Searching for a surface: Where will Wednesday’s game be played?
The biggest question on the minds of Washington head coach Randy Schrader and Norwalk head coach Paul Patterson as they prepare their teams for Wednesday’s Class 3A first-round playoff game is where the game will be played.
The game is scheduled to be held at Washington’s Case Field, but the muddy playing surface may move the game north to Clear Creek-Amana High School. A decision on where the game will be played will be made later today.
If Washington does indeed host the playoff game, it will be the Demons’ first home playoff game since the 2006 state quarterfinals.
“Maybe that won’t come to fruition,” Schrader said. “We’ll make a decision at 3 o’clock on if our field’s playable. If it’s not, we’re headed to Clear Creek to play up there. That could be an advantage for us in terms of being on a fast track. But obviously we want to be at home. We want to play here in Demon Land. We don’t want to go up to be a Clipper.”
But if the Demons play at home, they could be at a disadvantage. A muddy field would actually slow down Washington’s speedy running backs.
“Hopefully a muddy field,” Patterson said when asked what his plan was to slow down Washington’s option offense. “That’s what we’re hoping for. Then we have to make sure we play assignment football when they try to get their playmakers the ball.”
The sloppy field seemed to slow down Washington a bit in its 42-0 home win over Centerville on Friday night. Although the Demons put up 42 points, they only had one scoring play over 20 yards, a 35-yard touchdown run by sophomore quarterback Daryn Sebelius.
Two weeks earlier, when Case Field was dry, the Demons had scoring plays of 96, 33 and 74 yards in a 62-7 win over Mt. Pleasant. Junior fullback Alex Coker ran for 234 yards and four touchdowns in that game, but was limited to just 75 yards on 14 carries last Friday.
Norwalk may need a muddy playing field to slow down the Demons. The Warriors have allowed their opponents to rush for 147 yards per game this season. Winterset gouged Norwalk for 246 yards on the ground, and Carlisle ran for 244 yards, but the Warriors won both games.
“They’re not anything to write home about stuffing the run,” Patterson said. “That’s one thing teams in our district liked to do was establish the run. We’ve had some rough games when it comes to those things.”
But the Warriors do have some big defensive players. Defensive ends Erik Webb and Tyler Van Gorder weigh in at 290 and 280 pounds, respectively, and Norwalk also has some sturdy linebackers.
“We’re going to have to match their size with our intensity,” Schrader said. “Obviously we’re not going to grow big guys in two days. We just have to do what we do and do it better than they can do what they do. Because [right tackle] Craig Lillie isn’t going to put on a hundred pounds. They pose a lot of problems for us. There are a lot of physical mismatches in this football game.”
So Schrader has to hope that the Warriors can’t keep up with the speed of Coker and juniors Tanner Knupp and Carl Sivels. Coker has rushed for 781 yards and seven touchdowns, much of which came in the last three weeks of the season. Knupp has added 302 yards and a touchdown on the ground, while Sivels has run for 257 yards and five scores.
“They’re big, and that’s obviously something we don’t have,” Schrader said. “We don’t have any size. So we’re going to try and neutralize that with our speed and our swarming defense and see what we can come up with.”
Patterson was impressed by that swarming defense.
“They’re fast and aggressive,” he said. “They’re not afraid to stick their noses in there, and they like to get after it. They have some really good athletes we have to be ready to slow down if we can.”
Washington’s is going to have to try to contain Norwalk quarterback Chase Onken, who has completed 44 percent of his passes for 944 yards, eight touchdowns and four interceptions this season. Onken is also the Warriors’ second-leading rusher, with 585 yards and eight touchdowns this fall.
“We’d like to take the quarterback away from them,” Schrader said. “I think if we can take the quarterback away from them, the game will stay close. If that quarterback has time to throw the football or if he keeps the ball on the option, we’re going to be in trouble because he’s that good of an athlete. If we can take the quarterback away and make them play left-handed, then I think we’re going to be all right. We’re going to have to control the football and keep it out of their quarterback’s hands.”
Norwalk’s leading rusher this season, senior Kenny Floyd, has missed the last four games of the regular season with a knee injury. That’s put more pressure on Onken and the other players on Norwalk’s offense.
“Chase is the guy who makes the wheels go round as far as always touching the football,” Patterson said. “And Keaton Klocko has done a nice job of filling in since Kenny went down.”
Klocko ran for 91 yards and a touchdown in Norwalk’s 14-7 win over Carlisle last week.
Norwalk spent the first six weeks of the season ranked third in the state before losing back-to-back games against Pella and Knoxville. Onken sat out the Pella game after suffering a concussion, and Floyd was not in uniform for either loss. So the Warriors will be a tough matchup for the Demons on Wednesday.
“At one time I think they were ranked in the top five,” Schrader said. “We have to be on top of our game. We can’t make any mistakes. We cannot make a mistake.”
And it will help that the Demons are playing at home.