For only the second time ever, the Ankeny and Ankeny Centennial football teams will meet in the playoffs.
In 2016, the Jaguars posted a 34-24 victory in the opening round. This time, the stakes will be considerably higher.
The crosstown rivals will collide under the bright lights of the UNI-Dome in the Class 5A semifinals on Friday. Kickoff is at 7 p.m., following another all-CIML clash between two-time defending champion Southeast Polk and Valley.
I’ve been covering high school athletics for nearly 35 years, and I’ve had an opportunity to cover a lot of great events. I’m not sure if I’ve ever looked forward to a game as much as this one. It could be an all-time classic.
I’ll be spending part of the day in Marshalltown at the girls’ state swimming meet. Then, thanks to my friend Chris Janssen and his Mooney M20-C, we’ll be taking the short flight to Waterloo for the gridiron showdown. I’m sure we’ll see some heavy traffic heading east on Highway 20.
Anyway, here’s a closer look at the matchup:
Co-coaches: Jerry and Ryan Pezzetti (11th season)
Records: 7-4 (76-39 overall at Centennial)
Seeding: 13th in Class 5A
Streak: Won 3
Road to the Dome: Beat Waukee Northwest in the first round, 35-7; Beat Bettendorf in the quarterfinals, 41-14
Offensive average: 36.3
Defensive average: 14.5
All-time series: Centennial leads, 8-4
Coach: Jeff Bauer (1st season)
Seeding: 7th in Class 5A
Streak: Won 3
Road to the Dome: Beat Johnston in the first round, 21-9; Beat Dowling Catholic in the quarterfinals, 14-7
Offensive average: 27.5
Defensive average: 23.3
First meeting: Ankeny won, 39-38, in double overtime on Aug. 25
When Ankeny has the ball
The Hawks boast a balanced offense and will try to control the ball with their potent ground attack. Caden Henkes and Daniel Larmie have combined for nearly 2,000 yards rushing, but Ankeny can also be dangerous through the air as wide receiver Devon Akers–who averages more than 20 yards per catch–provides a matchup problem at 6-foot-6 that the Jaguars will have to deal with. Look for Centennial defensive back Connor Welsch to spend a lot of time defending Akers, but he’ll likely need some help as the Hawks will try to take advantage of single coverage. Ankeny showed in its quarterfinal win over Dowling with a 9-minute drive that it can pound the ball and control the clock, which would keep the Jaguars’ explosive offense off the field. The challenge for the Centennial defense will be to contain the Hawks’ ground game without leaving its secondary exposed to over-the-top throws to Akers and Evan Irlmeier.
When Centennial has the ball
The Jaguars are just as balanced on offense, but they attack their opponents in a different way. While Ankeny prefers to run the ball in a north-south fashion, Centennial likes to get the ball on the edges to its speedy running backs–Elijah Porter and Braeden Jackson–and let them operate in space. Porter rushed for 187 yards on 22 carries in the first meeting, so the Hawks will be focused on stopping him. But Jackson is equally dangerous, and the Jaguars can also throw the ball down the field to tight end Chase Schutty and wide receiver Max Snyder–who are quarterback Trenton Smith’s favorite targets. It will be important for Centennial to take care of the ball. The Jaguars went scoreless in the first half of their quarterfinal game at Bettendorf–primarily because of their three turnovers. But when they executed flawlessly in the second half, they erupted for 41 unanswered points and punched their ticket to the Dome.
I’ve been going back and forth on this game all week, and I honestly have no clue which team will win. Ankeny has been the more consistent team all season. The Hawks suffered a pair of early losses to Southeast Polk and Dowling, but are now 7-1 in their last eight games. The only blemish during that stretch came on Oct. 13, when they let a late lead slip away and lost at Valley on a field goal as time expired. Centennial, meanwhile, was 4-4 at one point and in danger of missing the playoffs, but has now outscored its last three opponents by a 117-24 margin. I think the Jaguars at their best have a higher ceiling, but they sometimes don’t play up to their potential. Look at the game against Bettendorf. If the first-half Centennial team shows up on Friday, then Ankeny will advance to the championship game. But if the second-half Centennial squad shows up, then the Jaguars will get their revenge and a chance to play for their first state title.