CEDAR FALLS, Iowa | It's not a large number but it didn't take Ryan Schwiesow long to find the common theme.
Top-ranked West Sioux has lost three games the past three seasons. One of the reasons the Falcons will be playing for the Class A state championship on Thursday is what they learned in those losses.
"We talked about it last year because we felt Woodbury Central last year was more physical than us in that game, and maybe Council Bluffs St. Albert was a little more physical than us in the the other game we lost," Schwiesow said. "I don't think it is any coincidence we have lost three games the last three years now and in every one of those games I think teams just outhit us."
That has not been the case this season for the 12-0 Falcons and certainly was not the case in its 55-21 victory over St. Albert in the state semifinals on Friday. West Sioux's defense lived in the St. Albert's backfield racking up seven solo tackles for loss.
Physicality was the common theme for both teams that will play for state titles this week as Remsen St. Mary's was equally impressive in its eight-player dismantling of Fremont-Mills 51-6.
"These guys are winners, they win in every sport, so they know what the extra effort is to take care of business," Hawks Coach Ryan Hajek said. "That is the weight room and putting in the extra effort in, and a lot of that is how bad do you want it in the offseason."
Half of second-ranked Remsen St. Mary's roster consists of seniors who went through a 3-6 season two years ago. Against Fremont-Mills, a team with two 1,000-yard rushers, the Hawks' defense did not allow 100 yards combined between the two.
"Every time I call a play I look at the line of scrimmage and do I see our jerseys past the ball or do I see our jerseys pushed back?" Hajek said. "That is something we look at early in the game to see what part of the line of scrimmage is moving.
"I noticed (against Fremont-Mills) right away that our guys aren't getting pushed around defensively so we were able to control the line of scrimmage. Offensively, we were getting to the second level whenever we wanted to."
How did both teams go about winning the physical battle?
"We just have some kids that are aggressive by nature, they are just tough kids, so I think that is where it starts," Schwiesow said. "We aren't the biggest team up front or the biggest team in the backfield, but our kids play really hard.
"The weight room is one of those big things. We lift three days a week all year long so I think that gives the kids a certain amount of confidence, a certain amount of explosion."
Schwiesow said his team still works on tackling in practice even in an era of heightened awareness about injuries and concussions. He believes it is important to teach at this time when many young players don't know the proper way to tackle.
There is a confidence that comes from an offensive line pushing its defensive foe back time after time or keeping a quarterback clean for a game or for some a season. That is the case for the Falcons' line of Darlyn Marquez, Conner Koopmans, Michael Trageser, Zach McKee and Jared Nohava.
"Our offensive line hasn't got nearly enough credit," Schwiesow said. "We had once this year we were running a shovel pass and our quarterback was rushed and I guess you could maybe call it a sack ... but other than that with our first group we haven't given up a sack all year."
Neither the Falcons nor the Hawks have huge offensive linemen, but they all move well and play a physical brand of football.
Remsen St. Mary's has helped running back Canaan Cox rush for 2,059 yards and 39 touchdowns while West Sioux's Jake Lynott has 2,436 yards and 34 TDs.
That kind of attack wears on opponents and has been a recipe for success for both teams all season long.
"On our fourth quarter scores there haven't given up a lot of points," Hajek said. "I think we gave up our first touchdown against Audubon (in the quarterfinals) for varsity. Other than that that is when we have gained ground on our opponents."