The top offense in Class 2A belongs to the top-ranked Prairie City-Monroe football team. No. 1 in total yards, total points, yards per play, rushing yards, touchdowns and rushing touchdowns and tops in yards per carry.
Seniors Reed Worth and Wes Cummings get most of the headlines for the Mustang offense. They both have set school records this season.
But without a competent offensive line, no records would be broken and not a lot of yards would be gained.
“They have been really important. Without them, none of it works,” Cummings said of PCM’s offensive line who has created plenty of running lanes this season. “They are all tough as nails. They have great coaches, and they aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty.”
Cummings comes into the state semifinals with 1,434 rushing yards and 22 rushing TDs. Worth has totaled 832 rushing yards and 15 TDs and senior Jarron Trausch gives the Mustangs a third option with 437 rushing yards and eight TDs.
Offensive line coach Jeff Shannon doesn’t chart sacks allowed. Worth said he thinks maybe they gave up one. That’s one in 11 games.
“The trick is to find the five that mesh best together. We have a bunch of talented guys who aren’t playing, but these guys just mesh the best,” Shannon said. “They know what the other guy is going to do. We can make adjustments on the line. We can decide on the play we are going to run based on what they see. That’s not a coaching thing. That’s just smart kids playing football.”
The five linemen who mesh together the best going into Saturday’s 2A semifinal game against West Liberty in the UNI-Dome are senior left tackle Andrew Van Ryswyk, senior right guard Nick Meinders, junior left guard Jace Smith, junior right tackle Seth Greiner and sophomore center Greyson Strum.
“They are a fun group. Every day is different. You don’t know what to expect with these guys,” Shannon said after football practice Monday. “They are all different people. I don’t know if they spend all their free time with each other. I know Nick and Andrew are really good friends.
“Seth is going to the play tonight. Jace isn’t in the play, but he’s going to work on his pig farm. I don’t know what they do on pig farms at 7 p.m. on a Monday, but he’s going to do that.”
The five linemen who take the majority of the snaps have varying degrees of experience.
Smith has been starting at guard on the offensive line the past few seasons. Strum made an impact as a freshman last year. Meinders is in his first full season as a starting guard.
Van Ryswyk started his high school career at tight end, wasn’t sure if he wanted to even play football last year but has transitioned into the role of protecting Worth’s blind side.
Greiner started his high school career as running back. He switched to the line last season and added 60 pounds of good weight to his frame.
“I just thought with Wes and some of the other guys already there, I wasn’t going to play until my senior year,” Greiner said when asked why he made the change from running back to the line. “I also hit a growth spurt, got taller and put on some weight. Once I got to 200, I just went with it and started packing it on.”
The plan for Greiner at the start of the season was to focus most of his snaps on the defensive line. But Shannon said he was too good to keep off the field on offense, too.
“You look at him and he’s a guy you have to find a place for. He needs to be on the field,” Shannon said. “He was playing only on the defensive line, but it goes back to finding the best five that mesh together. He’s one of those guys. It’s a no brainer. He’s not a running back anymore.”
Smith has the most experience and is regarded as one of the best linemen on the team. He holds down his position at left guard despite being short on height.
“I love having Wes, Jarron and Reed behind me. They make me look good,” Smith said. “Cheese (Worth) is phenomenal. Wes is a beast. They are fun to have back there because they are playmakers. They make me look good even if the block wasn’t that good.”
With two seniors, two juniors and one sophomore, it would be easy to think the group of five would take awhile to find cohesion. Smith said that wasn’t really the case.
“It wouldn’t seem like we would have a lot of experience playing together because there are not very many from the same class, but I do think we mesh well together,” Smith said. “We are having a blast and are just really comfortable around each other.”
Van Ryswyk did not start last season with the rest of his teammates. He decided to continue his football career a few weeks into the season and eventually worked his way onto the starting offensive line.
He’s been a staple on this year’s team, and has the best reach of anyone thanks to his 6-foot-4 frame.
“I never really thought it would be this fun to play on the offensive line,” Van Ryswyk said. “We mesh really well together, and we’re all really good friends. Nick and I have been best friends since middle school.”
Meinders is the free spirit of the group. And his favorite part of playing offensive line is getting out on pull blocks and finding potential tacklers down the field.
“I love pulling and being out in the open field. It’s a harder block to make, but I love going one on one with the guys in the open field. That’s a lot of fun,” Meinders said. “My thinking is if I take care of the guy in front of me, then I need to get my butt down field to get another one. The DB and flowing LBs can prevent long touchdown runs, too, so it’s crucial to get out on them down field.”
Meinders and his line mates have done a good job of getting down field when necessary. The Mustangs’ offense has the ability to hit the big play but can also grind out long scoring drives, too.
Against Williamsburg in the quarterfinals on Friday, PCM’s offense went 75 yards for a TD on one of their drives in the fourth quarter. All the yards were gained on the ground, and Cummings was responsible for 70 of them.
“You know they are going make plays behind you,” Meinders said. “I love how each player on this team just does their job and stays in check with each other. That’s when big things happen.”
Meinders also loves when his skill position teammates throw props to the offensive line after they have big games. He knows they understand that all 11 guys on the field are important.
“Those guys are so humble,” Meinders said. “They know it’s not just a single person sport. They know they have a whole team helping them.”
The PCM offense is averaging nearly 50 points per game. The Mustangs have gained 5,219 total yards and rushed for 2,989 yards.
Their average yards per play is at 9.5 heading into the state semifinals.
“Knowing that they are back there, it makes it better for us because if we miss a block or don’t get as good of a block as we want, they are good enough to still make plays,” Strum said. “They finish plays, too.”
Strum is the youngest one of the bunch. But he’s easily the biggest and the player whose body could fit best at the next level. He’s listed at 6-2, 300 pounds in the Mustangs’ program.
Strum broke into the lineup last season. He was too good to keep off the field as a freshman.
“We have some old guys, new guys and young guys,” Cummings said. “They’ve all just stepped up and done a fantastic job. They are so smart. They can block it so Reed can read the play and know where to go.”
Worth hasn’t dropped back to pass as much as some of the top passing schools in 2A, but the senior quarterback appreciates being able to survey his options knowing he likely won’t get touched by potential pass rushers.
“It’s easier to read the defense when I am not getting touched and don’t have to worry about being rushed,” Worth said. “They always have my back. I know Andrew has my blind side, and I know Greyson has the guy in the middle that can crush you if he gets through.”
While the Mustangs still have two more wins to get to claim the ultimate prize of a state championship, no PCM team has ever started the season 12-0 and no Mustang squad has ever appeared in the state championship game.
The offensive line will play a big part in PCM’s offense reaching its full potential when it invades the UNI-Dome at 7 p.m. Saturday.
“We are aggressive. We can handle our jobs pretty well,” Greiner said. “Jace isn’t the tallest kid, but he’s explosive and can really crack dudes. Greyson is just a monster. Andrew has the reach. I have pretty good reach. Nick is a veteran and is good at what he does, too.”