STROMSBURG – There has been significant improvements in the Cross County Cougars’ defense since the first game of the season.
The Cougars gave up 35 points per game over their first four contests, 20.5 in the final four of the regular season and 16 in the Class D-1 playoffs.
The Tri County Trojans (7-3) will bring an explosive offense scoring 45.4 points per game, and a huge test will be stopping dual-threat junior quarterback Cole Siems, who has combined for 1,799 yards passing and running the ball.
Siems is coming off 219 yards rushing and a seven-touchdown performance in the Trojans’ 68-8 win over the No. 3 seed Elmwood-Murdock Knights last Wednesday.
Both the Trojans and the Cougars rely heavily on the run game as Tri County averages 268.5 and Cross County (6-4) is averaging right at 290. The Cougars are coming off a 20-6 win over Bruning-Davenport/Shickley, where they dominated the ground game with 359 yards. Sophomore running back Carter Seim ran for 205 yards and Isaac Noyd was also over 100 yards in the upset win.
Cross County coach Hayden DeLano said the Trojans are a little bit like BDS in their approach.
“That’s a real tough comparison to our opponents this season. They are similar to BDS when it comes to misdirection and their zone reads and jet sweep stuff,” DeLano said. “They’re extremely talented across the board. They have a special athlete at quarterback and a lot of quality kids surrounding him.
“They’re so versatile. Yes, they’re run-heavy but they do such a great job of getting different guys the ball in places they can be successful. They play extremely hard on defense, as well. Extremely well-coached and disciplined team.”
The two teams have two common opponents in Exeter-Milligan/Friend and BDS.
Both teams defeated the EMF Bobcats and Cross County went 1-1 against BDS and Tri County dropped a 51-12 decision to the Eagles on Oct. 4.
The Cougars have won their last three games after a 3-4 start, and DeLano places blame on himself for the lack of early success.
“Honestly, the boys have been capable of these types of performances all year. As the head coach, and the defensive coordinator, I dropped the ball defensively for the first three or four games of the season. I was being too conservative and not letting our players go play,” DeLano said. “We have changed that mindset the last several weeks and the boys have responded well. Their effort and energy is as good as I’ve seen as a coach. They believe in what we are doing and love to fly around and hit people.”
On defense the Cougars are led by Seim, Berck and Christian Rystrom with 114, 108 and 103 tackles respectively. Overall the Cougars defense allows 283.7 yards per game, and that breaks down to 142.5 on the ground and 141.2 in the air.
Slowing down Siems and continuing to excel on the offensive line are both keys on Tuesday.
“We have to keep their quarterback from having a special night and our defensive has to be better in execution as well. We can’t rely on effort alone, their Xs and Os have to be executed,” DeLano said. “Lastly, we have to continue to grow on the offensive line. We will have to play extremely tough up front to move the ball against this Tri County defense.”
Kickoff for Tuesday’s game is set for 6 p.m.
The winner of the Tri County at Cross County game will get the winner of the other east-bracket quarterfinal between No.1 seed and D-1 No. 1-rated Howells-Dodge at Osceola/High Plains, being played about eight miles away in Osceola.
The semifinals will be played on Monday, Nov. 18.
In the west bracket, the two quarterfinal games will feature No. 1 Cambridge at No. 5 Burwell and No. 3 seed Arcadia-Loup City travels to No. 7 Dundy-County Stratton.
“The boys are playing extremely hard right now. The selfless play from Carter Seim (103 carries, 969 yards and 14 touchdowns) along with Isaac Noyd (158 carries, 1,445 yards and 20 touchdowns) is awesome,” DeLano said. “They are each other’s biggest fans. Defensively our boys are really playing physical. We hung our hat on that and it is showing up just in time.”