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Bettendorf running back John McLaughlin is brought down by Pleasant Valley's Sam Fierce (6) and Brennan Karber (90) earlier this season. McLaughlin averages more than 6.5 yards per carry.

John Schultz, Quad-City Times

Bettendorf's football team went into preseason drills with a three-way battle at running back.

John McLaughlin earned the starting spot and hasn't wavered one bit.

The 5-foot-9, 165-pound senior is the Mississippi Athletic Conference's leading rusher through five weeks with 753 yards and more than 6.5 yards per carry for the Class 4A ninth-ranked Bulldogs (4-1).

It is a stark contrast from a season ago when McLaughlin was primarily on defense and accumulated only six rushes.

"I never really got an opportunity to show what I had last year," McLaughlin said. "This year, I'm getting that chance and it feels good.

"I've always loved having the ball in my hands and making big plays."

McLaughlin, who competed with senior Gabe Rees and junior Xavier LaDouceur during camp, was the sophomore team's No. 1 tailback two years ago.

So far this season, McLaughlin has 113 carries — the second most of any back in the MAC — and 81 more than the next Bulldog.

"He just runs hard," Bettendorf coach Aaron Wiley said. "He runs like 100 miles an hour, no indecision and plays with reckless abandon.

"He has been a workhorse for us."

McLaughlin had a career-high 37 attempts and 212 yards in last week's win over Muscatine. He's surpassed 140 yards every week except for one, and that came in a 56-0 rout over Davenport West where he didn't play in the second half.

McLaughlin deflects much of the credit. He attributes it to a veteran and physical offensive line that averages more than 250 pounds a player.

"We've got some big guys up there that can open holes for you," McLaughlin said. "You feel you have a chance to score every play no matter how many guys the defense has in the box."

It has been particularly encouraging for Bettendorf with junior quarterback Cyle Cox sidelined the past two weeks with an ankle injury.

Even being a little more one-dimensional, the Bulldogs have rushed for 250 and 264 yards, respectively, against PV and Muscatine.

"We still feel down the road you're going to have to be able to run the ball and stop the run to win big games," Wiley said. "We're encouraged by how that is going."

EASING UP: North Scott is just 2-3 going into the second half of the regular season, but the Lancers have played a rugged schedule.

After playing five teams with a collective 16-9 record, including the league's top three squads in PV, Bettendorf and Davenport Assumption, North Scott's last four opponents are 7-13 starting with Friday's game against winless Davenport West.

And based on what PV coach Rusty VanWetzinga saw last week, he believes the Lancers are going to be a team to reckon with in the final month.

"They're going to be a tough out the rest of the year," he said. "I don't care what defense you throw out there, they're going to move the ball.

"They do a good job of spreading the ball around and have a good scheme. It is a huge challenge to prep for them."

North Scott has the league's top-ranked offense statistically (206.4 rushing and 192.6 passing per game). Junior quarterback Matt Sacia has thrown for a league-high 963 yards and 10 scores.

STRONG LEG: A vital piece to PV's 5-0 start has been the performance of senior placekicker Hunter Sickels.

Sickels leads the MAC with 16 touchbacks, nine more than any other kicker. He averages more than 57 yards per kickoff.

The first-year varsity kicker is 20 of 22 on point-after attempts and 4 of 5 on field goal attempts this season. All of his three-point kicks came in the 19-13 win over Davenport Assumption.

STICKING WITH IT: Davenport West let a lead slip in the fourth quarter at Burlington in Week 2. It couldn't complete a fourth-quarter comeback against Davenport North last week.

Even at 0-5, West coach Jeremy Mosier isn't ready to call it a lost season.

"We don't have anybody else but us," Mosier said. "It is us and we've got to scratch and claw and go back to work and do things we need to do as far as conditioning, lifting weights and getting in the film room.

"It is another work day. You want the outcome to be different, but you look at film, take what you can from it in a positive way, fix the mistakes and move on to the next week."

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Sports Editor

Prep sports editor, with emphasis on covering the Mississippi Athletic Conference and Iowa area high schools. I've been in sports journalism for 17 years, the last five at the Quad-City Times.