Greg Medeck was 11 years old the last and only time the Central Lakes College Raiders made a bowl appearance.
As head coach of the Raiders, Medeck has amassed a 24-8 record in just three years, leading CLC to a 10-1 record this season and the Raiders' first MCAC state championship with a 20-14 overtime win over Rochester.
What: Graphic Edge Bowl
Who: Central Lakes vs. Ellsworth
When: 3 p.m. Sunday
Where: University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls
Twenty-one years after Iowa Central defeated the Raiders 28-7 in the 1988 Royal Crown Cola Bowl, Medeck has the 10th-ranked Raiders returning to Iowa to face the No. 12 Ellsworth Panthers in Sunday's Graphic Edge Bowl at Northern Iowa University.
After rolling through their first four games the Raiders lost 27-6 to Rochester Sept. 26.
"We had to re-evaluate and see where we were at as a team and what kind of effort we were going to put forth," Medeck said.
The response was clear as the Raiders went on to win their next six games, including overtime wins over Fergus Falls, Vermilion and a state championship victory over Rochester.
Now the Raiders, a non-scholarship school, will face what is likely their toughest matchup of the season against the lightning-fast Panthers, who have the advantage of scholarship players.
With 2,684 yards and 27 touchdown passes, the Panthers are led by sophomore quarterback Tirrell Rinnie, a versatile, dual-threat quarterback who also has racked up 903 yards and eight touchdowns rushing.
Rinnie is the keystone for the Panthers' offense that has exhibited the ability to score on any play. Along with Rinnie are halfback Tyrell Austin with 405 yards and six touchdowns, and wide receiver Quintin Robinson with 75 catches for 84 yards and nine touchdowns.
"We've got solid running backs, a decent tight end, and good receivers," Ellsworth coach Mike Virden said. "We don't really feature anybody, it's dictated week-by-week who gets to be the play-maker based upon what (opponents) want to do defensively to us."
"Defensively, we're going to try and slow them down as much as we can," Medeck said. "They have that explosiveness and that ability to score at any given time and we'll have to try and contain that as much as we can."
After allowing just 15 points through the first four games of the season, the Raiders had perhaps their best defensive game when it counted most. In the championship game, the Raiders defense held Rochester to just one offensive touchdown, indicating the Raiders are up to the challenge.
Offensively, the Raiders will be faced with the challenge of keeping Andrew Maskell upright against the Panthers, who have 35 sacks. Leading the way for the Panthers are defensive linemen Aaron Strumski and Gus Mormann, who have combined for 112 tackles and 11.5 sacks.
Behind Strumski and Mormann is likely the defense's most valuable player, Neil Issa, a quick 6-1 linebacker whose uncanny ability to get to the ball has resulted in 125 tackles and six sacks.
"Neil Issa has had a really good year," Virden said. "He's around the ball all the time."
The Raiders offense, which will need to be at its peak, received a boost when Dennis Taute was cleared to play following a concussion suffered in the first half against Rochester. Taute, the MCAC offensive MVP, has 922 yards and eight touchdowns with a season-high 250 yards and four touchdowns against Vermilion in the MCAC semifinals.
"To run consistently, and to be able to pass the ball, you have to win eight or nine of those (one-on-one) matchups," Medeck said. "I don't know if we can do that consistently, so we'll have to take a shot and win one here or there to put some points on the board."
Despite Ellsworth's depth and talent, Medeck and the Raiders aren't backing down.
"I know that their athletes match up and one-for-one, they're probably better across the board," Medeck said. "But you know what? Rochester was too and we beat those guys, so anything can be done."
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