Riceville has had a nearly-perfect season.
It started with a 34-30 loss to Tripoli on Aug. 25. Fast forward to Week 9, the Wildcats have racked up eight straight victories and a district title. The Panthers also stand at 8-1 after an end-of-season loss to Don Bosco 78-20.
“We gauged ourselves off that game,” head coach Stef Fair said. “Found what we needed to do to set our sights on winning the district, made some adjustments and had some pretty good luck.”
Some of those changes included incorporating more players in the defensive scheme, so not as many offensive players have to play both sides of the ball. Fair also worked to fine-tune the offensive line, creating more gaps for a better ground game.
“John Miller, Grant Shedenhelm and Boe Adams are all seniors and they run very well,” Fair said. “Spencer Kuhn is our center and he has been the heart and soul of the offensive line.”
Miller has already eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark this season with 1,532 yards rushing, Shedenhelm has 492 and Adams 255. All three are also top performers on defense, but junior Cole Byrnes currently leads the team with 94 total tackles, including nine solo tackles for a loss and five solo sacks.
Tripoli has a more diversified offense. Senior quarterback Elijah Cheever has 1,086 yards passing with a 54.5 completion percentage. Senior Marquise Paino has been the dominant operator of the ground game, averaging 9.3 yards per carry with 1,158 yards total rushing. The next best being junior Brady Brocka with 310 yards rushing.
The plethora of offensive weapons on both sides leaves no room for mistakes. The Wildcats have spent the week brushing up on the little things to minimize error. Fair believes that after a season of growth and success, this will be a game to watch.
“We’ve had a lot of close games with Tripoli over the years,” Fair said. “We know it’s going to be a physical game. Whoever makes the least mistakes will come out ahead, whether it’s blocking the wrong guy or not being where they are supposed to be defensively. We hope to play a pretty competitive game.”