How do you hold in check the top quarterback and passing team in Class 3A?
“We have to move the ball, score and keep their offense on the sideline,” said Ed Ergenbright, Newton Senior High head football coach.
Newton’s Cardinals face Grinnell’s Tigers Friday at H.A. Lynn Stadium in Class 3A, District 4 play. Kickoff is 7:30 p.m. The Cardinals are coming off a 22-19 district win over South Tama, while the 11th-ranked Tigers lost, 21-14, to Dallas Center-Grimes last Friday.
Senior quarterback Eli Dunne, who is the top-rated quarterback in Iowa 3A, leads the soaring Tiger offense into the district contest against the Cardinals. Dunne has put up tremendous numbers in the Tigers’ first four games of the season, 71-of-121 passes for 1,063 yards and nine touchdowns.
Dunne’s favorite targets are junior Luke Honold, and seniors Christian Mertens and Bryce Lidtka. Honold has 338 yards on 20 catches and Mertens has 14 receptions for 236 yards. Lidtka is the Tigers’ leading rusher — 362 yards on 55 carries and six touchdowns — plus has caught 12 passes for 160 yards.
“It comes down to us being able to block their defense and move the ball. We need to keep him (Dunne) on the sideline. Grinnell has a good defense with a lot of active linebackers bringing a lot of pressure,” Ergenbright said.
Newton junior quarterback Tyler Wood is 40-of-68 passing for the season for 464 yards, and four touchdowns. Wood is one touchdown pass away from tying the NHS school career-touchdown pass record. Junior Nick Easley is the go-to receiver with 22 catches for 231 yards, and three touchdowns.
But the Cardinal offense is run-oriented. Newton has four ball carriers with more than 100 yards rushing apiece. A trio of juniors are the top running backs for the Cardinals. Deonne Harris tops the rushing list with 239 yards on 36 carries, followed by Tristan Peters with 147 yards on 32 carries and J.T. Thongvanh with 142 yards on 34 carries. Wood has 159 yards on 57 carries.
“Last year, we had too many three-and-outs early in a 7-7 game. Grinnell used some big plays through the air and the game got of control by halftime,” Ergenbright said. “Our offensive line has to establish control at the line of scrimmage, and block well to allow our running game to be successful. Plus, we have to finish drives with points, and not hurt ourselves with penalties and turnovers.”
Defensively, Ergenbright said the Cardinals have to be assignment sound. He said Grinnell’s offense spreads the field, and Dunne sees the field really well to trigger the Tiger passing game.
“Our problem on defense this season has been giving up too many big plays. We can’t allow that to happen Friday. We’re not going to shut this offense down but, if we execute and not give up big chunks of yardage on single plays, we will give ourselves an opportunity to be successful,” Ergenbright said.
The Cardinal defense is led by senior linebackers Will Brock — 25 solo tackles and 10 assisted tackles — and Nick Glotfelty — 14 solo tackles and 10 assisted tackles. Strong safety Levi Michener, another senior, has 19 solo stops and five assists, while senior defensive backs Colton Hansen and Daquan Allen are next on the list. Hansen has 16 solo stops and Allen has 17 unassisted tackles.
Nagging injuries continue to put some Cardinal starters on the sideline in practices. Ergenbright said younger players are working in spots “and picking up a lot reps during practices, which will help us develop depth for the team.”