Before the week of district play, Cardinal head coach Adam Hadenfeldt had a feeling it might come down to games like these.
“There’s no question there are some elite teams in this district. Teams like Iowa City Regina, West Branch and Wilton,” Hadenfeldt said before the Comets’ week three game against Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont. “I think any games among the rest of the teams in this district will determine who that fourth team is that makes it to the playoffs.”
Of the remaining teams in that district, Sigourney-Keota has proven to be the best thus far. Having already beaten Wapello and EBF, the Savage Cobras can book their place in the postseason this Friday against Hadenfeldt’s Comets.
But with top-ranked Iowa City Regina on the horizon and locked up with Wapello for the fourth and final playoff berth in Class 1A, District 6, S-K could also lose more then just the game if they fall Friday to Cardinal.
“We know these games with Wapello, EBF and Cardinal are huge to get positioned for a playoff berth,” S-K head coach Jared Jensen said. “We’ve been fortunate enough to get those wins thus far. I think the kids will be able to step up to the challenge, but we can’t have a speed bump and suffer a costly loss.”
S-K and Cardinal each enter tonight’s game with 3-4 records, meaning only one team will have a chance to finish the regular season with a winning mark. This game is also likely a playoff eliminator with Cardinal entering tonight’s game an 0-4 district record and very slim playoff hopes.
“We know we’re going to need a lot of help to make it in even if we win out,” Hadenfeldt said. “We talked about things and we realize we still have a chance to finish with a winning season. I think coming into the year, our guys would have taken that opportunity. It’s going to take a heck of an effort, but we’re not backing off.”
S-K, meanwhile, has picked all two of their three wins thus far within the district. After outlasting Wapello, 50-44, the Savage Cobras snapped a two-game losing streak by picking up a key 40-13 win last Friday night over EBF to move back to the inside track for the fourth playoff berth.
While the Savage Cobras have won the games they’ve had to win to earn that position, Jensen’s squad has also had to battle several tough challenges on and off this field this season. A non-district schedule that has featured top ten teams like Pekin and Pella Christian along with a tough district slate has been just as tough for S-K as various injuries have been to deal with.
“When the schedule came out, we looked at it and our jaw dropped,” Jensen said. “It’s also been tough to deal with how injury-prone it seems like we’ve been. Just when we seem to get a couple of guys back healthy, a couple more seem to go out.”
The injury bug struck S-K early on this year, when senior running back Mark Weachter gained 184 rushing yards in the first half of the Savage Cobras first game against Central Lee. Weacther, however, suffered an injury in the second half against the Hawks and has only gained 56 yards since.
Despite losing one of their top athletes, S-K has been able to find a way to be effective with the vaunted single-wing rushing offense. The Savage Cobras have gained 2,052 of their 2,362 offensive yards on the ground, averaging 6.1 yards a carry as a team and almost 300 rushing yards a contest.
Hadenfeldt knows it will take one of Cardinal’s top defensive efforts to shut down that kind of potent offensive attack.
“We have to play good assignment-based football,” Hadenfeldt said. “Ideally, we go into every week being assignment-based. The thing that S-K will get to you is with all their movement. They’re hoping to get you looking in the backfield and they can spring a big play past you.”
“If we get all of our guys reading their assignments and sticking to that game plan, we’ll be able to compete. We’re going to go in there and give it our best shots.”
The game is also a special one for Hadenfeldt, who was a former ballboy at Solon. During that time, Hadenfeldt got a first-hand look at the tradition of S-K football.
“I can remember going to those games down there and what that atmosphere is like. I know how tough it is to win at that field,” Hadenfeldt said.
Tonight’s game may be the last one at home for the Savage Cobras. If they make the playoffs, it will likely be as a fourth seed which would send S-K on the road to face a tough district champ right off the bat.
Jensen, however, believes getting a postseason opportunity by winning games like this Friday’s will give his team all the momentum they need.
“Regardless of what seed we get, we’re in a position to make the playoffs. Once you’re there, then we’ll see who really is a great team,” Jensen said.