THE EARLY LEAD: Fourth annual game-by-game football predictions have Greene County eyeing a title
By BRANDON HURLEY
Back at it once again and boy, does it feel so, so good.
We are exactly three weeks from opening night of the 2021 high school football season, which means y’all are required to endure my fourth annual football prediction column.
The Greene County Rams were one of the top statistical teams in all of 2A last fall, and with much of that same lineup back this year, magical things are in store.
The Rams return a pair of third team, all-state athletes - Jackson Morton and Bradyn Smith - who both helped anchor a mid-season six-game winning streak last fall. Greene County also returns their leading passer from last fall (Bryce Stalder) as well as their top two leading rushers (Nate Black and Morton), in addition to a number of lineman, wide receivers and several vital linebackers and defensive backs. Stalder was 9th in 2A with 23 total touchdowns in 2020 (he’s No. 5 among returning quarterbacks) while he was tops in District 9 with 1,212 yards passing and is sixth in 2A among returning gun-slingers. Black’s 752 rushing yards were the most in District 9. Bradyn Smith is fifth among Class 2A’s top returning tacklers, recording a team-best 64.5 tackles a season ago.
As a team, the Rams were 10th in offensive touchdowns last year (38) and 13th in total yards (3,009).
The foundation is set for a legitimately spectacular season, coming off a 7-3 campaign, complete with a pair of convincing playoff wins.
In my not-so-humble opinion, this is the year Greene County finally breaks through and captures an out-right district title. Class 2A, District 8 is Greene County’s to lose.
Atlantic’s bump to Class 3A clears the way for the Rams. The Trojans ran away with the district title a year ago, compiling a perfect, 5-0 record. Greene County wasn’t far behind, tallying a 3-1 mark, surrendering a district game due to a positive COVID-19 test from Des Moines Christian, which canceled the anticipated match-up. Greene County is the only team in the 2021 District 8 grouping to have posted a winning district record last year while the five other teams managed to only win 12 games combined in 2020.
District 8 is Greene County’s for the taking, and I firmly believe they make good on my ensuing prediction.
Thirty-two schools will qualify for the 2A playoffs this year out of a possible 48. Relatively speaking, Greene County will have little trouble advancing to the postseason, as the top four teams in each of 2A’s eight districts will qualify (District 8 is home to six teams this fall).
I’m going to force y’all to read my entire piece to see what record I’ve predicted Greene County to come out with, but I’ll promise one thing, you’ll like what you see. The schedule and many other factors set up pretty nicely for a program which has won 23 games over the last three years. I’ll tease you with this – I believe the Rams will capture an elusive district title in 2021, setting up the potential for significant playoff noise.
Without further adieu, here is my annual game-by-game breakdown of Greene County’s schedule and why the chips will fall the way they do:
Week 1 (Aug. 27)
2020 record: 4-5
Last Meeting: N/A
Opening the season on the road is never an easy task, especially as unknown as this one.
Week 1 is probably one of the harder games to predict.
Greene County has never faced the consolidated school district of Adair-Casey/Guthrie Center on the gridiron. The districts of Adair-Casey and Guthrie Center were members of the eight-man classification up until a few years ago when they consolidated. The Chargers are a run-first program, rushing for 2,365 yards and 27 touchdowns in nine games last season, an average of 262 yards and 42 attempts per contest. Three of AC/GC’s top rushers are back this fall, tallying more than 1,700 yards and 21 TDs.
Greene County struggled to contain the run at several points last fall, though the defense drastically improved as the schedule wore on. The Rams should have the bigger and more talented athletes on the roster as well, which could be vital.
With that being said, AC/GC’s vaunted ground game does allow the Chargers to hang around for awhile, eventually breaking through in a frustrating road trip. The Rams begin the year with a tense loss though much happier times will soon arrive.
Week 2 (Sept. 3)
Home vs. Perry
2020 record: 0-9
Last meeting: 49-0, Greene County in 2020
The annual Cowbell game is safe for at least another few years. Greene County has its eyes set on a fourth straight rivalry victory as they take on a program that has lost 27 consecutive games. I’m not going to invest much in analyzing this one. Greene County has outscored the Bluejays 103-0 in their last two meetings. A bloodbath is almost a guarantee. I believe the Rams roll with relative ease, punctuating a bounce back for a 1-1 start.
Week 3 (Sept. 10)
Home vs. Kuemper Catholic
2020 record: 2-7
Last Meeting: 45-22, Greene County in 2019
Greene County’s momentum from a Week 2 slaughter should carry over nicely to another rivalry.
The Kuemper Catholic Knights are in search of a bounce-back year after not having produced a winning season since 2017. Greene County hopes to continue that streak, riding high off their most recent meeting back in 2019, a 45-22 thrashing in Jefferson. The Rams very well might produce more of the same against a Knight team which produced just a 1-6 regular season record last fall. KHS was held scoreless twice in 2020 and managed to score more than 10 points just five times. If that wasn’t painful enough, the Knights must weave in a new quarterback this year while hoping to find replacements for their top two pass catchers a year ago.
Without much to go off of, I don’t see Greene County having much trouble with their rivals to the west, finishing non-district competition with a 2-1 record.
Week 4 (Sept. 17)
At Des Moines Christian
2020 record: 4-3
Last Meeting: 35-21, Greene County in 2019 playoffs
This likely was going to be the most highly-anticipated matchup of the 2020 season until COVID-19 got its hands on the Lions, forcing an unfortunate cancellation. Time for another go at it, and it may be tricky. Des Moines Christian’s presence in Urbandale allows them to attract a wider pool of athletes, and because a portion of their season was derailed last season due to the pandemic, the Lions will be a motivated bunch. I don’t have a great feeling either way, but Greene County extends their winning streak to three games with a yet another tense victory in Urbandale, opening district play with a 1-0 record.
Week 5 (Sept. 24)
2020 record: 4-5
Last meeting: 24-0, Greene County in 2020
Back-to-back road games is tough for any foe, but with a lengthy trip to the southwest against an experienced Clarinda squad, Greene County could find themselves in trouble. Greene County swept the Carindals last year, prevailing in the regular season, 22-15 in a wild, nail-biter before the Rams left little doubt in the rematch, capturing a 24-0 victory in the second round of the playoffs.
The Cardinals enter the 2021 slate as a motivated and hungry bunch, returning their quarterback in Wyatt Schmitt (1,141 total yards, 13 total touchdowns) as well as their leading rusher, Tadyn Brown (691 yards, eight touchdowns). This will be quite the challenge for the Greene County defense, riding high in hopes of continuing a strong district start. Sadly, Clarinda prevails in a close one, providing the Rams with their first district loss though they remain the thick of the race.
Week 6 (Oct. 1)
Home vs. Red Oak
2020 record: 0-9
Last meeting: 49-0, Greene County in 2020
The perfect opponent awaits Greene County in Week 6 fresh off their first loss of the season. Red Oak enters this fall having lost 21 straight games dating back to the 2018 season.
The Rams have had their way with Red Oak over the last few years as well, outscoring the Tigers 144-22 since 2018. Greene County bounces back nicely with a convincing home victory, improving to 2-1 in district play and 4-2 overall, kick-starting a season-ending surge.
Week 7 (Oct. 8)
Home vs. Shenandoah
2020 record: 3-5
Last meeting: 42-6, Greene County in 2020
Shenandoah enters the 2021 campaign having lost four games in a row. The Mustangs began last fall’s slate with an impressive 3-1 sprint only to fall apart, which included a thrashing by the Rams. Greene County has dominated Shenandoah over the last few years, and I don’t see this next matchup going much different. SHS must replace one of the top passers in District 9, Zayne Zwickel (1,184 yards, 10 TDs) but they do return their leading rusher (Morgan Cotten) as well as their top two pass catchers (Blake Herold and Cotten). This likely will be a closer game than we’ve all been accustomed to, but with just two weeks remaining, Greene County snags a comfortable victory to improve to 5-2 overall and 3-1 in district play, roaring toward a title.
Week 8 (Oct. 15)
At Clarke, Osceola
2020 record: 1-6
Last Meeting: N/A
Yet another long trek awaits Greene County for its season finale, with a likely district championship hanging in the balance. Clarke, Osceola is an hour and a half southeast of Jefferson down I-35 and is the newest member of Class 2A, District 8. The Indians have not produced a single winning season in the last 15 years while they are coming off a 1-6 run last fall. On paper, Greene County should roll in this one, securing a 4-1 district record and an overall mark of 6-2, hopefully tallying a much-anticipated district title and home field advantage for much of the playoffs, which start the following week.
Greene County’s final 2021 record: 6-2 overall, 4-1 in district play
To put a wrap on a lengthy prediction column, Greene County’s schedule is as forgiving as they come, with eight winnable games. In fact, the Rams likely will be the favorite each time they step on the field this fall. Don’t be surprised if GC produces an even more impressive record than what I’ve predicted. I could easily see the football team, thanks to a stable of veterans and a solid strength and conditioning program to boot, running the table in district play and taking the title outright. Hell, even an undefeated season isn’t too far-fetched, that’s how well the slate sets up.
Get amped, Rams fans, the football resurgence is far from done, which means we may be in for quite the treat.