Naeem Smith runs against Linn-Mar. Tork Mason/For Your Prep Sports. By Ryan Murken
Your Prep Sports
IOWA CITY – Dan Sabers knows the perils that come with facing a defense as aggressive as Cedar Rapids Washington.
No gains and negative plays are going to happen against a defense as talented and disruptive as the unit fourth-ranked Washington has.
That’s the bad news the good news for Sabers and the Little Hawks are with an aggressive defense comes the chance for big plays.
The key for City High (8-2) in Friday’s Class 4A quarterfinal matchup with Washington (9-1) at Kingston Stadium in Cedar Rapids is limiting the bad plays and finding a few of the big ones.
“It’s just going to come down to us being as disciplined as we can, knowing that they are an aggressive defense, they are going to get us some,” Sabers said. “We have to minimize that and then say the next play maybe we will get them because they are aggressive and when you are aggressive you are going to some chances and it’s up to us to hang in there and see if there is something that we can’t take advantage of.”
Washington has been one of the best defensive teams in the eastern side of the state the past three seasons.
The Warriors have been aggressive in their approach on defense long before that.
“Coach (Maurice) Blue has been coaching defense up there for quite some time and you know you are going to get an aggressive attack,” Sabers said. “They have some big-time athletes and so that aggressive defense is very concerning.”
This year’s defense may rank as one of the best and most aggressive in recent Washington history.
The Warriors are allowing 14.5 points and 205 total yards per game this season and are holding opponents to just 2.9 yards per carry.
“They are a big physical team,” City High senior running back Bryce Frantz said. “They are a team that is going to come after us in every aspect, especially on defense where they are very physical and they like to blitz and they are going to try to get on us right away.”
Washington has forced a rather pedestrian 15 turnovers this season but has returned seven of those for touchdowns.
The Warriors are tied for sixth in Class 4A with 20 sacks on the season with 13 of those coming from seniors Rane Wieland and O’Rien Vance.
“They have a lot of people that are super aggressive,” City High senior lineman Scooter Hickman said. “We have to work on picking up blocks and making sure we communicate because they are going to be aggressive.”
That aggressiveness can lead to problems for opponents.
City High saw that first-hand last year as the Warriors jumped to a 27-0 lead less than seven minutes into the game in what ended as a 39-20 Washington win.
“Last year when they were down here it was 27-0 I think before anybody got really settled in because they are so aggressive and we didn’t handle it well,” Sabers said. “We are really trying to get prepared as best we can that we are mentally ready to go for that aggressive style off the top.”
The plan for City High is more than just to be prepared for the Warriors’ aggressive style of play this time around.
City High wants to turn that aggression into big plays.
“We are just trying to focus on bouncing back after each play,” Frantz said. “The three and outs, the no gains we know those plays will happen I feel like if we just find that crease we are going to get some big plays out of that. That’s what you have to do against that kind of defense.”
City High has shown the ability to make the big play this season.
The Little Hawks have 16 offensive touchdowns of 10 yards or longer this season, three of which came in a 40-14 opening round win over North Scott.
“With how much they blitz there are going to be some holes, there are going to be some opportunities and we just have to hit those at the right time,” City High quarterback Nate Wieland said, “We can’t let those blitzes affect how we are going to play.”