The memory of last year's playoff loss to Southeast Polk is still fresh in a lot of the minds of the Marshalltown football team's coaches and players.
The Bobcats simply did not play their best in a 60-20 second-round loss to the Rams. Tonight, they get a chance at redemption as both teams once again meet in Pleasant Hill for a chance to move on in the Class 4A football playoffs.
"We don't feel like we played our best football last year against them," MHS coach Dave Holidman said. "We watched some of that tape this week, and it reminded us of how much better we can be."
In last year's loss, the Rams rushed for more than 300 yards and Kyle Starcevich threw for 209 yards and three scores. Three players who did plenty of damage against the Bobcats in that game return, including Starcevich, who has thrown for 1,548 yards and 19 scores this season while completing 71 percent of his passes.
"They are a very complete team, and are simply really good all over," Holdiman said.
The Rams usually are a run-first offense but will feature Starcevich, one of the best quarterbacks in the state, with lots of play-action looks.
High School Football
Marshalltown (7-3) at Southeast Polk (8-2)
At Pleasant Hill
Tonight, 7 p.m.
"They like to mix in a lot of play-action off their run look offense," Holdiman said. "They really put pressure on the defense because you have to be ready for both."
Jordan Beem has rushed for 1,043 yards and 12 TDs this season for the Rams, while Dalton Sanford has nine scores and 643 yards on the ground. And both have had their moments this season.
Sanford had 201 rushing yards and two scores in the playoff win last year, while Beem had 75 yards and two scores.
The Bobcats will try to counter the Rams' heavy-hitting run offense with a prolific passing game that features record-setting Blake Gimbel, who is just 277 yards away from becoming the first-ever Iowa high school player to throw for more than 4,000 yards in a season. Gimbel also has 33 TD passes and just seven interceptions on the season.
Leading a talented group of receivers are seniors De'Quan McDowell and Brandon Pettigrew. McDowell has 1,120 yards and nine scores, while Pettigrew has 895 yards and seven touchdowns.
"Southeast Polk will play a 3-2 front and will mix up man-to-man and zone in the passing game," Holdiman said. "The key for our offense is going to be recognizing what they are in and executing from that. We have to get to the holes and sit if they are in the zone. We have worked on this stuff all season though."
And if the Bobcats (7-3) need to run it, Colton Fuller and Connor Ruddick have proven worthy.
Fuller has gained 414 yards and nine scores on the ground this season. Last week, Fuller led the offense with 173 rushing yards and three touchdowns in the first-round win over Des Moines East.
The Bobcats will not have Blake Gethmann for the third straight game.
Filling in on the offensive line will again be Pedro Gomez.
"He's a force physically, and he has done a nice job for us there," Holdiman said. "The challenge for offensive lineman is communication. The credit there goes to the other linemen who have taken him under their wing and showed him the way."
Sixth-ranked Southeast Polk (8-2) has won six straight games since losing to No. 1 Ankeny.
The other loss came to No. 5 Dowling Catholic, but the Rams have outscored their opponents 185-21 in the last three wins. They also are 5-0 at home this season.
The Rams and Bobcats have several common opponents this season.
Southeast Polk went 4-1 in those games, losing only to Dowling Catholic, 35-12.
The Rams beat Ames 47-17, Des Moines East 38-0, Mason City 61-7 and Waukee 41-8.
Marshalltown went 3-2 in those same five games. The difference came in a Bobcat loss to Waukee in Week 2 this season.
"We know what we are walking into and what we are going to be facing," Holdiman said.
Holdiman hopes last season's experience of playing on the road against the Rams will help this year's team in a hostile environment.
"It's a very active, noisy and boisterous crowd," Holdiman said. "It's a nice stadium environment, but we should have a better feel of what things will be like this year. Hopefully that experience will help us."
The Bobcat defense is led by senior linebacker Tyler Kluver, McDowell, Gomez and Derek Mann.
Kluver has 85 tackles and three sacks, while McDowell has 61 tackles and three interceptions. Mann also has 61 tackles, and Gomez leads the team with 10 sacks.
Kickoff for the game will be 7 p.m.
The MHS-Southeast Polk winner faces the Dowling Catholic-Waukee winner Friday in the Class 4A Quarterfinals.