MARK OF A CONTENDER
Excitement surrounds unbeaten SE Valley, Humboldt programs
High school football isn’t necessarily predictable, but a deep playoff run doesn’t just happen on a whim.
In 2020, five of the six state champions finished the regular season ranked in the Top-4 of their respective classes. The same number — all but one — of title programs were in the Top-4 before the 2019 postseason began.
Southeast Valley currently finds itself rated No. 1 in Class 2A. Humboldt, meanwhile, is fourth in the 3A Top-10.
Both are unbeaten at 6-0. Both have been handling their respective opponents in impressive fashion.
And both absolutely belong on a very short list of teams with a UNI-Dome or bust mentality in the weeks to come.
The Jaguars have already taken down two-time defending champ O-A/BC-IG, as well as top contender Estherville-Lincoln Central. Those wins — like all the rest — were by double digits.
Southeast Valley ranks second in 2A for scoring offense and 11th in defense. The Jaguars are a complicated squad to prepare for; last week, they passed for 390 yards and rushed for 323. Sometimes they’ll grind an opponent down on the ground. If the defense tries to take that away, they’ll air it out.
Senior quarterback Kolson Kruse is a dual threat for an offense which ranks second in overall yardage (2,612). Kruse leads 2A in touchdowns (22) and quarterback rating (169.3), and is second in total offense (1,876). He’s thrown 13 TD passes without an interception.
Lathe Muench has rushed for nearly 600 yards and 11 scores, and three different receivers — Eli Johnson (506 yards), Tre Fisher (362) and Colton Brant (264) — are able to go deep at a moment’s notice.
Last but not least is University of Iowa recruit Aaron Graves and Southeast Valley’s offensive and defensive lines. Graves — a robust 6 feet, 5 inches tall and 270 pounds — is a handful because of his size, strength and athleticism.
Players this dominant don’t grow on trees in our area, or 2A in general. Double- and even triple-teaming him only opens up Justin Loseke, Pierce Woodruff and the rest of a stout front seven.
The Jaguars are as efficient as they are talented, too. Southeast Valley has only lost three fumbles all season long, while forcing 11 turnovers on defense.
Humboldt is a very similar ballclub top to bottom. Quarterback Caden Matson is built in the same mold as Kruse, in that the opposition has to pick its poison. Matson has thrown for a 3A-best 1,461 yards and accounted for a class-leading 28 touchdowns; he’s also rushed for 765 yards and 10 scores.
Matson’s quarterback rating of 187.2 sits atop the entire state.
Junior Will Orness (607 yards) and senior Jacob Heier (557) both rank in 3A’s Top-5 for receiving. The Wildcats have scored 35 or more points in every single game, and already own impressive victories over Webster City (35-7) and Estherville-Lincoln Central (38-28).
The offensive line paves the way, with standout Ben Kuehnast joined by Kaleb McCullough, Daniel Illg, Christian Lee and Levi Newton. Kuehnast also helps anchor the defense, along with senior stalwarts Tanner McKimmey and Nolan Lammers. Humboldt has forced 14 turnovers in all.
Southeast Valley and Humboldt are led by outstanding coaches in Mike Swieter and Derrick Elman, respectively. Great leaders and even better people. They’d both be the first to not only credit the kids first, but emphasize how special and unique the chemistry is in 2021.
The Wildcats haven’t been to the Dome since their championship campaign 15 seasons ago. The Jaguars have never reached the semis as a consolidated program; Prairie Valley advanced under Swieter’s direction in 2008 and ’09.
We could very easily see both of them back in Cedar Falls next month. They have all the makings. Big games and pressure situations will intensify the scene in the weeks to come. Regardless of what happens, it’s always fun to have meaningful postseason football in the tradition-rich Messenger area, which hasn’t had a state championship game qualifier since Webster City and Bishop Garrigan in 2016.
This may very well be the year the drought ends.
Eric Pratt is Sports Editor at The Messenger. Contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @ByEricPratt