Lenox at Bedford
TIME AND SITE: Friday 7 p.m. in Bedford
RECORDS: Lenox 0-0; Bedford 0-0.
LAST MATCHUP (2017): Lenox 58, Bedford 30.
OVERVIEW: There is a lot of returning talent from both teams as the Taylor County rivalry game is renewed after the Tigers and Bulldogs did not meet in 2018. When Essex merged with Stanton and Clarinda Academy didn't field a team for 2019, Bedford and Lenox arranged a Week 0 game.
It's a return home for Lenox co-coach Cole Bonde, who played for Bedford co-coaches Matt Ambrose and Jeremy Nally before extending his career to Northwest Missouri State. Bonde and co-coach Michael Nardini guided the Tigers to a 7-3 record and 6-1 district mark in their initial campaign in 2018, including a playoff loss to Fremont-Mills. Although quarterback Carter Still graduated, several key returnees provide Lenox hopes for another postseason run in 2019.
Bedford is coming off a 3-6 season (3-4 district), but a large senior class lends hope for improvement this season. An interesting matchup Friday will be Bedford's returning passing and rushing talent against a strong Lenox defense with most of its leading tacklers in the lineup again this season. The game will be broadcast by KSIB 101.3 and KMA-FM 99.1.
LENOX PLAYERS TO WATCH: Senior RB Colton Gordon ran for 1,548 yards and 26 touchdowns and 138 receiving yards and two more scores as a junior. Cullen Wood, a junior, looks to succeed Carter Still at QB coming off a season with 380 rushing yards and four TDs. Senior Drew Venteicher is also a hard runner and was the defensive leader with 81.5 tackles, including 19 stops for loss and five sacks. Gordon had a team-high three pass interceptions and senior Jaden Loe had eight tackles for losses.
BEDFORD PLAYERS TO WATCH: Seniors Cooper Nally and Brennan Sefrit lead a Bedford offense capable of striking quickly. Nally threw for 477 yards and 10 touchdowns with only one interception, while rushing for another 278 yards and four TDs. Sefrit had five catches for 147 yards and three touchdowns. Senior Jacob French ran for a team-high eight touchdowns as junior Eli Morris rushed for 362 yards Dylan Sweeney is the leading returning tackler for the defense. Nally had two interceptions on defense and Morris added 4.5 sacks.
Nodaway Valley at Central Decatur
TIME AND SITE: Friday 7 p.m. in Leon.
RECORDS: Nodaway Valley 0-0; Central Decatur 0-0.
LAST MATCHUP (2015): Central Decatur 46, Nodaway Valley 8.
OVERVIEW: Typically Pride of Iowa foes, Nodaway Valley and Central Decatur square off in a cross district bout to start the season. After a winless 2018 season, Nodaway Valley is hungry to bounce back under first-year head coach Flynn Heald, the third head coach in in a three-year stretch for the program. With a new program beginning at NV, it's hard to gauge what to expect with a team that is now a year older and a little more experienced.
Nodaway Valley brings back seven seniors and Central Decatur also brings back seven, including Division I Iowa State commit Cole Pederson. Pederson is a big part of CD's lineup and will be a major role on both sides of the ball while the Wolverines have junior Hunter Ernst, who finished as leading reciever and second in tackling for the Wolverines.
After coming out the gates slow (0-4), Central Decatur closed out the season by winning four of its last five with the one loss eventual district champion Lynnville-Sully. The Cardinals certainly have the talent to continue the success they had at the end of the season and the Cardinals will need to effectively utilize the likes of Pederson to get over the .500 hump.
Both teams will need to make a statement in Week 0. For the Wolverines its to get their first win since 2017 and for the Cardinals to get off on the right foot to and continue the streak from 2018.
NODAWAY VALLEY PLAYERS TO WATCH: Senior Austin Wilson was key on the defensive side for the Wolverines, leading the team with 79.5 total tackles – best for third in the district. Hunter Ernst added 39 tackles on the defensive side, including 26 catches for 414 yards on the offensive side of the ball.
Sophomore Nathan Russell will be handed the reigns to what will be a pass first offense this year after posting modest numbers in a back-up role (405 yards on 60 attempts, 5 TDs) and with a brand new playbook, it looks like Russell's role as the QB will be bigger than some expect.
CENTRAL DECATUR PLAYERS TO WATCH: As previously mentioned, senior Cole Pederson will be all over the field from kick off to the final whistle. Pederson threw for 1,007 yards, rushed for 925 and had 213 yards receiving for a total of 22 touchdowns – making him impossible to hide on the field.
With him is leading reciever Haden Leymaster to act as a supporting cast on the offensive side and Dakota Reed, leading tackler, on defense. There's plenty of impact players for CD, but it'll mostly come down to how NV can contain Pederson at all times Friday night.
Stanton/Essex vs. Murray
TIME AND SITE: Friday 7 p.m. in Murray
RECORDS: Stanton/Essex 0-0; Murray 0-0.
LAST MATCHUP (2017): Stanton 66, Murray 8
OVERVIEW: The high flying and high scoring game of eight-man football brings a lot of room for strong running and passing offenses. For Murray, the Mustangs will look to replicate their start tot the season in 2018, but not match the finish.
A 2-0 start for the Mustangs saw them enter a tough four-game stretch at 5-2 before dropping consecutive games to East Union, Mormon Trail, Lenox and Southeast Warren – a four-game skid to close out a season where Murray lost six seniors, including starting quarterback and running back Devin Slaughter.
Murray will play host to a Stanton team that finished 7-3 combined with Essex who was 1-8. Like. Stanton/Essex will be without leading the 2018 rusher, receiver, tackler and interception man Drake Johnson due to graduation, but have a bevy of talented athletes that can step up and fill the gap seamlessly.
With Murray's young defense from last season getting older and Stanton/Essex's senior heavy pass and run combo, it will be an interesting game to see how Murray can stop a passing game that was seventh in yards in eight-man. Stanton, combined with Essex for the first time, does a good job of mixing up play calls, and spreading the ball around, so Murray will need to bring its best on both sides of the ball to start Week 0.
The game will be broadcast on KMALand's XStream (online) by Brent Barnett and Tom Moore.
MURRAY PLAYERS TO WATCH: Senior Reece Held was pivotal for Murray last season posting 337 yards and five touchdowns under center to go with a team-high 24 receptions, 350 yards receiving and four touchdowns. He was also big on defense, leading in solo tackles (52), total tackles (70.5), interceptions (5) and fumble recoveries (3). He'll be joined by junior Chance Lecy (448 rushing yards, 57 tackles) as a big piece on both sides of a Murray team that has a lot of potential to improve.
STANTON/ESSEX PLAYERS TO WATCH: Keygan Day, Colby Royal and Colton Thornburg are the trio to have under center. The three passed for 2,641 yards with Day getting the majority of the share at Stanton and Thornburg getting his fair share at Essex. On defense, it'll come down to how they'll get the best out of both schools, especially with Stanton's leading tacklers graduating last spring. Easton Hultman, Logan Roberts and Day each posted 55-plus tackle seasons and were just as important on the defensive than they were the offensive end at Stanton and Essex's Tucker Hadden was important to both sides as well.
(CNA senior feature writer Larry Peterson contributed to this story.)