Survival of the fittest is always the name of the game in the playoffs.
Following the first round of postseason action, seven Messenger-area football programs remain among the final 96 teams left standing in pursuit of a coveted state crown.
Looking to advance into the quarterfinals this Halloween evening are No. 4 (Class 3A) Webster City, ninth-ranked (2A) South Central Calhoun, Clarion-Goldfield, No. 1 (1A) Emmetsburg, Manson Northwest Webster, sixth-ranked (8-Man) West Bend-Mallard and No. 8 (8-Man) Newell-Fonda.
Nearly all kickoffs across Iowa are set for 7 p.m. One of two rare exceptions will be a 6:15 p.m. start time at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls between Webster City and seventh-ranked defending state semifinalist West Delaware.
No. 4 Webster City (9-1) vs. No. 7 West Delaware (9-1)
After exacting revenge in their 35-21 playoff-opening victory over Waverly-Shell Rock, the Lynx will undoubtedly be pushed to the limit by the defending state semifinalist Hawks.
Webster City star Keagan Parks, a 205-pound senior, has accounted for the most rushing yards (1,818) in 3A this season and has found the endzone 27 times on 185 carries. Last Wednesday, Parks churned out 145 yards and a pair of touchdowns on the ground, becoming the all-time leading rusher in program history with 3,262 career yards.
Classmate Jonny Davis has also been a consistent performer for the Lynx, notching 1,101 yards and 16 scores. In addition, Davis has connected on 41 of 69 passes for 875 yards, including 16 touchdowns and four interceptions. Caleb Crouthamel, another senior, has pulled down a team-high 28 catches for 687 yards and 15 scores.
District 3 runner-up Webster City, whose lone blemish was a hard-fought 28-27 Week 7 setback at No. 1 Clear Lake, generates a staggering 48.2 points a night and ranks second in the entire state in total yardage (4,845).
Since dropping a nail-biting 17-16 decision at Western Dubuque in Week 2, surging West Delaware has reeled off eight consecutive wins, including a 37-14 triumph over Ballard in their previous outing.
The tradition-rich Hawks, who won a 3A state crown in 1991 and own a 21-15 mark in 17 all-time playoff trips, are averaging 34.5 points and 379.5 yards per contest. Sam Lahr is the most dangerous offensive weapon for District 4 champion West Delaware, accumulating 1,481 yards and 24 paydirt visits on 231 attempts. Dual-threat signal-caller Trey MacTaggart has also delivered 862 yards and 10 touchdowns rushing, while throwing for 1,264 yards with 10 scores and six picks.
No. 9 South Central Calhoun (9-1) at No. 3 Spirit Lake (10-0)
Containing the explosive Indians presents a major challenge for Bryan Case's Titans. Behind a swarming defensive performance, SCC blanked Sioux Center by a 27-0 count on Wednesday.
Following a tight 10-8 setback at Carroll Kuemper in Week 4, the District 2 runner-up Titans have shown plenty of resolve with six straight victories.
Austin Blair, a 170-pound senior, has been the workhorse offensively for SCC - which bowed out in the state quarterfinals a year ago in its inaugural campaign as a joined program - with 805 yards and nine scores on 133 totes. Senior Kirby Vogel (89 carries, 616 yards, 9 touchdowns) and sophomore Kyler Case (73-358-4) have shined at different points as well for the Titans, who have registered 2,475 yards and reached the endzone 30 times on the ground.
Junior quarterback Nathan Christensen of SCC has gone 39 of 77 through the air for 656 yards with 11 touchdowns and four interceptions. Brett Monahan, a senior, has collected a team-best 12 grabs for 282 yards and a pair of scores.
Displaying a lethal assault, District 1 champion Spirit Lake managed 255 yards rushing and 141 more passing in a 42-0 first-round playoff pounding of Jefferson-JSPC. The undefeated Indians, who are making just their fourth ever trip to the postseason, rank 17th in the state in total yardage (4,224) and have incredibly outscored their opponents on the season, 426-63.
Spirit Lake's Paul Brown has hit on 78 of 128 passes for 1,263 yards, including 15 endzone strikes and four picks. Luke Kabele is the top rusher for the Indians, gaining 792 yards and 11 touchdowns on 109 attempts.
Clarion-Goldfield (6-4) at Forest City (8-2)
The upstart Cowboys posted a convincing 27-10 triumph on the road against the Indians in Week 4 and are hoping for a similar inspired effort this time around. Fresh off its first playoff win in school history - a 43-21 upset of 2010 state semifinalist North Fayette - Clarion-Goldfield appears poised for an even longer postseason stay.
Seniors Dominic Brandt (212-1,313-14) and Wyatt Sann (179-1,211-12) form a dynamic 1-2 backfield punch for Paul Hansch's Cowboys, who currently sit 16th in the state in rushing yardage (3,211) and have discovered paydirt 38 times on the ground.
Winners of six consecutive games, the District 3 champion Indians downed Western Dubuque on Wednesday, 21-14. Kyle Rosacker of Forest City has netted 809 yards and eight scores on 125 attempts. Rosacker has completed 95 of 165 passes as well for 1,304 yards, including 14 touchdowns and six interceptions.
Parker Farland (21-313-5), Tyler Flugum (17-275-2) and Zach Bengtson (17-253-1) are the leading receivers for the Indians, who are making their debut playoff appearance. Outside of its loss to Clarion-Goldfield, Forest City's other setback came in Week 2 to then-No. 3 Clear Lake, 43-21.
Manson Northwest Webster (7-4) at No. 1 Emmetsburg (10-0)
Jeff Anliker's Cougars face an unenviable task of trying to oust the perennial power E-Hawks on their home field. Racking up a season-high 543 yards of total offense and finding paydirt on their first eight drives of the night, Manson Northwest Webster snapped a mini-two game slide in their previous outing with a 55-34 rout of Sioux Central.
Chris Stuhrenberg, a 195-pound senior, has been the main cog for the Cougars, running 139 times for 1,049 yards and 12 touchdowns. Classmate Jesse Partlow has added 649 yards and six scores of his own on 89 attempts.
Senior quarterback Tucker Herzberg of MNW has been efficient through the air, connecting on 65.1 percent of his passes - 82-for-126 - for 1,198 yards with 11 endzone strikes and four picks. Brody Eischeid, a junior, has hauled in 33 catches for 564 yards and six touchdowns. The Cougars, who are back in the postseason for a third time in four years, have put up at least 31 points in five of their seven wins.
Showing all the key ingredients of a state title contender, unbeaten Emmetsburg hammered Prairie Valley in round one, 47-0. The E-Hawks, who have captured nine state titles in three different classes, are making their state record 36th playoff appearance in school history and rank second all-time in postseason victories (67) behind only 3A heavyweight Harlan (86).
Senior Brady Berkland (106-871-13), junior Andrew Wellik (112-851-10) and senior Marcus Akridge (66-591-5) provide Emmetsburg with a trio of home run hitters from their backfield spots. The E-Hawks, who are ninth in the state with 3,456 yards on the ground, have outscored their foes this fall by a decisive margin of 381-60.
No. 6 West Bend-Mallard (9-1) at No. 8 Newell-Fonda (9-1)
Despite coming out on the short end of a 41-18 Week 9 setback at top-ranked and two-time reigning state champion Armstrong-Ringsted, the District 2 runner-up Wolverines began their postseason trek with a bang by crushing Laurens-Marathon, 68-34. West Bend-Mallard, which previously captured four Class A state titles and sports a 36-15 mark in 20 all-time playoff appearances, has outscored its opponents on the year, 529-155.
Mitch Bonnstetter, a 175-pound senior, has ignited the prolific WB-M offense with 983 yards and 21 endzone visits on 115 totes. Classmate Matt Goeders has 22 catches for 483 yards and six touchdowns.
Logan Streit, another senior, has chipped in 493 yards and reached paydirt nine times as well for the Wolverines, who are aiming to avenge a 35-6 loss to the Mustangs in last year's opening-round of the postseason.
Quickly turning the page following a 20-16 Week 9 defeat at Kingsley-Pierson, the District 1 champion Mustangs eliminated Graettinger-Terril on Wednesday, 58-41. Newell-Fonda, which is making its ninth trip to the postseason and sixth in the past seven years, produces an eye-popping 55.7 points per game and ranks 14th in the state in total yardage (4,233).
Juniors Jonathan Johnson (127-997-21), Rigo Johnson (77-869-19) and sophomore Brady Bohe (76-859-11) are all quite capable of taking the ball the distance on any given carry for the Mustangs. Junior signal-caller Zak Sievers of N-F has also gone 41-for-76 through the air for 878 yards, including 13 touchdowns and two picks.
Contact Josh Meyer at (515) 573-2141, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org