By ANDY HEINTZ
Courier sports staff
---- — CEDAR FALLS — Albia coach Jerry Staton is a different kind of coach and his unusual approach to his chosen craft has produced a special Blue Demon football team this season.
And, perhaps not surprisingly, the second-ranked Blue Demons have approached their Class 2A semifinal game against an impressive Waukon team today at the UNI-Dome in a fashion that makes them an anomaly in the world of high school football.
"We're unique in our preparation," Staton said. "Our goal is not to beat Waukon. Our goal is to be our best."
That statement illuminates the veteran coach's philosophy: Play your best because in the end, that's all you can do.
"If we can go out and play our best and they still come out on top, we will shake their hands and congratulate them," Staton said.
One benefit to this approach lies in its ability to act as a healthy tonic to the anxiety such big games can exact on players.
"When we do that [concentrate on being our best], we play with less pressure," Staton said. "What we want to do is try hard on every play and let the score take care of itself."
The coach said tonight's game isn't that different than the Blue Demons three previous playoff games.
"Really this game isn't any bigger than Louisa-Muscatine was," he said. "They had to win that one to go on to the next one. If we wouldn't have played well against Louisa-Muscatine, we wouldn't have been able to play against Mid-Prairie. And if we wouldn't have played well against Mid-Prairie, we wouldn't have been able to play against Mediapolis."
As for playing in the dome, Staton doesn't seem to ruminate much about where his team plays, be it a dome or otherwise.
"It's really not a whole lot different except that there's no wind and it's 70 degrees," he said. "It's actually pretty nice. If you get all caught up in the drama of it all, that's a distraction. All that matters is doing your assignment. If it's a bad play, you have to admit you made a mistake, make an adjustment, flush the play from your mind and focus on what's important now."
While Staton's philosophy may have helped his team avoid the mental land mines that have torpedoed the seasons of many a good football team, Albia's success also has been been bolstered by a profusion of defensive talent. The Blue Demons talented defensive roster includes solid players like Blake Bayer, Dalton Folkerts, Shadow Leshen, Hugh Sinclair, Carter Isley, Hunter Eldon and Justin Bossard. And without that potent blend of talent and mental toughness that Albia's defense possesses, the Blue Demons probably wouldn't have been able to make the trek to Cedar Falls.
Time and time again, Albia's defense, which had spent the breadth of the second half on the field, looked like it might finally surrender a touchdown to what was at that time an undefeated Mediapolis team in the Class 2A quarterfinals. But each time the Blue Demons' backs were against the wall, someone would make a big play that would stymie Mediapolis' momentum. The outstanding defensive effort carried Albia to a 7-0 victory.
"They say defense wins championships and offense sells tickets and on Friday [Nov. 8], that's what it was," Staton said. "Our pursuit has been very good. We aren't the biggest team out there, but we're quick and that has been to our advantage."
Offensively, Alex Schultz, Albia's leading rusher, is doubtful to start after being hindered by nagging ankle problems the last two games. Still, the Blue Demons' highly capable offense will still have starting quarterback Brett Leshen, hard-charging fullback Griffin Osing and Albia's star wide receiver Zach Hugen, who made two key touchdown catches on fourth down situations in Albia's 26-16 win over Mid-Prairie in the second round of the postseason. And, running back Ryan Sarver has proven he can ably fill Schultz's position in the backfield if Schultz isn't able to play.
"We're hoping he'll play because he's an outstanding running back," Staton said about Schultz.
Albia takes on a Waukon team that's only suffered one loss this season. And they exorcised those Demons by thumping New Hampton 36-0 in the rematch in the Class 2A playoff quarterfinals. The Indians' quarterback Parker Hesse ran for 159 yards, rushed for two touchdowns and threw for one more in his team's blowout victory over the Chickasaws. Waukon's offense also is bolstered by running back Marcus Weymiller who poses a dual threat out of the backfield: He has rushed for 23 touchdowns and made seven touchdown receptions this season.
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