A Class 3A District 9 matchup will once again be a tough test for the Creston/O-M Panther football team as they travel northwest to Harlan to take on the 5-2 Cyclone squad that is in the thick of a postseason hunt.
Harlan’s offense has taken to the skies for success so far this season as senior QB No. 4 Preston Mulligan has thrown for 1,898 yards with 24 touchdowns and just four interceptions.
Mulligan’s main two targets are 6-2 senior Elijah Boldan and 6-0 junior Jonathan Monson who have combined for half of the scoring receptions. Boldan is averaging 26.1 yards per reception while Monson counters with 18.9 yards per catch.
Not to be slept on is Brett Sears (No. 2) who leads the team in receiving touchdowns with nine and has 334 yards.
“You’re not going to slow them down,” said Creston/O-M head coach Brian Morrison. “They’re comparable at receiver to anyone we’ve played as far as the quality of their personnel.”
As far as Creston/O-M’s secondary is concerned, takeaways will be a key ingredient for success.
What may be seen on paper as a simple solution has been a strength for Creston/O-M all season long as forced fumbles and interceptions have led to timely drives or confidence-building starts.
“It just gives us more opportunities with better field position,” said Morrison. “Our kids have been doing a good job of that and that’s just part of our kids flying around and getting to the football.”
Morrison is hoping the step back the Panthers took defensively against Winterset was limited to one week and Creston/O-M can eliminate mistakes from a week ago.
If the Cyclones pursue the ground game, they’ve got a few options in the backfield, but the main bulk of the carries have gone to No. 42 Alex Schechinger who has six touchdowns and 481 yards rushing on 103 carries.
Defensively, Harlan is no slouch either. Three different players have wrapped up five or more sacks so far. No. 55 Allen Fries has seven sacks, No. 83 Jacob McLaughlin also has seven while No. 85 Brady Wagner has five.
“The defensive end (McLaughlin) ... is a phenomenal football player. He’s going to play in college somewhere ... He just has a constant motor,” said Morrison.
Up front, Harlan presents another challenge in size, meaning the Panthers will once again be the smaller squad in between the tackles.
Creston/O-M does have an advantage in that Harlan is coming off a 49-14 loss to Lewis Central and could be a little dinged up.
Morrison is expecting the Cyclones to bring pressure, which will require the Panther offensive line to be at the top of its game for quarterback Eli Loudon.
The ninth-year Panther head coach is game planning to see Harlan use a tight cover four defense, comparing it to a cover zero look Creston/O-M saw from a couple opponents earlier in the year.
“We definitely have to protect Eli and give him some time,” Morrison said. “We’ll see a three-three stack. We will see an even front ... They’ll for sure want to keep seven in the box.”
Once again avoiding long down and distance situations will be crucial for the Panther offense that will be looking to score early and often to try and keep up with Harlan’s potent offensive output that is averaging 36.5 points per game.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. in Harlan where it is expected to be dry with temperatures ranging from mid-to-low 40s.
QB – Eli Loudon 5-11 185 Jr.
RB – Rylan Luther 6-0 175 Jr.
FB – Tristan Travis 5-7 165 Sr.
T – Sam Chapman 6-1 205 Jr.
G – Hank Looney 6-0 205 Sr.
C – Logan Shady 5-11 185 Jr.
G – Kendall Crawford 5-10 235 Sr.
T – James McDonald 5-11 225 Sr.
WR – Kylan Smallwood 6-3 190 Sr.
WR – Cael Kralik 6-1 165 So.
WR – Luke Latham 5-8 150 Jr.
End – Sam Chapman 6-1 205 Jr.
Nose – Andy Weis 5-8 225 So.
End – James McDonald 5-11 225 Sr.
OLB – Garon Wurster 5-5 145 So.
ILB – Kolby Hulett 5-11 150 So.
ILB – Beau Barncastle 5-9 185 Sr.
OLB – Tristan Travis 5-7 165 Sr.
SS – Rylan Luther 6-0 175 Jr.
FS – Kylan Smallwood 6-3 190 Sr.
CB – Brayton Chesnut 5-10 140 Jr.
CB – Brance Baker 5-11 145 So.
K/P – Cael Kralik 6-1 165 So.