ANITA – In the playoffs, it’s important to leave nothing to chance.
Barry Bower is making sure his CAM football team understands just that as they head into tonight’s first-round playoff matchup with cross-Cass County rival Griswold.
On paper, this might be a mismatch. The Cougars lead the Tigers in every statistical category and have the News-Telegraph’s top rusher of the year in Lane Spieker (933 yards on 107 carries, 17 touchdowns), among other things.
The two teams met Aug. 28, with CAM claiming a 60-8 victory over Griswold. The Cougars went on to a 6-0 season, while the Tigers are still seeking their first win against five losses.
But it’s win or go home, and to win, now and later, there were some things Bower said his team is focusing on before the first snap. If you don’t play your very best, anything can happen.
“We need to get more efficient on the offensive end,” said Bower. “We have been very sloppy the last couple of weeks on our offense and we have to make sure we take care of that. Anytime you miss snaps, you fumble the football, you don’t sustain drives and that makes it very, very difficult and puts a lot of pressure on your defense.
“Especially when it comes to ... playoff time, we’ve got to shore up some things, both personnel standpoint and just our sloppy play becoming more efficient,” he said.
For one thing, Griswold is hungry ... hungry like the Tiger.
They’ve been laid off for two weeks, initially due to illnesses not related to COVID-19 then a few players went into quarantine. Wallace said his team is back up to full strength – 19 players – and they’ll be ready to go.
“We’re definitely looking forward to playing them,” said Wallace. “We’ve already played them once before so we know what to expect. Our guys are excited to get back out on the field after a couple of weeks off.”
Griswold has been working in more passing in its offense, adding a new dimension to what had been a run-heavy offense. Quarterback Lane Mueller has 346 yard on 16-of-37 passing, with three touchdowns.
“Asking them something they’re not used to and just buy into it and understand mistakes are going to happen,” said Wallace.
Sam Olsen has been the anchor of the run game, with 74 carries resulting in 368 yards and three touchdowns.
Alex Hartman, Colton Turner and Swain lead the defense with a combined 79 tackles. Joe Jenum has three tackles for loss, one of those a quarterback sack. Olsen has two fumble recoveries.
Despite the winless record, Wallace believes his team has made tremendous progress.
“With the new coaching staff, a new system being put into place, there were bound to be struggles,” he said. “But with the shortened year and prep time ... I’m proud of the guys how they’ve persevered and stuck with it. They’ve never quit at all this season. They’ve played hard until the very end.”
For CAM, Spieker’s success is well known, but Bower was quick to point out others that have contributed greatly to their success: Colby Rich, Joe Kauffmann, Connor McKee and others.
“Sometimes when you don’t have the stats, you forget about those people, and that’s when you put pressure on some people,” he said. “Moving toward the playoffs, you’re going to find out that some of those kids are going to rise to the top and really be a real focus for us.”
Spieker’s success, too, has been a team effort.
“He couldn’t do it without himself, and he’d say the same thing,” said Bower. “That was a testament to last Friday (against Stanton-Essex) when the yardage got a little bit tough we started to have to do things a little bit different up front.”
The Cougars and Tigers are paired in a pod with Stanton-Essex and Murray. The two first-round winners meet next Friday, Oct. 23, at a site to be determined.