Don’t expect Creston/O-M football coach Brian Morrison to pull back the reins on his team Friday, despite the fact it’s a non-district game against a 3-4 Winterset team.
While the Panthers (5-2 overall, 3-2 District 1) have more pressing matters a week later at Lewis Central, in trying to climb the ladder in their playoff seeding position, Morrison said there are plenty of reasons to approach this week like any other.
First, it’s senior night recognition a half-hour before the 7:30 p.m. kickoff, and possibly the final appearance at Panther Field for this group of seniors.
And, the Panther coach said this is no time to lose momentum or continuity on the field. Therefore, safety Alex Nielsen and linebacker-guard Seth Maitlen will test their recoveries from ankle injuries that have held them out recently. Neither will start, but both are expected to play.
“I know it’s a non-district game, and we have a big game ahead of us with LC,” Morrison said. “But we’re not going to pull kids to keep them healthy. You have to play. This is the time of year you can’t take plays off. You have to play your best and get better as a football team. We’re going to play our guys.”
And, like most years, Morrison expects a hard-fought battle with the Huskies. A year ago, Creston/O-M trailed until the final 1:44. Luke Neitzel scored a 22-yard touchdown and threw a two-point pass to Trevor Frain for a 20-13 lead.
On a sloppy field from heavy rains that night, Winterset marched 63 yards in the final 90 seconds, capped by a TD pass by Cory Briney with :15 left. The would-be winning two-point pass, after a delay-of-game penalty, was knocked away in the end zone by Panther safety Briar Evans.
Many of the principal players from that game are gone. Neitzel ran for 178 yards and was 4-of-9 for 50 yards in tough passing conditions. Senior Noah Kaldenberg led Winterset with 88 yards rushing and Briney passed for 82 yards.
Winterset and Creston/O-M both have a new quarterback, mostly new running backs and each lost some key receivers.
“Last year they were district champs and made it to the quarterfinals where they lost to Williamsburg,” Morrison said. “We both had to plug in different personnel at key positions this year.”
The Huskies haven’t changed their style, however. There’s still an emphasis on the running game with occasional play-action passes and “gadget” plays designed to surprise the opponent and snare momentum. The four-man front defense with strong inside linebacker play, led by Allen Shahan, is very similar to Creston/O-M.
The Huskies share something else in common with the Panthers — a close loss to ADM. In week two Winterset lost to ADM 14-6. Other losses were to Carlisle, Chariton and Oskaloosa, with victories over Interstate 35, winless Knoxville and Norwalk, 25-24.
Last week turnovers hurt an otherwise successful offense in a wild 56-37 game against Oskaloosa, which shares the district lead with Pella. Winterset quarterback Jacob Larson passed for 221 yards and two touchdowns to go along with a rushing TD.
For the year, Larson is 68-of-133 for 888 yards and five touchdowns, with three interceptions. Running back Alex Forgy was injured earlier in the season and still has a team-high 332 yards, while Brandon Ryerson has taken over with 316 yards on 49 carries to date. The top receiver is Brandon Allen with 14 catches for 309 yards and three TDs.
Panther quarterback Brandon Phipps is now 70-of-123 for 965 yards and 10 TDs with four interceptions. Maxx Walters has 19 catches for 278 yards and two TDs. Frain and Jesse Rathe both have 144 receiving yards on 14 and 12 catches, respectively.
Nielsen still leads the team in defensive interceptions with four, and Frain is the clear leader in tackles with 95, including 10 solo stops for loses. Rathe has three interceptions.
Morrison said Winterset also has incentive to play well down the stretch, with a chance to make the playoffs in an upset victory over Pella to finish the regular season.
Last week’s 49-21 victory over Glenwood sewed up a playoff spot for the Panthers, so now it’s a matter of how things play out the final two weeks in determining which position they’ll hold in a first-round matchup with District 2, which is led by No. 1-rated Sioux City Heelan.
“We could be anywhere from two to four,” Morrison said.
Harlan leads at 4-0 and plays Atlantic and ADM. Tied at 3-1 are ADM and Lewis Central.
ADM finishes at Perry and at home against Harlan. Lewis Central travels to Glenwood before hosting Creston/O-M. Glenwood (1-3) finishes at home against Lewis Central and Atlantic, and can still sneak into the top four by winning out, if the Panthers also beat LC.
The Harlan vs. ADM game in week nine could potentially mean a lot. An ADM win keeps LC in the district title hunt, providing it beats Glenwood. An LC win over Glenwood clinches a playoff berth for the Titans.
There is a scenario where Creston/O-M snatches the No. 2 position, but it requires ADM and Lewis Central to go 0-2 down the stretch. The last-minute 36-35 loss at ADM in week four could come back to thwart the Panthers’ chances of hosting a playoff game by finishing in the top two.
“You hate to lose a game like that early to someone you know is probably going to be one of the top four, but there’s nothing we can do now but move forward and take care of our own business,” Morrison said.
If Creston/O-M and ADM are tied for second, ADM holds the head-to-head tiebreaker. If there is a three-way tie with those two and Lewis Central, in which nobody owns head-to-head advantages against both, it comes down to the point differential. In that scenario, Creston/O-M would finish third, ahead of ADM, based on current point differential averages. But that is very close going into Friday’s games.
“We should know a lot more about what could happen after Friday night,” Morrison said. “Perry, which is a very capable team, needs to beat ADM for us to be number two. Then if Glenwood beats LC, it gets interesting.”
Halftime will be 20 minutes Friday night. Senior band members will be introduced after the band performance.
There will also be a walk of youth football players, and presentation of the Creston Activities Booster Club’s Fan of the Year and Volunteer of the Year. Senior football participants and their parents will be introduced at 7 p.m.