quicker than we were up front a year ago, and we had a lot of speed up there last year. There’s not a substitute for speed.”
Joe Ricker, Jake Ricker, Mason Mercer and Jed McCreary form the nucleus of Mount Ayr’s defensive line, and the four of them have combined to record 87 tackles this year, including solo tackles for loss and four solo sacks.
The Raider defense will have to be prepared to stop the passing game, as well. Brittain is 52-of-97 passing this year for 766 yards and five touchdowns compared to four interceptions.
Ben Flaherty leads the team with 16 catches, including three for touchdowns last week against Central Decatur, with 235 yards. Logan Crawford has 15 receptions for 312 yards and two scores.
“They do a good job of reading the defense,” Showalter said. “Those two and Brittain are on the same page. If the defense is playing them inside, they’ll run a fade route. If the defense is playing them outside, they’ll run a quick slant.”
The Raiders enter the game ranked second in Class 1A by the Des Moines Register and seventh by the Associated Press. Van Meter is ranked eighth in the Des Moines Register rankings and 10th in the AP poll.
The BCMoore Rankings, which uses a computer to rank teams based on offensive and defensive averages, as well as strength of schedule, has Mount Ayr ranked eighth in Class 1A and Van Meter ninth.
The Raiders come in with the eighth best offensive average in Class 1A at 39.40 points per game, compared to Van Meter’s 41.80 points per game, ranking the Bulldogs seventh.
Mount Ayr owns the second best defensive average in the state at 5.80 points per game, while Van Meter ranks 10th at 12.20 points per game.
“You look at them, and it really is an awful lot like looking at our team,” Showalter said. “We play similar styles on the offensive and defensive side. They have a big, strong running quarterback. It is an awful lot like looking in a mirror. We have to go out and execute, and that is the big thing.”
Lambert feels the Raiders are up to the challenge.
“Van Meter is a tremendous football team,” he said. “This ought to be the week for us to have a really good challenge. It’s that time of the season our guys need a challenge, and play four solid quarters of football.”