ANAMOSA - If the rules that are in play now would have been allowed back in 1996, the Anamosa football team’s class 2A co-district 5 championship would have earned that Raider team a berth into the playoffs, a place the program had only been one other time in school history at that point.
Yes, a pretty big deal indeed.
But even though Anamosa finished with a 6-1 district record and tied with Mount Vernon for the championship, it was the Mustangs who earned the automatic post-season berth (they defeated Anamosa that fall), meaning the Raiders’ season ended following an impressive 40-3 rout at North Cedar in the ’96 finale in late October.
No one, however, should have been hanging their heads as they walked off the field that night in Stanwood, as Anamosa completed one of their best campaigns in years, finishing with a 6-3 overall record.
The fall started ominously for new head coach Jeff Alderdyce, who was beginning his second tour of duty guiding the Raider program after taking over for Gary McNeal.
Alderdyce had been extremely successful during a previous stint in Anamosa from 1987-1991 that not only included the program’s first-ever playoff berth (in 1987), but also the last winning season any Raider football team had seen until ’96, guiding the Raiders to a 5-4 record in 1990.
Anamosa opened the ’96 season suffering non-district losses against Marion (22-19) and Cascade (28-14).
Heading into district play with an 0-2 record, the Raiders quickly turned things around burying Camanche 33-0 behind a completely dominant rushing attack led by seniors Ben Schwartz and Matt Schirm, along with junior Dan Achenbach.
The threesome helped the Raider offense amass 369 rushing yards that night.
Anamosa had found some momentum, and were about to start rolling.
The Raiders posted their second straight shutout, this time rolling to a 21-0 triumph hosting Tipton as the Anamosa defense limited the Tigers to a mere 57 total yards of offense.
“I thought seniors Jon Vargason and Matt Fisher made a big difference in the game,” said Alderdyce after the win. “We had good control of their offense and it was Jon and Matt penetrating into their backfield causing havoc that allowed other guys to make tackles.”
The game capped a big week for Vargason, who was crowned Homecoming King just a day earlier.
A showdown at 10th-ranked Solon was next, and the Raiders rose to the occasion on the wet and rainy night shocking the huge Spartan home crowd posting a phenomenal 34-21 triumph.
Schwartz was sensational, rushing for a school-record 321 yards on a mere 23 carries, and scored three touchdowns, one coming on an electric 68-yard scamper that left numerous Solon defenders in his wake.
“What can you say about the night Ben had,” Alderdyce said. “It speaks for itself. The guy is just a very special athlete capable of accomplishing anything.”
Against one of the top defenses in the state, the Raiders rushed for a total of 425 yards.
With North Cedar shocking Mount Vernon that very same night, Anamosa sat alone atop the district 5 standings with a perfect 3-0 record, with a match-up with the Mustangs waiting next in Mount Vernon.
The start that night against the Mustangs was the stuff of legends when Achenbach returned the opening kick-off 88-yards for a score. After a Beck two-point conversion run, the visitors led 8-0.
It would be all the Raiders would get the rest of the way however, dropping a 28-8 final. The two teams would stay tied atop the district standings the rest of the way.
Anamosa bounced back from the loss to claim the Cowbell from Monticello with a thrilling 31-25 overtime triumph as Schwartz scored the game-winner on a 10-yard run, sending Raider fans flocking onto the field.
Mike Truesdell had a big night grabbing four passes from Beck for 81 yards and one thrilling touchdown that covered 27 yards dragging numerous Panther defenders into the end zone with him.
Anamosa gave their fans a blood pressure break cruising to a 32-0 blowout win over Bennett-Durant in week eight before their season-ending rout over the Knights.
Schwartz wrapped an incredible ’96 campaign leading the Raiders with 1,207 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns while Achenbach added 435 more on the ground and was the top kick and punt returner in the district.
The year would set Achenbach up for an incredible 1997 campaign where he earned first-team All-State football honors.