DENVER — Winning football isn’t all about the lengthy runs and dazzling plays that make the television highlight shows. Denver coach Rhett Barrett points out the continued battles for extra yardage that often decide whether or not a drive is extended are just as important.

Bo McMahon has learned to embraced that fight.

“He’s a hard-nosed player,” Barrett said of his senior linebacker and fullback. “If it’s two yards, give it to Bo, he’s going to get two yards. Defense, if we have to hold them to two yards, he’s not going to give that up.”

McMahon, who still wears the number 36 that was on the first practice jersey he was handed as a fifth grader, credits much of his success to coaches and teammates. He’s part of a Cyclones’ program that has reached the UNI-Dome each of the past three seasons.

Josh Mundhenke and Mitch Siech were senior linebackers McMahon’s sophomore year when he ranked second on the team with 62.5 of his 181 career tackle total. Izaak Shedenhelm’s approach to rushing the football is also one he’s tried to emulate.

“It seemed like every time he would get the ball, he never gave up,” McMahon said. “When he’d get wrapped up, he’d keep on fighting and keep pumping his legs. He broke a lot of tackles, and that’s what I wanted to do.”

McMahon has averaged over 1,000 yards each of the past two seasons, joining fellow 1,000-yard rusher Sam Joerger to form a lethal tandem on offense this fall.

Operating the defense from the middle linebacker position, McMahon credits the preparation instilled by defensive coordinator Chad Tierney as part of the team’s success.

Denver’s last four opponents have failed to score a single point. During Friday’s 44-0 win over Central Springs, McMahon recalls a red zone stop on fourth-and-two followed by a 78-yard Joerger touchdown run as a big momentum swing.

“Four or five games into the season we hadn’t had a shutout and our coach has been telling us he was sick of giving teams touchdowns,” McMahon recalls. “I feel like everyone trusts each other on defense and trusts what they can do as a whole. It’s big. A lot of our players can make very good plays at any time.

“Just as much as our offense is having success, it’s fun playing defense with the success that we have, too. We’re determined to be the best team we possibly can be.”

Entering postseason play, Denver’s veteran players realize it won’t be an easy road back to the UNI-Dome. McMahon feels his team’s offseason work and dedication has positioned the Cyclones to make another strong run.

This year’s senior class has played through one of the most successful eras in the history of a program that won its lone state title in 1995.

“With the success that we’ve had, it’s just that much more motivation for us to keep on going and keep pushing harder,” McMahon said. “We’ve been to the state semifinals three times now and we want to get past that mark. We’re hungry for more. We don’t want to settle for just getting to the Dome.”

Barrett knows McMahon and company are willing to do whatever it takes to find success.

“Sometimes you have to dig in the dirt to win,” Barrett said. “That’s the kind of growth I’ve seen those guys make, and Bo make, over the years. He’s gained confidence, gained an understanding of the game even more — great leadership and knows how to win big games.”