Nevada excited for shot at No. 1 Harlan in the 3A high school football playoff quarterfinals

Joe Randleman
Ames Tribune
Nevada defensive end Connor Schnettgoecke and quarterback  James Edwards are ready to take on No. 1 Harlan in the 3A quarterfinals of the high school football playoffs this Friday at Harlan. An upset win over the unbeaten Cyclones would be the biggest in school history for the Cubs.

Nevada took care of business in the first round of the Class 3A playoffs Friday with a 34-26 victory over 10th-ranked Adel-Desoto-Minburn at Cub Stadium in Nevada.

Now the Cubs want to make history.

Nevada has a chance to pull off the biggest victory in program history this Friday. The sixth-ranked Cubs (9-1) travel to Harlan to face the No. 1 and unbeaten Cyclones (10-0) — a 45-0 victor over Ballard in their playoff opener.  

"This is something Nevada doesn't get often," Nevada quarterback James Edwards said. "It's going to be super fun and a great atmosphere. Everyone's excited."

Harlan enters the quarterfinals with the best offense in 3A. The Cyclones average 52.8 points and 408.4 yards per game.

"There's no holes," Nevada head coach Andrew Kleeman said. "We've got to play a really clean game. We've got to tackle well and we've got to defend the pass really well."

More:Nevada football pulls off 34-26 victory with clutch plays to beat A-D-M in Class 3A first round

The explosive offense centered around quarterback Teagon Kasperbauer, speedy receiver Connor Frame and dynamic running back Aidan Hall. 

Kasperbauer has completed 67% of his passes (128 of 191) for 2,498 yards and an incredible 37 touchdowns with seven interceptions. Frame has 39 catches for 878 yards and a phenomenal 19 touchdowns. Hall has 654 yards and 15 touchdowns rushing on 10.7 yards per carry and 22 catches for 520 yards and six scores.

Receiver Joey Moser (27 catches for 568 yards and eight touchdowns) and tight end Jacob Birch (32 catches for 477 yards and four scores) are also big weapons in the passing game.

"All of their receivers are really good," Edwards said. "They catch almost everything thrown to them."

But Harlan also plays into Nevada's strengths on defense. The Cubs have two of the best corners in 3A — Caeden DaSilva and Seth Brown — and an excellent pass rush led by defensive ends Gavin Melohn and Connor Schnettgoecke.

More:The secret behind Nevada football's elite Class 3A defensive line

"We have some great DBs," Edwards said. "Obviously they're a concern, but I think our DBs will be able to handle them."

Unlike A-D-M with Matt Dufoe or Humboldt — the only team to beat Nevada — with Caden Matson, Harlan does not have a mobile quarterback. Kasperbauer has only one run to his credit all season and he lost seven yards on the play.

"As a defensive line Gavin, Nate (Anderson), Cam (Vincent) and I have got to get in there," Schnettgoecke said. "The key is getting to the quarterback enough so they don't have time to make the big plays. Players are going to have to hold their ground."

On offense Nevada's game plan is simple. Run the ball, chew up clock and find DaSilva for the occasional big play in the passing game.

"We've got to be patient offensively," Kleeman said. "They're not going to give you the big play. We have to make sure we run the ball effectively, use our screen game effectively and move the ball down the field on them the best we can."

More:How a Thursday night routine helped Nevada's James Edwards dominate in varsity debut at QB

Iowa State recruit Will McLaughlin anchors the Harlan defense on the defensive line and linebacker. He's been injured during the season, but had three tackles and a tackle for loss in the playoff win over Ballard.

The Cyclone have pitched three-straight shutouts. But they have been vulnerable at times, giving up 29 points to Council Bluffs Lewis Central, 26 to Sergeant Bluff-Luton and 30 to the A-D-M squad Nevada just defeated.

A-D-M's success moving the ball against Harlan bodes well for Nevada. The Tigers are similar to the Cubs in that they love getting physical in the run game and taking advantage of mobile, tough-running quarterbacks.

More:'Faster than ... anyone else': Why Nevada WR Caeden DaSilva is poised for huge 2021

"We need to stick to our football and we can't make mistakes and turn the ball over," Edwards said. 

Nevada quarterback James Edwards and offensive lineman Holden Fry (67) hope to find success on the ground against No. 1 Harlan in the Class 3A quarterfinals of the Iowa high school football playoffs this Friday at Harlan. The Cubs need to control the tempo and limit big plays by the explosive Cyclone offense if they hope to pull off the upset.

Edwards has 1,149 yards and 21 touchdowns rushing and 1,052 yards and 12 touchdowns passing. Cason Stevenson gives Nevada two 1,000-yard rushers with 1,118 yards and 14 touchdowns on 10.3 yards a pop and DaSilva, with 32 catches for 690 yards and eight touchdowns, could be an x-factor in the passing game.

"You get into Week 11 you've got to do what's gotten you there," Kleeman said. "We know the challenge that's ahead of us, but we're a good football team too."

Prediction: Nevada will find a way to mount a couple of long drives to keep Harlan's explosive offense off the field and DaSilva will break out for a couple big receptions in the passing game. The Cubs will also force Kasperbauer to commit a couple of turnovers. That will keep them within striking distance. But in the end Harlan has too many playmakers on both sides of the ball for Nevada to pull off the upset. Harlan 35, Nevada 20.