The championship games have arrived.
Starting Thursday morning and ending Friday night, Iowa high school football’s best teams will put on a show inside the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls. We’ll see many of the game’s brightest young stars on the season’s biggest stage. The action rarely disappoints.
The storylines entering this week are all sorts of intriguing.
In Class A, Grundy Center is making its third-straight state title game appearance, while West Hancock is looking for its second championship in three years.
In Class 4A, Lewis Central is making its first-ever championship game appearance — yes, really — and will have to knock off perennial power Cedar Rapids Xavier in order to win.
In Class 1A, Van Meter is in its third title game in four years but is seeking just its second state title in school history — and will have to knock off another prolific offense, led by another talented quarterback, to do it.
In 2A, Southeast Valley won the toughest district, but West Lyon looks like the toughest team.
In 3A, two high-powered offenses will clash between Boyden-Hull/Rock Valley and Harlan.
In 8-Player, the Lane Spieker Show kicks things off Thursday morning.
And, of course, in Class 5A, a highly anticipated rematch, between Ankeny and Southeast Polk.
The next two days are going to be action-packed. This season has been a gem, literally from the jump, when Southeast Polk’s Xavier Nwankpa hauled in a walk-off Hail Mary catch in Week 1. It’s only gotten better every week since.
Here’s hoping this season ends with a bang this week. Hope to see you there.
Class 5A: Ankeny vs. Southeast Polk
7 p.m. Friday
Xavier Nwankpa has shown to be a game-changing force in every phase of the game. Southeast Polk didn’t have him the first time it played Ankeny this year, and the result was a 21-7 Ankeny win that made it clear these two were likely the favorites to again play in the season’s final game. The Rams will have Nwankpa this time. As long as he and his star-studded teammates are at their best, the Rams should have enough of an edge to come out on top.
Pick: Southeast Polk, 28-24
► MORE: Full breakdown for the Class 5A state championship game
Class 4A: Cedar Rapids Xavier vs. Lewis Central
7 p.m. Thursday
Hard to believe this is Lewis Central’s first trip to the state finals. They’ve got a tall task in front of them in Xavier.
The Saints are versatile, deep and play sound, fundamental football. They do not beat themselves. The Titans possess star power in Jonathan Humpal, Brayden Loftin, Lucci Fidone, Hunter Deyo, Nick Miller and quarterback Braylon Kammrad.
If the stars play like stars, the Titans can win. Plays must be made. If not, Xavier will do what they do: a heavy run-first attack from Will Hiserote and Michael Cunningham as well as quarterback Alex Neal, who is also completing nearly 70% of his passes.
Expect a physical football game here.
Pick: Lewis Central, 28-24
Class 3A: Boyden-Hull/Rock Valley vs. Harlan
1 p.m. Friday
Who’s ready for a shootout?
We might see one here between the Cyclones and the Nighthawks. Harlan averages 50.9 points per game, the most in Class 3A. Boyden-Hull/Rock Valley averages 46.5 per game, the second-most in 3A. (Don’t sleep on the defenses, either: BHRV is allowing 9.2 points per game; Harlan has allowed just 19 points total in its last five games.)
Both teams are pass-first. Harlan quarterback Teagon Kasperbauer has thrown for 3,034 yards and 44 touchdowns. His top targets are Connor Frame (46 catches, 1,020 yards, 21 touchdowns), Aidan Hall (30, 725, 7) and Joey Moser (32, 656, 9). For Boyden-Hull/Rock Valley, it’s Tanner Te Slaa, who’s thrown for 2,264 yards and 34 touchdowns. He throws primarily to Landyn Van Kekerix (29, 715, 14) and Caleb Kats (37, 633, 9).
Buckle up and enjoy the show. This could be a fun one.
Pick: Boyden-Hull/Rock Valley, 35-30
Class 2A: Southeast Valley vs. West Lyon
10 a.m. Friday
This will be an interesting clash of styles here.
Southeast Valley plays mean defensively — 63 tackles for loss, 38.5 sacks — and the offense runs through quarterback Kolson Kruse, who’s thrown for 2,184 yards, rushed for another 1,504 and has scored 43 total touchdowns this season.
West Lyon boasts ridiculous size and a rushing attack that’s amassed 3,058 yards this season. Three separate rushers have hit 500 yards this season, and seven have scored touchdowns. Jaxon Meyer, also the quarterback, leads with 857 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns. The defense is a bunch of ballhawks, with a 2A-best 19 interceptions.
Can Kruse make enough plays to lift the Jaguars to the title? Or will West Lyon’s size be too much?
Pick: West Lyon, 28-21
► RELATED: How to watch and follow the state championship games this week
Class 1A: Van Meter vs. West Sioux
4 p.m. Thursday
Van Meter has played against some talented quarterbacks on this stage the last few years — Western Christian’s Tyson Kooima, West Sioux’s Hunter Dekkers, OABCIG’s Cooper DeJean, and, now, another Falcon gunslinger in Dylan Wiggins.
West Sioux’s offense has produced 5,314 total yards of offense in 12 games this year, or about 442.8 per game. Wiggins has thrown for 2,873 and 33 touchdowns, and has run for another 512 and one score. In total, 10 Falcon players have scored touchdowns.
Van Meter’s defense has resembled a blue brick wall this year: 4.5 points allowed per game and 7 shutouts. The offense runs through Jack Pettit and Dalten Van Pelt, who have combined for 3,728 total yards and 57 touchdowns.
Pick: Van Meter, 31-21
Class A: West Hancock vs. Grundy Center
1 p.m. Thursday
A rematch from the 2019 state title game, which West Hancock won, 21-17. Grundy Center is also making its third-straight appearance in the Class A title game (the Spartans lost to Iowa City Regina last season).
So these teams are quite familiar with playing into late November. Logan Knaack leads Grundy Center with 2,308 total yards of offense and 34 total touchdowns. West Hancock employs a vicious rushing attack — 7.3 yards per attempt! — led by Matthew Francis (1,804 yards, 28 touchdowns). The Eagle defense is also allowing 3.8 points per game.
This game will be low-scoring and hard-hitting. Giddy up.
Pick: West Hancock, 21-13
8-Player: CAM, Anita vs. Easton Valley
9:30 a.m. Thursday
Championship week begins bright and early on Thursday morning with a couple of 8-Player powerhouses. CAM is averaging 64.7 points per game thanks to Lane Spieker’s 4,309 total yards of offense and 89 total touchdowns. Easton Valley puts up 61.7 points per game behind quarterback Conor Gruver and running back Charlie Simpson.
This could turn into a track meet — which would be a great, great way to kick off the action on Thursday at the UNI-Dome.
Pick: CAM, 45-40
Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.
Season Record: 170-52 (76.6%)