By Ryan Murken
Your Prep Sports
It is always tempting to look ahead to the playoffs before the regular season ends.
With the playoff field cut in half from 32 to 16 teams this season that temptation was greater than ever for football fans.
The playoff pairings in all six classes were released on Saturday morning with several must-see matchups appearing in the opening round.
While the temptation is certainly to look ahead, first let’s look back one final time at the regular season and some of the top performances and plays from the opening nine weeks of the year.
Best Individual Offensive Performance: Nate Wieland against Clinton. There were plenty of them this season but it is hard to go against what Wieland did against the River Kings. The senior quarterback completed 20-of-28 passes for 353 yards and two touchdowns and also rushed for 94 and two scores in a 49-28 road win.
Best Individual Defensive Performance: Drake Mougin against West Delaware. The Clear Creek Amana senior outside linebacker came up with his best game in what was perhaps the biggest regular season win in program history blocking a punt to set up a score and making four tackles. Mougin also forced a fumble and recovered two fumbles, one of which he returned 30 yards for a touchdown.
Best Team offensive performance: Regina against Wilton. The Regals rushed for 304 yards in the first half alone, rolling up 402 yards on the ground, the most for Regina in 40 games. Regina finished with 476 yards in a 41-17 win over then eighth-ranked and previously unbeaten Wilton.
Best team defensive performance: City High against West High. The Little Hawks limited one of the most explosive offenses in Class 4A to 159 total yards and seven points in a 20-7 road win.
Comeback player of the year: City High senior quarterback Nate Wieland. After missing all but two games of last season with shoulder and knee injuries Wieland has shined in his senior season. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound Northern Illinois recruit has completed 60 percent of his passes for 1,261 yards and five touchdowns and rushed for 595 yards and 10 scores while leading City High to a 7-2 record.
Coach of the year: Matt and Ronnie Hughes. Clear Creek Amana missed the playoffs in 3A but that shouldn’t take all the shine off what was one of the best seasons in program history. Coming off a 5-5 season the Clippers started 6-0 for the first time in program history and finished 7-2, all while losing a 1,000-yard rusher for the season with an injury in the second game of the season. The future looks bright in Tiffin.
Best game: Muscatine at City High. Would anyone expect anything less than another thriller between these two teams? City High rallied from an early 14-0 deficit to earn a 36-28 win over the Muskies in a game that wasn’t decided until Naeem Smith picked off a pass with 36 seconds to play. The third consecutive one-score game to be decided in the final minute featured five touchdowns of longer than 30 yards and a kick return, punt return and interception return for scores.
Biggest upset: Clear Creek Amana over West Delaware: It wasn’t the win over then fifth-ranked West Delaware that stood out but the way that the Clippers got it done. Clear Creek Amana controlled every phase of the game in a 31-14 win that gave the Clippers the first 6-0 start in program history.
Biggest surprise: Devontae Lane. The big-time production from the West High senior was expected but few figured his successful senior season would come while playing running back. Lane made the switch from receiver to running back after a slew of injuries and has established himself as one of the state’s best. Lane has rushed for 562 yards and nine touchdowns while averaging 8.8 yards per carry in five games at running back.
Best individual offensive play: Oliver Martin’s 64-yard touchdown catch against Cedar Rapids Kennedy. Martin has made a lot of great plays in his career and his game-clincher against the Cougars ranks towards the top. Double covered on the play, Martin outjumped two defenders, tipped the ball to himself, maintained his balance and raced 64-yards to clinch West High’s 24-10 road win over the Cougars.
Best individual defensive play: Tyler Linderbaum’s 70-yard interception return for touchdown against Washington. A 70-yard interception return for a touchdown is always a big play. When it comes in the final quarter, clinches a win and is made by a 250-pound defensive tackle it is downright amazing. With Washington driving for a potential game-tying score, Linderbaum read a screen pass, tipped the ball into the air before securing it and eluding several tacklers on his way to the end zone.
Unsung hero: Ethan Postler. The passing numbers for the West High junior quarterback are modest, 333 yards and six touchdown passes. The more important number for Postler is 2-0. Postler led West High to a pair of must-win victories over Burlington and Cedar Rapids Kennedy in relief of injured starter Evan Flitz to help the Trojans return to the playoffs.
Special teams MVP: Tyreke Williams. When a team is built around defense and running the ball the importance of special teams is heightened. Williams gave the Clippers a weapon in the kick game. The senior was 6-of-7 on field goals and averaged 42.5 yards per punt on 31 punts.
Offensive MVP: Luke Lenoch. No player meant more to the offensive success of his team than Lenoch. With West Branch starting three different quarterbacks this season, Lenoch has logged a school record 270 carries rushing for 1,722 yards and 29 touchdowns.
Defensive MVP: Jared Brinkman. Perhaps the best two-way lineman in the state, Brinkman is virtually unblockable at the 1A level. The Northern Iowa recruit leads Regina in tackles with 51 from his defensive tackle spot and has five sacks for a Regina defense that is allowing 11 points and 200 total yards per game.