In effect, the playoffs have already begun for the Creston/O-M football team.
Coming off last week’s 34-7 loss that stretched over two days at Harlan after Friday’s suspension for severe weather, the Panthers stand in fourth place at 2-2 in Class 3A District 1, and 4-2 overall.
To hold on to one of those four postseason qualifying spots, a win at home this week over Glenwood is crucial. The Rams are just behind the Panthers at 1-2 in the district, and 3-3 overall. Creston/O-M still has Lewis Central left as a district foe, with the Titans and Harlan sharing the top position at 3-0 going into their meeting this week.
Glenwood finishes with district games against Lewis Central and Atlantic, but would own the head-to-head tiebreaker over Creston/O-M with a win Friday.
“This is an elimination game,” declared Panther coach Brian Morrison. “It would be very difficult to get it done if we aren’t successful this week.”
ADM is the third-place team at 3-1, and also owns a victory over the Panthers.
However, on the positive side, a victory over Glenwood and finishing the district season with another win over Lewis Central could propel the Panthers into the top three mix.
“We still have a lot to play for,” Morrison said. “We just need to come out and perform Friday night.”
The Panthers will probably have to do that without a two-way starter. Sophomore Seth Maitlen, starter at left guard and weak side inside linebacker, suffered a high ankle sprain Saturday at Harlan and is considered “doubtful” by Morrison.
Cory Rathe, a starting defensive lineman, will take Maitlen’s spot in the offensive line. Tight end Levi Eblen, who has been a backup at outside linebacker, will move to Maitlen’s inside linebacker position. Wyatt Thompson becomes the backup for both outside linebacker spots, in relief of Gavin Leith or Jesse Rathe.
This will be the second week for Bryce Briley to spell Alex Nielsen at free safety, as Nielsen has not been able to practice yet with a sprained ankle.
Up and down
It’s been difficult to get an accurate read on this Glenwood team, coached by 1997 Nodaway Valley graduate Cory Faust. The 3-3 Rams owned a lead over Harlan until the final seconds of a 28-24 loss, but fell 40-17 last week to 3-3 Sergeant Bluff-Luton.
“They had a lot of weather up there and the field was really wet and slick,” Morrison said. “I think that had a lot to do with slowing Glenwood down last week. They have a lot of speed, probably as much as a group as anyone we’ll see.”
The primary playmakers are 6-5, 191-pound senior quarterback Corey Bertini and running back Spencer Smith, a 161-pound senior. Receivers Gage Shatava and Brogan Weddum have been dangerous as pass receivers and flankers in motion for misdirection running plays.
In the loss at SB-L last week, Bertini kept the ball 23 times for 93 yards rushing and a touchdown. Smith was held to 46 yards on 14 carries. Shatava had five catches for 54 yards as Bertini was 10-of-22 passing for 110 yards.
Brandon Bichel, another receiver, is one of the top kickers in the district along with Conner Pals of Creston/O-M and Lewis Central’s Caleb Shudak, Morrison said.
“We’ll be starting on the 20 all night,” Morrison said. “He puts it in the end zone.”
For the season, Smith had 689 yards rushing in six games with eight touchdowns, including an 80-yarder. Bertini has nine TDs running with 299 yards and Weddum averages 7.9 yard per attempt with three TDs.
Weddum averages 26 yards per catch on four receptions, including an 88-yard touchdown completion. Bichel is the leading receiver at 17 catches for 228 yards and a touchdown.
Bertini completes 51 percent of his passes (47-of-92) for 605 yards and four TDs with only one interception.
To date, Panther quarterback Brandon Phipps is 64-115 for 917 yards and nine TDs with four interceptions. Adam Baker is just behind Smith in rushing at 642 yards and three TDs in 117 carries. Trevor Frain has scored six TDs with 206 yards. Phipps has a net of 94 yards rushing.
Maxx Walters, Jesse Rathe, Leith and Briley each have two touchdown receptions as Phipps has used a variety of targets in the Panther passing game this season.
The Panther defense loses a leading tackler in Maitlen, who stands second behind Frain’s 78 tackles with 63 total stops to date.
Two weeks ago, Glenwood nearly posted the upset of the district season, leading Harlan 24-21 in the fourth quarter. Late in the fourth quarter, Harlan quarterback Adam Juhl scrambled for a first down on a fourth-down play, and then found 6-7 tight end Trey Lansman on a fade route in the end zone.
Glenwood cornerback Scout Crow appeared to have joint possession of the ball as they fell to the turf, but officials ruled it a touchdown. That was the fourth and final lead change of the fourth quarter.
“We need to control the football and not put their offense in position where they can make plays,” Morrison said. “When they’ve had trouble, they’ve been put in second-and-long situations instead of short down and distance after a good gain on first down.”
Last year, the Panthers shut out Glenwood at Ram Memorial Field, 14-0, with touchdown runs by Luke Neitzel and Bryce McIlravy. The game was costly, however, as McIlravy suffered a broken ankle. The Panther defense made a goal-line stand in the fourth quarter. Smith ran for 51 hard-earned yards in the game for Glenwood, and Bertini completed 8-of-20 passes for 67 yards.
Around the district this week, Perry is at Atlantic, Lewis Central hosts Harlan and ADM travels to Newton in a non-district game.