DES MONES, Iowa – The tickets have been issued as the 2013 Iowa high school football playoffs get underway on Thursday at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls. Twenty-four teams still have hope where only six will be crowned state champions in the six classes. Of the twenty-four teams, sixteen are unbeaten and only nine losses among all the teams combined.
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The biggest headline heading into the semifinal round is whether Iowa City Regina will complete the mission as they play for their fourth consecutive title and in the process extend the state’s second longest winning streak in Iowa high school football history to 56 games which would tie Waterloo East for the tops in state football history. New champions will be crowned in four of the six classes as only the Regals and Wapsie Valley (Fairbank) in Class A return to defend.
Looking at the overall field of teams, many traditional powers return but a few new faces make the list as well. Washington in Class 3A find their way to the dome with a great win over Pella who handed them their only loss of the season back in week two of the regular season. Albia reaches the UNI-Dome for the first time in school history, winning games in every conceivable way possible this season. Van Meter used their summer success in baseball much like Albia to find their way to Cedar Falls behind a solid defense for most of the season.
When the season began, there were many expectations and for the teams remaining, so far, so good on those. In Class 4A, I don’t know if you get much better than what we have with the second time around for top-ranked Dowling Catholic and sizzling-hot West Des Moines Valley. During the playoffs, most of the teams that lost close games during the regular season to their opponent, won in the return game which is something the Maroons and Tigers series should be used to over the many years of their playoff success. Dowling Catholic has three state titles including their latest in 2010 while the Tigers have five overall with their last in 2011.
I am sure that the Saints of Cedar Rapids Xavier have never forgotten how close they were last year from being the team to defend a title instead of being a runner-up. Their defense has been as advertised this season and maybe even better with eight shutouts this season including three straight in the playoffs. Bettendorf is one of the teams they gained revenge with a regular season loss when they knocked out unbeaten Pleasant Valley to set up the meeting with Xavier. I would expect a game between the twenties here with the defenses dictating the way the game will be played. Xavier won a state title in 2006 while the Bulldogs have seven with the last in 2007.
Top-ranked Bishop Heelan (Sioux City) will not have any opportunity to face Decorah for the state title after losing to the Vikings last season but know they would like to just be one game better than last season. The Crusaders have been the real constant in the class this season which is why they have the favorites role but if we have learned anything in 3A, it is that nothing is as good as it seems. The Crusaders will face unbeaten Clear Lake who claimed their only state title in 2000. Bishop Heelan last won a title in 2008 and has three overall along with eight runner-up finishes.
Solon lost their only game to Iowa City Regina in non-district play early this season while their opponent, Washington defeated the only team they suffered a loss to reach the dome. The Spartans won four straight championships from 2007-2010 and five overall. The Demons will count on a defense that has been reliable all season long.
Sioux Center comes into the semifinals in Class 2A with an eight game winning streak after beginning the season at 2-2 with one of those losses to top-ranked, West Lyon (Inwood) from Class A. The Warriors defense is a proud bunch with five shutouts and has allowed seven or fewer points in eight of their twelve games but that may be a huge task as they prepare for top-ranked Kuemper Catholic (Carroll) and their very productive offense and also have a defense that has posted five shutouts and held their opposition to seven or less points in nine of their twelve games.
Waukon knew they fell short of expectations in their only loss this season to New Hampton. The Indians showed their pride when they rolled past the Chickasaws in the quarterfinals and now must face an Albia Blue Demons team that also has a ton of pride and, at least to this point of the season been able to find a way to be with the bigger number on the scoreboard in the end.
It is almost unthinkable that the states coach with the most victories in Iowa high school football history has never been to this moment and a semifinal round birth and a trip to the UNI-Dome but that is exactly where Dick Tighe stands as he prepares St. Edmond (Fort Dodge) for their meeting with Van Meter who last played in the semifinals in Class A in 1996. Defense is a word that has been used a ton with the teams that have reached this level and for the Gaels, how about ten of their twelve games they have held the opposition to seven or less points. The Bulldogs have five shutouts to their credit including three of the last four games.
Well, congratulation to North Fayette Valley in their first season as a consolidated school, here you are in the semifinals with their only hiccup to Sumner-Fredericksburg. The old saying of having to beat the best to be the best could not be truer of their meeting with top-ranked Iowa City Regina and their 54-game winning streak. The TigerHawks can place their name on one or the other side of the streaks history. Regina has taken the best from everybody this season and has been able to move onto the next game unblemished.
West Lyon (Inwood) played about as tough a schedule in the regular season as any in this class which includes a victory over Sioux Center who is part of the 2A semifinal field. The Wildcats have scored 35 or more point in ten of their twelve games and have also held their opponents to seven of less in eight of those games. West Lyon looks for their fourth state title with the last in 2010. The Vikings of A-H-S-T (Avoca) reach the semifinals for only the second time in playoff history with a runner-up finish in 1991.
Wapsie Valley is back as the defending champions and has five state titles in the trophy case. The Warriors have posted four shutouts this season and have an offense that has produced 35-plus points per game in ten of their twelve on the schedule to date. B-G-M (Brooklyn) comes in with their high-powered offense that has scored less than 40 twice and both of those games with district rival Pekin so the question is if there is anybody else that can slow down the Bears in their first semifinal appearance.
All of the teams in the 8-Player semifinals are 12-0 on the season and very good offensively. Newell-Fonda faces Exira/Elk Horn-Kimballton who lost in the semifinals last season. It will be new ground for the winner of this game with the chance to play for a state title. The Spartans may be the best defensive teams in the class, holding ten of their twelve opponents to twenty or less with six of those to just a score and two of those shutouts.
Don Bosco (Gilbertville) fell just short last season with their runner-up finish and have had that number one target on their back all season long. The Dons will Face Adair-Casey and the all-time 8-player career rusher in Clayton Plowman. I still remember last season’s semifinal game between Murray and Don Bosco which the Dons won 78-76 in overtime. Can we be headed there again with this high-octane meeting?
There are so many storylines in this field which at least on paper should provide some exciting games for all the fans that plan to attend to watch Iowa’s best battle for what they just had dreams of doing prior to the opening of the regular season. As quick as the season has gone by, the road to this point in these student-athletes and coaches lives started long before the season began. One team will enjoy the thrill of victory in each of the six classes but for all, congratulations on what you have accomplished to this point of the season and as always we wish you the best of health and luck and more importantly, hope you play the game like a champion, with class and sportsmanship.