STATE CENTER - When people would talk about West Marshall and the upcoming football season this summer, there was always an 'if.'
West Marshall, returning almost all of a squad that finished 9-3 in 2010, could be a state championship team if they have a better defense, was the prevailing sentiment.
The Trojans got sick of the 'if.'
T-R FILE PHOTO
Duncan Ferch of West Marshall, right, and Dalton Ferch make the tackle of a North Polk ballcarrier earlier this season in State Center. The Trojans take an 8-0 record into Friday’s regular season finale at East Marshall.
On the strength of a vastly improved run defense,
No. 2 West Marshall has steamrolled through its schedule and sports an unblemished 8-0 record heading into Friday night's Class 2A District 7 finale at Le Grand against East Marshall.
"There were comments made that everybody thought we would be a good football team if we played better defense," said West Marshall head coach Ken Winkler. "I think the kids heard that and coaches heard that, and I think they were getting tired of listening to that."
A year ago, West Marshall surrendered 244 yards-per-game on the ground. The Trojans were gouged by Madrid for 451 yards, by North Polk for 321 and Bondurant-Farrar for 371.
There were eight games in which they allowed over 200 yards rushing as an undersized and inexperienced defensive line was exposed nearly every week.
"The defensive line knew coming in to this year we were going to have to stop the run or we were going to be in trouble again," said defensive back Dalton Ferch.
To that end, the front four spent plenty of time hitting the weights this offseason.
"A lot more than usual and a lot harder," noted defensive tackle Dustin Aikin.
That extra work has paid plenty of dividends as the Trojans have slashed nearly 100 yards off of last year's per-game average. They now surrender 154 rushing yards per contest.
Those numbers are more impressive when considering West Marshall has faced Iowa's second- and 12th-ranked rushing attacks (Madrid, 3,290 yards and Aplington-Parkersburg, 2,667).
Add in Class 2A's 10th and 13th best individual rushers in North Polk's Noah Pickard and St. Edmond's Neil Flattery, and it hasn't exactly been a cupcake schedule for West Marshall.
"Last year, the defensive line did a good job, but they didn't really make any plays," said linebacker Tysen Streeter. "Now they're making plays in the backfield and helping us out a lot."
West Marshall's defensive line is already responsible for 30 tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
The improvement has translated to an improved scoring defense as West Marshall ranks third in Class 2A by allowing just 6 points-per-game. Only one opponent has managed more than one touchdown in a game.
West Marshall sports a deep rotation that features ends Duncan Ferch and Ron Wilkey and tackles Aikin, Jack Christensen, Bailey Brockman, Colby Dunn and Garrett Goodwin.
The offense's more methodical ways have also helped keep the group from getting winded.
"Last year we scored faster than we've scored this year," said Winkler. "We've scored more points this year, but we've taken longer to do it."
The upgrade up front has helped keep the second and third layers focused.
"We can focus on what we need to do instead of focusing on what they're doing," said Streeter.
It's also helped keep the secondary, home to one of Class 2A's top rushers, fresh.
"I remember a couple of defensive plays last year where I was just bent over breathing heavy," said Ferch, who has 1,294 yards rushing this season.
"Our line has done an excellent job this year and a lot of our success is a credit to them."
Even if they're not totally comfortable taking the praise.
"Linemen never feel like they're pulling their own weight because you never get any credit for anything," said Aikin, West Marshall's leading tackler with 68 stops.
That's beginning to change as opposing offenses continue to sputter.
And there are no 'ifs' about it.