The Ankeny Hawks are not exactly a team Marshalltown head football coach Dave Holdiman would have picked to play right out of the chute this season.
But it is what it is, and the Bobcats must now find a way to stop senior quarterback and Iowa State-bound Joel Lanning in his own backyard.
"I am not sure we'll be able to stop them, but we do hope to slow them down," Holdiman said. "We played against the QB when he was a freshman and we were able to come out with the win. But, we knew then he would be special. They do a good job of revolving that offense around him and featuring him in the attack."
Lanning threw for 1,733 yards last season and rushed for 636 more while accounting for a total of 23 touchdowns. He led the Hawks to an 11-2 season and a run into the Class 4A state semifinals where they lost to eventual champion West Des Moines Valley.
However, several pieces from that Ankeny team are gone, including eight of the team's nine top tacklers, which could bode well for Marshalltown's wide-open offense and record-setting slinger Blake Gimbel.
"We go at every game the same, but we attack defenses differently based on what they play against us," Holdiman said in response to playing against Ankeny's defense. "We believe Blake is every bit as good as Lanning, but we are only going to worry about the things we can control right now. Where the Ankeny quarterback plays in college is out of our control."
Marshalltown at Ankeny
At Ankeny High School
Friday, 7 p.m.
Someone who is in control is Gimbel, who set a new state record in passing yards in a season with more than 3,900 last year. He also led the state in passing attempts and completions and added 39 TD passes as well.
It will be Ankeny's Wing T rushing attack against Marshalltown's wide-open spread attack. And it will likely be a high-scoring affair as both offenses do what they do well.
"You don't really know what is going to happen in a season until you play that first game," Holdiman said. "We'll learn a lot about ourselves and Ankeny will learn a lot of about itself. There are a lot of questions that can you can answer after that first game."
Both squads are looking to replace key starters on both sides of the ball that were lost to graduation. Ankeny has four seniors returning to the offensive line but lost most of its skill position players except for Lanning and wide receiver Marshall Clark. The Hawks' defense returns only Drew Carlson (75 tackles) and Aric Sturm (45 tackles).
Besides Gimbel, Marshalltown also brings back two starters on the offensive line as well as the speedy Tad Steffensen, who is expected to be Gimbel's favorite target this season. Defensively, the Bobcats return all-staters Pedro Gomez and Tyler Kluver but lost leading tackler Kyle Carnahan as well as their entire secondary.
"We hope to find out what our strengths and weaknesses are after Friday night," Holdiman said. "There will be a lot of things figured out this week."
Ankeny begins the season ranked No. 3 in Class 4A by The Des Moines Sunday Register. Lanning is a big part of that. However, he was just 6-of-15 in the state quarterfinals against Southeast Polk last fall and was a dismal 4-of-23 for 62 yards and two interceptions in the state semifinal loss against West Des Moines Valley.
"He's a tremendous athlete, and he will be tough to slow down," Holdiman said.
Holdiman begins his 10th season as Bobcats head coach, while Ankeny returns head coach Jerry Pezzetti, who has been a high school head coach for 52 years. Pezzetti is the third all-time winningest coach in Iowa.
The game will kick off in Ankeny at 7 p.m.