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We made it to the finish line.

The final week of high school football in Iowa is at hand, and in the next two days, the Iowa High School Athletic Association will crown six state champions, five in 11-man, plus an eight-man team.

It didn’t seem like we’d ever reach this point. Remember, in June and July, there were rumblings there wouldn’t even be a season. But somehow, it got pulled off, and now the biggest games of the year are about to take place.

It’s going to be interesting to see how well winter sports comes off, especially as COVID-19 positivity rates across the state have accelerated in the past couple of weeks and hospitalizations have really increased. Depending on the source, the rolling 14-day positivity rate has ranged from as low as 22% to nearly 50%.

And with several schools deciding that online is best for now, that means a hold on sports and other activities at least for those schools.

None of the News-Telegraph coverage area’s schools are affected – yet – but do know that at least five metro school districts – Des Moines, West Des Moines, Iowa City, Cedar Rapids and Davenport – among others are taking at least until a few days after Thanksgiving off to get their school’s positivity rates down. A couple dozen other smaller districts are doing the same.

Again, it’s going to be touch-and-go, and we’ll have to see how this plays out. Right now, it’s scary. That’s about the best I can say about it.

The news of the two vaccines’ effectiveness is very encouraging, but remember that there’s still a couple of steps to be taken yet before distribution begins. But at least the light is starting to appear at the end of the tunnel, and the world’s nightmare could soon see its end.

Prediction: Easter.

If that’s when it happens and widespread distribution of the vaccine is taking place ... what an appropriate time that’d be.

Anyway, enough about COVID-19.

On to football.

During the regular season, I voted in the Associated Press’ Iowa high school football poll, one of about a dozen or so sports editors and reporters from across the state. Each Monday, these polls are released and we publish them.

My final poll’s No. 1s: Southeast Polk (Class 4A), Dallas Center-Grimes (Class 3A), Williamsburg (Class 2A), OA-BCIG (Class 1A), Grundy Center (Class A) and Don Bosco (eight man).

Of those, Southeast Polk, OA-BCIG and Grundy Center are playing for a state championship in their respective classes. Of my No. 1 teams that are now watching from the sidelines, Dallas Center-Grimes didn’t even make the “round of 16,” while Williamsburg was ousted after a once-in-a-million-years play on the final play of the game. Only Don Bosco reached the semifinals.

The matchups and my rankings:

Class 4A:

  • Southeast Polk (1) vs. Ankeny (2).

Class 3A:

  • Harlan (2) vs. North Scott (5).

Class 2A:

  • Central Lyon/George-Little Rock (3) vs. Waukon (9).

Class 1A:

  • OA-BCIG (1) vs. Van Meter (2).

Class A:

  • Grundy Center (1) vs. Iowa City Regina (3).

Eight man:

  • Remsen St. Mary’s (2) vs. Fremont-Mills (not ranked).

As a note, I did not rank Fremont-Mills in the final poll because, to that time, they had played just four games. Three were wiped because of COVID-19 either on their end or by the opposing school. Perhaps that’s unfair, but in the end, I think I should have cut the Knights a break. I’ve seen them play. They’re good and they have a running back that’s going to do well at Nebraska.

Other notes of interest:

  • Of this year’s final field, just two private schools are in the mix – Iowa City Regina and Fremont-Mills. Eliminated in the semifinals were Cedar Rapids Xavier, Council Bluffs St. Albert, Don Bosco and West Des Moines Dowling. Of those, Don Bosco and Dowling were state champions a year ago.
  • All hail to my alma mater, North Scott – they’re the only team of the 12 finalists who are in the state championship game for the first time. The Lancers were the only team of three first-time semifinalists to win their game, doing so in a dramatic overtime contest against Cedar Rapids Xavier, a team that has been (and continues to be) one of the kings of eastern Iowa football.

The Lancers, incidentally, could have made the semifinals one other time in school history – 1974, a year they went 9-0, mostly against smaller school competition. Because of the playoff qualification rules in place at the time, they were shut out, and instead, Fairfield was the team taken from southeast Iowa. Incidentally, speculation has it that had North Scott gotten in, they possibly would have played Atlantic in one of the two semifinal games (with Decorah and Emmetsburg being the other semifinal game). Instead, the pairings that year were Atlantic-Emmetsburg and Decorah-Fairfield.

  • Speaking of Atlantic and North Scott, the team the Lancers face this week is one that the Trojans are very familiar with: Harlan. The Cyclones and Trojans didn’t meet this year – one of the few times in the past 100 years they didn’t meet – but the Cyclones are, aside from Dowling, the kings of Iowa high school football.

Harlan has quarterback Teagon Kasperbauer’s 2,340 passing yards for 22 touchdowns and a 133.6 rating. His main receiving options are Connor Frame (885 yards, 12 TDs) and Aidan Hall (747 yards, 7 TDs). On the ground, he can hand off to Mason Griffith (537 yards, 4 TDs) and Brenden Bartley (593 yards, 7 TDs). The Cyclones have 21 sacks and 41 more tackles for losses, and has forced 22 turnovers.

North Scott’s main claim to fame is they know how to win in the clutch, with late plays advancing them in tight games against Davenport Assumption, West Delaware and Xavier. That’s more than made up for two wins against very weak teams in Clinton and Marion and games lost to COVID-19.

Fingers crossed for another epic battle.

  • Incidentally, North Scott’s lone loss (to Pleasant Valley) was not exactly the Lancers’ best game, and that’s even acknowledging there were a few COVID-related absences that game on the Lancer sidelines. The Spartans had the talent to be sure – they didn’t get to the semifinals for nothing – but they simply couldn’t compare to Southeast Polk, who quickly turned the game into a decisive rout.

Would North Scott – or Harlan, for that matter – have done any better against Southeast Polk on any given night? Hard to say, although certainly on this night, it would have taken a strong army to stop the Rams, who were nothing short of impressive. That’s the best that can be said.

And, for that matter, the other two teams that made up the Class 4A semifinals – Ankeny and Dowling – are pretty good. Ankeny makes a worthy opponent for Southeast Polk, and so would have Dowling. Even for the Hawks and Maroons, though, if Southeast Polk was as good as they were last Friday night, they would have had a pretty tall wall to scale.

To reach Brian Rathjen, send correspondence to sports@ant-news.com or phone (712) 243-2624.

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