Marshalltown High School football coach Aaron Shipley admitted that this week's contest against rival Ames is not just another game.
The Little Cyclones are the school's longest-standing rivalry as the two programs will meet for the 100th time at Leonard Cole Field on Friday night.
"I would love to tell you that this is just another game but it's not," Shipley said. "We have a long, storied rivalry with Ames. We want to put our best foot forward this week. We owe it to our fans and to our alumni in the stands. We want them to come back."
It could be the largest crowd of the season as the Bobcats welcome the eighth-ranked Little Cyclones for Homecoming. Marshalltown handed Ames a loss on its Homecoming last year. The Little Cyclones will look to return the favor on the Bobcats' home turf.
"They will be looking for retribution for sure," Shipley said. "It will be up to us to not let them get that. We beat them last year, so it tells our guys that we can beat them."
The Bobcats will enter Friday's game at 0-3 after losses to Class 3A No. 5 Pella, 4A No. 9 Waukee and Fort Dodge earlier this season. Having to deal with the potential distractions of Homecoming will be just another challenge for the Bobcats, who face off against an undefeated team with lots of offensive talent.
Ames (3-0) at Marshalltown (0-3)
At Leonard Cole Field
Friday, 7 p.m.
"It is a great opportunity to showcase ourselves in front of a lot of fans, but at the same time, nothing seems like a normal day on Homecoming week," Shipley said. "The schedule gets blown up into pieces, but we are counting on our captains to show the younger guys how to handle the week. There is a definitely a right way and definitely a wrong way to handle Homecoming week."
Handling the distractions of Homecoming may be a piece of cake when comparing that challenge to stopping the Ames offense.
The Little Cyclones have scored at least 34 points in each one of their wins this year. In comparison, the Bobcats have scored just 32 points in their first three games combined.
"Most fans and outsiders are going to look at those statistics and think about the skill players," Shipley said. "We as coaches have to look at schemes and find out what makes that offense so good. And what we have found out is that the offensive line is getting overlooked a little bit. They are mobile and athletic. The Ames offense is extremely balanced and on an elite level."
Ames dominated Des Moines East 47-20 and then survived two close games against tough competition. The Little Cyclones won at Southeast Polk, 45-42, and then edged previously unbeaten Ankeny Centennial at home, 34-30, last week.
The Ames offense can beat you with the arm of Sam Straub or with the legs of Clifford Kwaw-Mensah.
Straub currently ranks third in the state in passing yards with 782. He also has nine touchdowns to just one interception and completes 56 percent of his passes. His favorite target is no doubt Alex Brammer, who ranks third in the state and first in Class 4A with 23 receptions and 387 yards. Brammer also has corralled five of Straub's nine touchdown passes.
Kwaw-Mensah is the top rusher in 4A with 549 yards on 91 carries. He averages six yards per carry and has scored a 4A-high eight touchdowns. The only other Little Cyclone to carry the ball more than five times is Straub, who has scrambled 17 times for minimal yards.
"Those three guys are really good at their respective positions," Shipley said of Straub, Kwaw-Mensah and Brammer. "We will try to do some different things on defense to disrupt what they want to do. We have a gameplan specifically for Ames."
As good as the offense is, the Little Cyclone defense has allowed at least 20 points in each of the first three games. That may be what the Bobcat offense needs to get out of neutral.
Marshalltown has yet to eclipse the 250-yard mark in any game this year, and the Bobcats could not muster more than 200 in the most recent losses against Waukee and Fort Dodge.
Dylan Diveney leads the attack with 298 passing yards and three touchdowns through the air and 97 yards and another score on the ground.
"We are still transforming the offense into what we have for personnel," Shipley said. "We are almost right at 50-50 run to pass right now, which is different than in past years. That is the best thing for this offense right now, and hopefully we can get things going Friday."
Ames leads the all-time series with Marshalltown 63-32-4. The Bobcats have won two straight and three of the last four. They won 37-27 in Ames last year and blew out the Little Cyclones at Leonard Cole Field 56-19 in 2011. The other win was a 60-35 victory in 2009. Ames won 14-7 in 2010 and 20-14 in 2008.
The Bobcat players of the week for the Fort Dodge game were Diveney (offense), Blair Van Staalduine (defense) and Jordan Smith (scout team). Both Derek Mann and Austin Lovin are Homecoming King finalists, but Shipley believes they will be able to handle the crazy week. "They are two of our captains and they are both on our leadership group," Shipley said. "I have confidence that those two will be ready to play Friday." Mann leads the defense with 38 tackles, which is 20 more than the next best Bobcat (Lovin). Lovin also leads the wide receivers with 104 yards and a touchdown.