Iowa Western’s toughest opponent for the rest of the regular season may be itself.
As the No. 5 Reivers enter their second swing through the Midwest Football Conference’s double round-robin slate, coach Scott Strohmeier is concerned about his team’s motivation.
IWCC (6-1, 4-0) beat the other four MFC teams by a combined score of 181-10 in the first meetings. And Strohmeier felt his squad lacked enthusiasm in last week’s 84-40 win over Arkansas Baptist, the first game for the Reivers since their 48-38 loss at No. 1 Georgia Military.
“We have to be a little more enthusiastic,” he said. “We have to have fun on the practice field. We have to work.”
Strohmeier, therefore, changed some things up in practice this week, which seemed to grab the attention of his players. IWCC did more one-one-one and No. 1-vs.-No. 1 drills this week while also setting individual and group goals for this weekend’s game at Iowa Central (2-3, 1-3).
Tuesday’s practice, Strohmeier said, was the best for the Reivers since their first day in pads.
The Kinney Cup, the trophy named after the father and son presidents of Iowa Western and Iowa Central, is also on the line in Saturday’s 7 p.m. game at Dodger Stadium. Iowa Western has held the traveling award since beating the Tritons in 2010, its second year of football.
The trophy wasn’t on the line in the first meeting this season, which IWCC won in Council Bluffs 62-10. Strohmeier said that result doesn’t matter, especially in a rivalry game.
“I don’t really care that we beat them the first time,” he said. “It’s for the cup now.
“There are some challenges to playing everybody twice. (When) you score 62, a lot of things go right. (When) you give up 62, you’ve got some room for change. It’s kind of a chess match.”
In the bigger picture of the season, IWCC is still in the hunt for the national title, even with its one loss. A wacky fall of upsets may lead a non-unbeaten team to a championship shot for the first time since 2010.
Things started falling in place for the Reivers almost immediately after the loss to Georgia Military. Then-No. 1 Navarro was upset by Trinity Valley in Texas later that same night.
In the next week’s NJCAA poll, IWCC landed ahead of all the other one-loss teams at No. 7. Then No. 4 Itawamba was crushed by Copiah-Lincoln in a top-10 showdown in Mississippi.
The Reivers vaulted over unbeaten Nassau (N.Y.) to No. 5 this week. Then on Thursday, unranked Hinds (Miss.) knocked off previously undefeated Jones County, which was No. 2 in the rankings.
That leaves only four unbeaten teams around Iowa Western in the poll. And two of them, No. 1 Georgia Military and No. 6 Nassau, play each other Saturday afternoon.
No. 4 Tyler (Texas) meets unranked Trinity Valley, a team Iowa Western has beaten, next week. And nearly every league with highly ranked teams, other than the MFC, has upcoming playoffs.
The Reivers have the easiest remaining schedule of the NJCAA’s top-ranked teams. If they can win out, and the right things happen elsewhere, they could finish in the top two.
“Part of that is the benefit of playing those teams early, the nonconference schedule that we’ve played,” Strohmeier said. “Obviously, the loss hurts you. But with the loss to a 7-0 team that’s No. 1 in the country, it’s not like we dropped way out of it.”