Cougars can’t keep pace with No. 7 Central, 58-26

ELKADER – There was no lack of emotion from the AGWSR football team Friday night as the buzzer sounded for the final time and on its season after a 58-26 loss to No. 7 Central Community in the first round of the 8-Man playoffs.

In their first season of 8-Man football, the Cougars finished the season 7-3, with losses to No. 1 Turkey Valley, No. 4 Don Bosco and now No. 7 Central, Elkader. Head coach James Koop, who also finished his first season as a head coach for AGWSR, said the emotions weren’t running high because of a loss, but because of what their 2016 campaign has meant to the players.

“I love them like they’re my own sons,” Koop said. “We’re a family. That’s why it hurts. For the seniors, it’s done now. That’s why it hurts. And for Caleb Meinders, all we thought he was going to do was kick this year and he stayed healthy this season. So, that in itself will make me emotional in the right place.”

On paper, the Cougars were already underdogs before they walked onto the field that sat in the bottom of a valley in Elkader. Unranked and lacking their best passing quarterback in Nathan Karsjens, the Cougars turned to junior Aaron Roelfs to lead the way Friday night.

And despite giving up two big plays which led to the Warriors’ (8-2) first two touchdowns, the Cougars kept pace, answering twice on a 37-yard run by Liam Stubbe and a 1-yard touchdown run by Mason Eilderts.

But the tides turned as Derek Ehrhardt and company continued to run in for scores while the Central, Elkader defense did its part in forcing a punt, two turnovers on downs and a blocked punt on the next four Cougar drives.

“I would say there was one word that sums up our three losses: Speed,” Koop said. “We have strength and size that can match any team. But they’re faster than us. We’ve got to get faster. That’s the thing. Even if we had someone in the right spot, [Ehrhardt] could get by us. And he’s a phenomenal athlete. And we have very good athletes, we’re just not at that level of speed.

“We get to state track in 400s and 800s, and they’re getting there in the 100s and 200s. That word sums up our three losses.”

The Warriors ended up rushing for 209 yards, while Ehrhardt had 121 of those himself on 21 carries. However, the Cougars limited him to just one yard in the entire second half.

It was deep passes that allowed the margin of victory to become increasingly bigger.

Roelfs was taken out of the game just before halftime with a knee injury, paving the way for freshman Titan Opperman. Koop had Opperman in for a series of plays, but wasn’t comfortable leaving him in after bobbled snaps nearly costed the Cougars turnovers.

Eilderts took over a majority of the passing and rushing duties in the second half, even going 3-for-4 with 7 yards passing, all to Stubbe (he finished with four catches for 20 yards).

The Cougars were only able to amass 20 passing yards, which wasn’t enough to combat the Warriors’ air raid of 258 passing yards and 467 total yards of offense.

“They handled us really well at the line of scrimmage, and that created a lot of problems for us,” Koop said. “They go quick and call it from the sideline, and we tried to mix it up on defense in the second half. We had more stop obviously in the second half. But if we can’t control the line of scrimmage the way we’re used to, it makes it tough on us.”

Looking back on the 2016 season, there was a lot to be proud of, Koop said. And falling in the first round certainly wasn’t the exit the Cougars were hoping for.

“If you get kids like our kids, who consistently come in three mornings a week, year round, with a few breaks during the year, they work really hard,” Koop said. “To work really hard and come up on the short end of the stick, that’s why they’ve got tears in their eyes.”