In a blink of an eye, the Ames High Little Cyclones' (3-5) regular-season finale is upon us. Brian Saucer’s unit welcomes the 6-2 Waukee Northwest Wolves tonight at 7 p.m. The Little Cyclones’ postseason hopes diminished after falling at home in the final minute to Sioux City East 35-28 last week. To have any shot at getting into the playoffs, Ames must pull off what would be the biggest upset the state has seen this season and needs a handful of other teams to fall as well. Here are the three things you need to know before tuning into the game tonight.
1)-Sam Johnson is the best dual-threat quarterback Ames has seen
The offense of the Wolves runs through their senior quarterback. Johnson has thrown for 1,159 yards with 11 touchdowns and has a passer rating of 114.1. Where Johnson stands out is his ability to extend plays and take over the ground game. Averaging nearly 6 yards a carry and leads the team with 671 total yards and 10 touchdowns. Even when defenses have found success in guarding the pass, Johnson torches them with his legs. In the Wolves' 17-7 victory over the Ankeny Centennial Jaguars last week, Johnson was held to 64 yards passing completing just 4 of his 11 attempts. While the Jaguars secondary held their ground, the defensive line could not lay a finger on the star quarterback. Johnson finished with 24 rushes for 147 yards and two touchdowns. All team highs.
2)- Make Johnson uncomfortable and guard the big man
On Thursday, coach Saucer mentioned how the Little Cyclone defense does not plan to blitz any more than usual, but they will need to keep an eye onJohnson. Easier said than done. Ames has shown growth with a younger defense and an injured linebacking core after losing junior Jackson Winkey earlier this season. Getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks has been a season-long challenge. Ames only has 8 sacks this season while only stopping players behind the line of scrimmage 13.5 times.
The Little Cyclones will once again look for another strong performance by junior Colden Bray. Versus the Black Raiders, Bray dominated leading the team with 10.5 total tackles, 6 solo, and gathered the team’s only two sacks and two tackles for losses. The next closest player had 6.5 total tackles.
Making sure Johnson does not get out of the pocket and into open space is hard enough, not to forget he can sling the ball to one of the more dominant receivers in the state. Standing at 6’2” and 170lbs junior Maverick Inman is the favorite target of Johnson. Leading the team with 31 receptions for 578 yards and 7 touchdowns on top of gathering nearly 20 yards per catch. Ames struggled containing big-bodied receiver Michael Williams last Friday who caught the go-ahead touchdown along with 70 yards on 4 catches. For the Little Cyclones to pull off the upset they cannot allow Inman and Johnson to connect on the home run-type plays.
3)-Send off the senior’s right
It has not been the season the Little Cyclones wanted. After losing three straight to start the season, Ames rallied and won three of their last five games. While the young talent of the Little Cyclones makes for promising years to come, it has been the mentorship and leadership of the seniors that has guided this team back from the bottom to a potential spot in the playoffs.
Of those seniors none stood out more than Lane Kenny who coach Saucer calls a Swiss army knife kind of a player. Kenny was originally listed as the quarterback and found success throwing for 485 yards and 5 touchdowns this season. After the team decided to move Cameron Cantonwine into the starting position, Kenny did not put his head down. Instead, he went on to become a reliable defender and a strong third option at receiver. Over the past two home games, Kenny has found his stride hauling in 182 yards and one touchdown.
There would be no better way to send off these seniors than with a huge upset over one of the state’s best in front of the home crowd.
Tune into 1430 KASI and your free iHeart Radio app with the Ames High Tailgate Show with Mel Crippen starting at 6 p.m. Then Justin Miller and Bruce Vertanen will get you set with kickoff at 7 p.m.