ANAMOSA - Dan Achenbach came into his senior season for the Anamosa football team in 1997 with some pressure placed squarely on his shoulders.
Achenbach had helped the ’96 Raiders to a share of the district championship the previous fall and with fellow running back Ben Schwartz, made one of the most dynamic offensive duos in the area.
In 1997, Achenbach would get his turn to take over the main running back duties for the team, and opposing defenses knew it and schemed for it. Few, however, could stop him as throughout the roller-coaster Raider run the star senior was still able to produce the greatest rushing campaign in school history, breaking a single-season rushing record that Arnie Rushford had held since 1979.
Achenbach would go on to earn first-team All-State football honors for a ’97 Raider team that finished with a 4-5 overall record by rushing for a then school-record 1,438 yards, topping Rushford’s mark by 38 yards.
On the last game of the regular season that fall, Achenbach needed 157 yards to tie Rushford’s record. At the half against visiting North Cedar, he had 156, most of it thanks to an electrifying 95-yard touchdown scamper late in the first quarter.
Now don’t get me wrong, Achenbach was not a one-man team. He had help from an collection of blockers (Sam Wendt, Chris Smith, Eric Werling, John Hamre, Mike Truesdell, Josh Brown and Bobby Luker, just to name a few) that played well and created running lanes for the senior speedster to blast through, but what really brought fans to their feet was watching Achenbach hit the corner and then take off for the end zone.
Few in the area had speed that could match Achenbach’s and it was fun to watch opposing coaches dare to kick and/or punt the ball to a waiting Achenbach as well, as if that happened, an Anamosa touchdown was usually the outcome.
To make things a little more challenging to start off the ’97 season, Raider head coach Jeff Alderdyce was breaking in a new quarterback, taking over the reins from Jeff Beck who had started for each of the last two campaigns.
Senior Derek Owen and junior Scott Nemmers were battling for the starting QB job and it took a few games for Alderdyce to get settled in on a No. 1. But Achenbach wasted no time in getting acclimated to his No. 1 running back assignment, rushing for 104 yards on 12 carries and totaling 316 all-purpose yards in a wild season-opening 21-15 loss hosting Marion.
Achenbach not only had a 47-yard rushing touchdown in the game, but also returned an Indian kick-off 85 yards for another score.
That would become a theme for the rest of the season until opposing coaches finally decided not to even give the Raider senior a chance at returning punts or kick-offs anymore.
Smart move, though some were still arrogant enough to challenge Achenbach, and that was fun to watch.
Achenbach tallied 342 total yards (with 183 rushing) in a tough 14-12 loss at Cascade in week two that included a sensational 72-yard scoring scamper from the senior.
Looking for their first win of the campaign in week three opening district action at Camanche, Achenbach fueled a come-from-behind 20-19 triumph rushing for 196 yards that included a game-winning 33-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
“We’ve tried to get other people involved in the offense, but it just doesn’t seem to work out for us,” Alderdyce said following the win over the Indians. “Danny got the job done, again.”
In a 37-7 loss hosting a very motivated Solon team in week five (Anamosa had stunned the state-ranked Spartans a year earlier in Solon), Achenbach scored the lone touchdown for the Raiders returning the opening kick-off 85 yards for a score.
The following week against one of the best defenses in the state of Iowa in Mount Vernon, Achenbach and the Raiders truly showed their mettle in what ended as a hard-fought 35-21 defeat.
The Mustangs came into the game without allowing a single point against district foes while out-scoring the opposition 111-0 over the previous three contests.
That impressive statistic meant nothing to the Anamosa team, and Achenbach.
The Raider star rushed for an amazing 227 yards against a Mount Vernon defense designed to stop him, and finished with 330 total yards.
Once again, it didn’t take long for Anamosa to score against the Mustangs, as Achenbach returned another opening kick-off 85 yards for a score.
The highlight of the ’97 season came in Monticello in week seven, as the Raiders rolled to a 40-14 romp over the Panthers with Achenbach churning out a spectacular 267 rushing yards, allowing the senior to top the 1,000-yard plateau for the season.
“Danny’s performance almost goes without saying,” Alderdyce said. “He’s that good. We needed him to perform for us to be successful, and man did he ever do it.”
Nemmers began to get more and more comfortable at the quarterback position, and the Raiders were starting to roll.
Anamosa closed the season on a three-game winning streak, ending with Achenbach’s record-setting performance in the 20-0 finale against North Cedar, allowing the team to finish with an above .500 record (4-3) in district play for the second straight season.