View from the state
A team that has never won a state football title is guaranteed in this championship.
Lenox, the 2005 runner-up, wound up in a three-way tie with Lamoni and East Union in District 6 and is in the post season for the fourth straight season and the seventh time overall.
The eighth-rated Tigers have outscored four postseason foes by a suffocating 173-34 margin, including a 40-20 triumph over CWL, Corwith in the semifinals. Lenox is 12-6 in postseason play.
Armstrong-Ringsted is in the post season for the third time and this is the second consecutive year they have reached the championship clash. They are 7-2 in post season action.
Each team has flexed it offensive muscle in the post season. The Mustangs have outscored four postseason foes 229-83 with impressive wins in their last two games over powerful North Sentral Kossuth, 49-24 which avenged their only loss and an eyebrow raising 57-20 stunner against defending champion Stanton in the semifinals. It also ended the Vikings 25-game winning streak which equaled the longest 8-Player mark set by Adair-Casey, 2000-02.
Coach Robert Zotz hails from East Union High School in Afton, a stone’s throw from Lenox, and is a graduate of Northwest Missouri State. He is in his sixth season as the head coach of the Mustangs and has a career record to date of 42-21, orchestrating each of the school’s trips to post season. He has a capable crew of assistants in Matt Berninghaus, James Fitzgerald and Steve Waldstein. This is his second championship game after directing a near upset of Stanton in last year’s final.
Lenox’s Allen Dukes is in his 14th season and is 99-46 years at Lenox. He is a native son and started coaching at Lenox after serving as a platoon sergeant in the Army. He took time off to get his teaching and coaching degree at Northwest Missouri State and coached eight player football in Missouri before returning home.
He has directed three Lenox teams to the 11-player post season and all four the eight-player appearances. His 2005 team finished second to Glidden-Ralston in a 35-26 final. Dukes has capable assistant coaches in Tom Christensen, Lynn Christensen and Todd Parrish.
Championship games are supposed to have a story line-favorite and under-dog; expected to be here, not expected to be here; or achievers against over-achievers.
The final game of the season has all of that plus it matches two teams with strong offenses and pad-popping defenses. Buy the popcorn and soft drinks early. The only certainty is that someone will win a first-ever title.
Armstrong-Ringsted’s explosive offense goes against what is arguably the top defensive clan in 8-player football-Lenox’s version of the no-name defense.
Key personnel who were starters or on the squad in last year’s title game bolster the hopes of Armstrong-Ringsted, who believe they have some unfinished business of 365 days ago. The talent they return is impressive.
Running back Tyler Tonderum, a junior, and senior quarterback Ridge Christiansen are back along with offensive and defensive lineman Willie Beeler (245 pounds).
Tonderum has tallied 252 points, the second straight season he has gone over the two century mark. His 474 points and 79 touchdowns the past two seasons rank fifth and fourth respectively on the all-time career lists. This fall he has racked up 42 TDs, 252 points and 2,072 yards on 177 rushes. He has 3,889 rushing yards to date over the last two seasons, good enough for third best all-time and could break Sentral, Fenton’s Kellen Madison’s 8-player state record of 4,641 next fall. Among this year’s 42 end zone visits are two touchdown receptions plus a returned punt and kickoff each for scores.
Christiansen is a bona fide threat on the run or with his arm. This season he has rushed for 1,648 yards and 27 ground TDs, while throwing for 792 yards and 17 scores. He has connected on 42 of 84 passes with two interceptions.
Tanner LaBore, a senior, has been the Mustangs top receiver with 13 catches for 374 yards and 10 touchdowns. He has also taken a kickoff to the house among his 90 points.
Meanwhile, linemen Ethan Jensen, a 265-pound junior and senior Joe Brandenburg help fortify the offensive line. Place kicker junior Ethan Eisenbacher has converted on 69 of 82 placements with one field goal. His 69 PATs is an Iowa single season best and his 72 points is fourth highest. The defense is solid with Christiansen, Tonderum, LaBore being joined by Seth Anderson and Craig Tigges as the leading tacklers.
Lenox has rushed for 2,711yards and has added 1,199 through the air. The Tigers have produced 85 TDs, with 53 on rushes and 17 in the air. The Mustangs have hammered across 100, with 78 coming on the ground and 19 in the air.
Lenox boasts the fifth leading rusher in 8-Player in the person of senior Tyler Peterson who has rolled up 252 points. He has 1,685 rushing yards on 244 carries and has scored in a variety of ways with 28 TD rushes, two more receiving, with a pair of punt returns, fumble recovery returns and two kickoffs taken back to the house plus one returned pick. For the season he has 238 points.
Junior Eric Hensley has 140 carries for 764 yards and 19 end zone visits. He also has two pass receptions and punt returns for scores included in his 154 points.
Branden Cline, a senior, has completed 78 of 133 passes for 14 touchdowns with only three interceptions.
In the semifinals, when CWL snuffed the Tigers’ running game, Cline carved out seven completions in 12 attempts for 203 yards and no interceptions for three touchdowns.
Receivers Caleb Sorensen (a senior) and junior Connor Lange have five and four TD receptions, respectively.
Lange leads the team with 26 catches and 364 yards. Peterson has hauled in 23 passes for 345 yards. Peterson and Lange join sophomore Lucas Dalton, and senior Ben Borland as the tackling leaders for the stop troops which has yielded only 11 touchdowns in eight games since losing to Lamoni.
Don’t be deceived by the 5-6, 150-pound Dalton who has a nose for the football. The Tigers lost six senior starters that went both ways a year ago.
After further review
This in the ninth year for the 8-Player Championships and the hotbed of the state has been western Iowa that brought the game back and has claimed the first eight. Regardless of this year’s winner it will be the home of the ninth.
Five of the champions have come from U.S. Highway 30 or north with only Adair-Casey (2000 and 2001) and Stanton’s rise last year being from Southwest Iowa.