Iowa state football: Wealth of riches -- H-LP on verge of greatness
LAKE PARK, Iowa -- There was nothing that seemed out of the ordinary Tuesday afternoon as the Harris-Lake Park Wolves waded through another football practice session. The passing drills, the blocking drills, they all appeared normal. Players laug...
LAKE PARK, Iowa -- There was nothing that seemed out of the ordinary Tuesday afternoon as the Harris-Lake Park Wolves waded through another football practice session. The passing drills, the blocking drills, they all appeared normal. Players laughed at each other and traded jokes. There were a couple of brief wrestling matches between linemen, and good-natured ribbing was directed at the loser.
You wouldn’t have guessed, if you hadn’t already known, that the Wolves were about to compete in the biggest football game of their young lives. This morning -- Thursday (Nov. 17) -- at 10:06 at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls, Harris-Lake Park will take on Don Bosco, Gilbertville, for the Iowa state 8-Player championship.
Not that they’re nervous about that.
Today’s game will be H-LP’s second consecutive game in the UNI-Dome, where last week they defeated a previously undefeated Fremont-Mills team 35-21 in the state semifinals. Words, and body language, on Tuesday indicated that since nervousness was not a factor last week, it won’t be a factor this morning.
“I think we did pretty good for being there for the first time,” said head coach Lane Gunderson’s son Trevor, who ran 31 times for 111 yards and two touchdowns in the semifinals.
His dad agreed.
“I think the guys handled it really well. We talked a lot about being able to look back on our season and be happy about what we accomplished. But right now we’ve got a couple of games to play and we’ve gotta be ready,” said Coach Gunderson. “Right now, the guys are focused and ready to go.”
Unbeaten and confident The fact that Don Bosco (11-1) roared to a 72-0 victory over Midland, Wyoming, in its semifinal contest does not raise the blood pressure of Harris-Lake Park. The Wolves are undefeated, they’ve beaten several outstanding teams already this fall, and most of them by hefty margins. Coach Gunderson likes to say that, whoever who the Wolves play, they’re going to present matchup problems for opponents. So far, he’s been proven right every time.
Expect the Wolves to seek balance on offense today, and expect them to be physical defensively with their quick and athletic defensive line. Don Bosco is a determined running team, but the Wolves have been able to control the run -- which is always their primary goal -- consistently this year.
“We just have to be able to do what we’ve done all season, and out-muscle people, and execute our game plan,” said junior quarterback Bryce Perkins. “We try to be more physical than other teams.”
Usually, the Wolves are far more athletic than their rivals, too. Perkins, who struggles with a foot sprain that has hobbled him in the second half of the 2016 season, has still been able to complete 64.4 percent of his passes for 1,865 yards and 35 touchdowns. Gunderson has rushed for 1,475 yards with a 5.9 per-carry average. But there are other exceptional athletes on the Wolves’ roster, too, including Keegan Carpenter, Jordan Kyle and Cale Hellinga -- all, Coach Gunderson points out -- who could by themselves produce eye-popping statistics by if the team wasn’t so deeply talented.
Gunderson agrees that he’s one lucky coach.
“There are years where you don’t have one guy as good as five or six guys that we have,” confessed the 17-year head mentor. “I thoroughly am enjoying it, and making sure I take advantage of it. Because you rarely ever have a team like this. I’m just very fortunate to be a part of it.”
He smiled. “One thing I’ve noticed -- when you have a good team, you’ve always got good players. It’s not me, it’s them.”
Said Trevor, “We know we can play with any team if we play good. Whatever the defense gives us, we’re able to do.”
pack of Wolves Not only are the Wolves highly talented, they’re highly motivated. They worked hard in the offseason to get ready for a football campaign they sensed could be exceptional. They work very hard in-season as well. What more could a coach want?
“It’s guys that just get it,” testifies longtime assistant coach Jeff Sohn, who doubles as Harris-Lake Park’s boys basketball head coach. “I had some basketball players four or five years ago that was the same thing. They just found a way to get the job done. I don’t really know how to explain it. And they never quit.”
It’s never automatic that high school 8-Player football players make the adjustment both physically and mentally to playing in the UNI-Dome. And last week marked the first time ever that Harris-Lake Park players competed there.
The Dome is set up as an 11-man field, meaning the dimensions need to be shortened on one end and re-drawn manually. It can confuse a player, at least at first.
But the Wolves got off to a great start in their game against Fremont-Mills. Sohn said there seemed to be no confusion or nervousness at all.
“Not at all,” he said this week. “I was really surprised. I really think some of our fans, and even some of our coaches, were more nervous. I was really impressed.”
Perkins admitted to just a little nervousness. But not a lot.
“The first time coming through the tunnel, I finally realized we’re going to actually play there and so something that my school has never done before,” he said.
This morning, all the Wolves say it’s full speed ahead -- one more time, for all the marbles. Coach Gunderson maintains that the entire playbook is going to be opened for the final game. “Whatever we’ve got, we’re gonna try,” he promises.
So does Perkins.
“We don’t have anything to lose,” he said.