Indians prepare for 3A playoff opener against Big Reds
By JIM GRIES Herald sports editor
Now the real season begins.
Much like the National Football League, the regular season is a prelude for the real reason the teams play games — for the postseason.
Oskaloosa and Centerville completed their preludes and now are preparing for the playoffs.
The 6-3 Indians host the 4-5 Big Reds Wednesday night at Lacey Complex Stadium for a 7 p.m. kickoff. The winner will get either Washington or Carlisle Nov. 4 at a site to be determined.
They’re coming into the contest on the opposite ends of the spectrum.
Centerville has dropped its last three games, including a 63-3 thumping against Washington last week. Oskaloosa, meanwhile, has captured six of the past seven with the latest win coming last week — a 34-20 triumph over Knoxville.
Oskalaoosa coach Mike Sterner doesn’t care how the opponent has been playing, just how his team’s been doing.
“Our concern is not what the other team does or does not do. We are focused our ourselves,” he said. “If we continue our growth and improvement we will be happy with the outcome.”
The Indians are making their 14th appearance in the playoffs while the Big Reds are in the playoffs for just the fourth time.
The teams are not strangers on the football field with this being the 31st time they’ve faced each other. Oskaloosa holds a commanding 24-5-1 record against Centerville.
An old saying goes somewhat like this, “You dance with what brung you” is certainly relevant for this game.
The Indians have the third-best rushing attack in the state while the Big Reds possess one of the better passing attacks in 3A.
Oskaloosa has rushed the ball for 2,990 yards and 43 touchdowns with Andrew Landgrebe being the main cog of the attack. He’s rushed for 1,731 yards and has visited the end zone 25 times. Nate VanVeldhuizen has 402 yards on the ground with nine scores and Mason Wisse, who played primarily on defense against the Panthers, is third on the team with 361 yards and four touchdowns.
While the Indians prefer to pound the ball on the defense, the Big Reds’ game plan is to air it out.
Michael Starcevich is the No. 5-rated passer in the state, completing 91 of 174 passes for 1,721 yards and 13 touchdowns. He has been intercepted three times.
Sterner knows his defense has to be disciplined against the senior signal-caller.
“Starcevich is a very talented quarterback. We will need to know where he is at all times,” Sterner said. “He can beat teams with the throw, but also he is talented enough to beat teams with his running and scrambling.”
Starcevich is also the second-leading rusher for Centerville with 332 yards on the ground and seven touchdowns. Grant Walker leads the team with 353 yards and four TDs.
Sterner has been satisfied how his defense has been playing lately and is confident the defense will find a way to control Starcevich.
“It just shows us that our defense is rising and growing,” he said. “We are set up to be disciplined and when the opportunity knocks we will be ready to make a play.”
Wisse leads the defense with 114 tackles and has recovered one fumble. Riley Coniglio has pounced on four fumbles and has made 68 tackles. Nick Rutledge, who has been in on 65 tackles, is the team’s interception leader with six. The Indians have pilfered five other passes this season.
Also, Ki-Jana DeJong blocked a pair of extra-point kicks against Knoxville which spurred the win for the Indians.
While the teams don’t have much time to prepare for the playoff opener, Sterner was happy how the players got ready for the task at hand.
“I like the way our kids have come back excited to have fun and play for each other,” Sterner said. “We are treating this like a new season, with new challenges.”