One step from Dome, Iowa tempers excitement for semifinal game

Published 1:00 pm Friday, December 2, 2022

Whether it is No. 1 Iowa or No. 4 North DeSoto, someone is making history tonight at Jesse E. Cady Memorial Stadium at Iowa High School.

Both teams are playing in the semifinals for the first time.

Iowa (11-1) hosts North DeSoto (11-1) at 7 p.m. The Yellow Jackets are on a nine-game win streak.

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Forty-eight minutes of play separate the Yellow Jackets and a trip to the Division II non-select state championship game next week at the Superdome in New Orleans. But head coach Tommy Johns said his Iowa team hasn’t had any trouble staying focused.

“I know the community is excited,” Johns said. “It is great for everybody involved.

“We have kind of corralled our kids. We are not preparing any differently than we have been. They don’t get too high or too low. They are a pretty even-keeled bunch that you don’t typically see these days. I think most good teams that have put themselves in these positions are like that. They handle their emotions well and understand that everyone is going to keep telling them it’s a big game. I tell our guys you can’t treat it any differently. You still have to prepare like you normally do.”

Iowa broke through the quarterfinals last week with what Johns described as the most complete game the Yellow Jackets played all season, beating Leesville 31-14.

“You could tell before the game started they had a chip on their shoulder,” Johns said. “There wasn’t a whole lot of talking going on. The bus ride was quiet. They got over there and were ready to roll. Last week was also our most complete week of practice we had all year. With Thanksgiving break, we had everybody in attendance.”

Iowa’s approach to the game is two-pronged: no turnovers and not allowing the Griffins’ explosive offense (45.2 ppg) to rip off big plays. North DeSoto has forced 40 turnovers in 12 games with six fumbles returned for touchdowns.

“The two main things that we have stressed is, No. 1, we have to protect the ball, period,” Johns said. “Games like this, or any games for that matter, you can’t turn the ball over.

“Defensively, the biggest thing for us is don’t give up explosive plays, don’t give the deep shots or stuff like that or the cheap ones. You have to make them earn it, and try to get some timely turnovers. That is obviously going to help you.”

Griffin head coach Dennis Dunn, a member of the 200-win club, knows his team has to contain Iowa running back Ronald Young (1,820 yards, 21 TDs).

“You have to stop their power run game,” Dunn said of the Yellow Jackets. “They have a lot of people at the point of attack and a lot of bodies at the point of attack. If you don’t match the bodies, they can present some problems for you.

“Of course, (Young) is the guy that has been the game-changer for them all year. He is not their only weapon. (Luke Guillory), their tight end, and (Jonathan Walker) are very good players. They do a really nice job with what they have offensively. They manage the game, get first downs, then (Young) will break one.”