CEDAR FALLS, Iowa — After graduating four three-year starters and relying on an influx of juniors this season, there was some uncertainty on the outside about how good Bettendorf’s football team would be this fall.

“I feel like a lot of people doubted us at the start of the year,” receiver Ben Wilson said. “We really came together and had a good season.”

Bettendorf won 10 games, dominated its district and returned to the UNI-Dome after a first-round playoff exit last year.

The 2017 journey ended Friday night with a 23-0 semifinal loss to Class 4A top-ranked Iowa City West.

“I’m proud of this whole team and how we bonded,” defensive back Josh Licata said. “This group really played together as a unit instead of as individuals.”

The Bulldogs will have a nice nucleus when fall camp commences next August.

They returns six starters on offense, including quarterback Carter Bell, speedy receiver Darien Porter and three linemen in Jax Dormire, Griffin Deere and Cole Buhman.

“I don’t think it is going to slow down any time soon (of getting back to the UNI-Dome),” senior offensive lineman Joe Moffitt said. “Next week, the offseason starts for our sophomores and juniors to put things together for next season.”

Bell finished his junior season with 1,347 yards passing and 742 rushing. The big graduation losses offensively are tailback Nijel McIntosh and Wilson, along with Moffitt and lineman John Cavins.

“It is going to be tough to replace a couple of those guys, but we’re set up for a good season next year,” Bell said. “We’re going to be competitive, and hopefully we’ll get back to this point.”

The secondary is all seniors, but Bettendorf returns three starters in its front seven with freshman tackle Griffin Liddle, end Rocky Schoenfelder and linebacker Alex Blizzard.

“We’ve got a great core group coming back, and I’m excited already for next year,” coach Aaron Wiley said. “Right now, I feel bad for our seniors because it hurts to end this way.

“But when you look at our team moving forward, there are definitely some things to be excited about.”

The Iowa High School Athletic Association will release new district assignments this winter for the next two seasons.

Bettendorf's opponents will change, but the objective is to return and get over the semifinal threshold. The Bulldogs have lost four straight semifinal games.

“The next time we get in this situation,” Bell said, “we just need to be a little more prepared and execute better.”

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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.