EPWORTH — The Demons have overcome one of the most exciting high school football games possible with a 67-64 win over Mt. Pleasant in the final week of the regular season to get into the playoffs.
The Demons have overcome the forfeiture of a 42-20 win against West Liberty when an inelgibile player was used.
The Demons now have the opportunity to overcome the No. 1-ranked team in The Gazette/KGYM/Southeast Iowa Union poll in Class 3A when Washington takes its 7-2 record and travels to Epworth to face unbeaten Western Dubuque Friday in the first round of the playoffs. Western Dubuque lost in the 3A championship game last year.
“This is a tremendous opportunity,” Washington coach James Harris said. “I think we have a good football team. We are looking forward to the challenge. This is a great opportunity for our kids, coaches and community.”
Washington, which is ranked 10th, finds itself facing a team that ended Cedar Rapids Xavier’s winning streak at 32 straight wins. If the Demons claim victory, they will face either Xavier, ranked No. 2, or No. 4 North Scott.
“Everyone in the playoffs is good,” Harris said. “We have a tough bracket, but you have to play everyone at some point.”
Washington had a 20-7 halftime lead on the No. 3-ranked team in Solon (9-0), which has the top spot in the Iowa High School Athletic Union’s Ratings Percentage Index.
“I did have one of our coaches put into the RPI had Washington not had to forfeit that game,” Western Dubuque coach Justin Penner said. “I think their RPI would have been ahead of Xavier. They’re good.”
One very good thing for the Demons has been quarterback Luke Turner.
Turner had 347 yards rushing on 34 carries in the win over Mt. Pleasant and was 7 of 18 passing for another 126 yards. He is third in Class 3A in total yardage rushing and passing on the season with 2.589. He has 1,111 yards rushing on 131 carries and is 87 of 166 for 1,478 yards passing. He is second in touchdowns with 35 total.
“It is hard to defend some of the things Washington does,” Penner said. “He is pretty special.”
Western Dubuque also has an outstanding quarterback. The Bobcats beat North Scott 21-3 in a non-district game and Xavier 20-14 in a district contest. Senior quarterback Calvin Harris accounted for five of Western Dubuque’s six touchdowns in those two wins.
“Harris will be a top draft pick in the upcoming MLB draft,” Coach Harris said. “Harris throws the best deep ball in the state. They don’t have weaknesses. They have two good running backs. Their receiver, Will Burds, is great. Their tight end is really good and No. 84 is a big talented receiver. Their O-line is fundamentally sound and kicks butt off the ball.”
Burds has 39 catches for 744 yards. Tight end Logan Brossius has 11 catches for 116 yards. No. 84 is Bryce Plossl, who has 13 catches for 264 yards.
The offense has a lot of motion and is very balanced running and throwing with 1,677 yards rushing and 1,711 passing.
“On top of that, they have the No. 1 defense in Class 3A,” James Harris said. “It is probably the most fundamentally sound 3-4 defense I’ve watched. And Justin Penner, their head coach, is the defending 3A Coach of the Year. They have no weakness.”
The 14 points Xavier scored was the second-most Western Dubuque allowed all year. Class 2A playoff qualifier scored 20 in a loss the second week of the season.
“I believe they are the No. 1 scoring defense in Class 3A,” Coach Harris said of the Bobcats.
Carter Kluener, a 6-foot, 175-pound senior who wears No. 22, leads that defense in solo tackles with 27, assisted tackles with 42, total tackles at 48, solo tackles for loss with six, solo sacks with two and assisted tackles for loss with seven.
Washington’s defense is led by Dillon Sanders with 44.5 tackles and three interceptions. Trashaun Willis has nine tackles for loss. Lucas Kroll has three interceptions
“We need to be diligent in our preparation and focused on being the best version of ourselves,” Coach Harris said. “We can’t beat ourselves with turnovers or penalties. We have to play one play at time and have each other’s backs.”
Unlike last year when Washington had the No. 16 RPI but didn’t make the playoffs, the top 16 RPI teams in 3A all qualified. The 17th team was Mt. Pleasant. Washington was No. 13.
The RPI for the 16 3A playoff teams is below.
Team Record Opponents records Opponents’ opponents’ records
1 Solon 9-0 38-43 408-320
2 Western Dubuque 9-0 37-44 405-324
3 Lewis Central 8-1 46-35 396-333
4 Sergeant Bluff-Luton 8-1 47-34 383-346
5 Norwalk 8-1 47-34 369-360
6 Xavier 8-1 41-40 402-326
7 Pella 7-2 50-31 375-354
8 Harlan 7-2 48-33 393-336
9 North Scott 8-1 40-41 373-355
10 Dallas Center-Grimes 8-1 39-42 382-347
11 Independence 9-0 27-54 408-321
12 Glenwood 7-2 44-37 410-319
13 Washington 7-2 44-37 390-339
14 Carlisle 7-2 42-39 403-326
15 Iowa City Liberty 7-2 39-42 369-359
16 Oskaloosa 6-3 42-39 407-322
17 Mount Pleasant 6-3 42-39 364-365