SPIRIT LAKE - While Spirit Lake isn't the same team it was a year ago, the fifth-ranked Indians are still very good.
No.4 Kuemper Catholic of Carroll was also a good team last season, but they appear to be a better team this season.
The two teams meet for the second year in a row in the playoffs. Spirit Lake defeated Kuemper 31-7 in the 2011 2A quarterfinals. This year they meet today at 4:06 p.m. in a 2A semifinal in the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls.
A year ago, Knights' quarterback Cole Neary was 72-of-128 passing for 1,107 yards with 12 touchdowns and nine interceptions. They also had a back with 1,760 yards rushing and 22 touchdowns.
While Kuemper again has a 1,000-yard back as Chase Rupiper has rushed 160 times for 1,097 yards and eight touchdowns, most of the yardage this season is through the air.
Near has passed for 2,131 yards, as he is 145-of-229 with 27 touchdowns to just four interceptions.
"They're much more of a spread team with goo receivers and a very good quarterback," said Spirit Lake coach Josh Bolluyt. "They're very different in what they're doing."
The Knights have six receivers with at least 10 catches and 100 yards.
Colby Baumhover leads the way with 36 receptions for 679 yards and 11 touchdowns. Alex Drees has 585 yards and five touchdowns on 39 receptions. Nick Greteman has 27 catches for 332 yards and two touchdowns. Rupiper has 12 catches for 125 yards and Riley Bach has 10 catches for 108 yards and three score.
Kuemper is 12-0 with its closest game a 27-21 victory over in-town rival Carroll in the first game of the season.
The Knights began their playoff run with a 42-6 win over Gilbert, then beat North Polk 32-7.
Last Friday, West Marshall gave them a battle with but the Knights top-ranked defense halted the Trojans' ground attack. No. 3 West Marshall was held to a season low 95 rushing yards and 118 total yards of offense. The one bright spot for West Marshall was a 93-yard kickoff return in the first quarter.
"They're a very good team," said Bolluyt of Kuemper. They're big up front and have great team speed. They're explosive defensively and offensively. They'll be a huge challenge for us."
Spirit Lake had its own challenge last week in facing top-ranked Boyden-Hull/Rock Valley for the second time this season. The Indians' fourth-quarter game-winning drive proved they're ready for the next challenge.
"The guys have been really focused in practice," said Bolluyt. "We continue to just try and improve. Kuemper presents a challenge because of the things they do well."
Spirit Lake presents its own challenges for opponents.
Two weeks ago in the second-round game against Sheldon, Bryson McCabe led the Indians with 160 rushing yards including a 96-yard touchdown run. He also had two receptions for touchdowns, the longest a 39-yard catch.
Against the Nighthawks in the quarterfinal, Cody Poock rushed for 146 yards and two touchdowns including an 85-yard run on the first play of scrimmage. He also had two catches for 44 yards including the go-ahead 19-yard touchdown catch to help give the Indians a win.
"I feel week in and week out, we can depend on many guys," said Bolluyt, who added Casey Spaeth, Rick Maris and quarterback Paul Brown along with Poock and McCabe.