When Aaron Wiley reviews the film of Bettendorf’s first-round playoff game against Iowa City West last season, there are several things that immediately catch his eye.
“We blew some coverages, gave up too many big plays, and we turned the ball over,” Bettendorf’s head coach said.
It resulted in a seven-point defeat.
Bettendorf has another crack Friday afternoon in a Class 4A semifinal at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls. Iowa City West brings in the state’s No. 1 ranking, is undefeated and features many of the same players who ended Bettendorf’s season a year ago.
“We’ve wanted this so bad,” Bettendorf defensive back Dustin Harris said. “Getting knocked out in the first round last year was heartbreaking. A matchup in the semifinals against these guys, that’s what we wanted.”
The Trojans (11-0) have the third best scoring offense in 4A (43.2 ppg.) behind senior quarterback Evan Flitz (2,347 passing yards and 26 TDs) and an athletic set of receivers led by Traevis Buchanan and Jalen Gaudet (combined 95 receptions, 1,507 yards and 17 scores).
Bettendorf hasn’t yielded a passing touchdown since Week 5 against Muscatine. It hasn’t faced a passing attack like this all season.
“It will be a heck of a challenge for our secondary,” Wiley said. “We haven’t seen receivers or skilled guys like this since the (West Des Moines) Valley game in Week 1.”
Flitz has completed nearly 70 percent of his throws and tossed only three interceptions. He’s also a threat to run with more than 550 yards on the ground.
Wiley called Flitz the best quarterback Bettendorf (10-1) has seen this season.
“Just his poise,” Wiley stated. “When he gets pressured, he doesn’t seem to get rattled. He’s the all-around package.”
Bettendorf fans can relate.
Quarterback Carter Bell has had a knack for extending plays all season with his feet. The junior has accounted for more than 2,000 total yards and 31 touchdowns.
Bell departed last week’s game against North Scott in the second quarter with a shoulder injury and did not return.
When asked about Bell’s status earlier this week, Wiley replied: “We’ll see. We’re trying (to get him ready), but it is unknown at this point.”
If Bell can’t go, Justin Wehr will step in. The senior threw the go-ahead touchdown pass in the fourth quarter of last week’s win.
“He got thrown into a tough situation last week, but he’s gotten a bunch of reps this week in practice,” Wiley said. “He’s a senior, a good kid, and he’s an athlete. He’s just got to get the job done.”
For Bettendorf’s defense, it starts with winning the line of scrimmage and limiting the big play.
In last year’s meeting, 214 of Iowa City West’s 293 passing yards came on four throws that positioned the Trojans for points. They included a flea-flicker and a halfback pass.
“They really didn’t have many long drives, but it was blown coverages and big plays,” cornerback Blake Rollinger said. “As long as we limit those, we’ll be better off this time.”
Bettendorf believes its secondary is more equipped to handle Iowa City West’s attack. Harris, Rollinger, Josh Licata, Jalen Figgs and Demari Nicholson have teamed for eight interceptions. Muscatine is the only team to throw for more than 200 yards against them this season.
“We all just connect well together, on and off the field,” Rollinger said.
Licata, Rollinger and Harris played in last year’s meeting. That experience has paid dividends for a defense that is second in 4A in points allowed at 10.2 per game.
“They understand how to play our different coverages,” Wiley said. “They understand football, they’re athletic, and they’re able to make adjustments on the run. We’re able to do a lot with them maybe we wouldn’t be able to do in past years because they really understand football.”
Bettendorf hasn’t allowed more than 23 points in a game this season. Last week was the first time Iowa City West has been held below 30 this year.
“Our team and coaches preach everybody doing their 1/11th,” Harris said. “For the back end, our 1/11th is to make sure we cover our guys first and tackle second.”
The Bulldogs are seeking their 12th trip to the championship game and first since 2011. The Trojans have won 18 of their last 19 games.
“We’re going to have our hands full,” Wiley said. “They’re the No. 1 team in the state and pretty much have blown everybody out.
"It’ll be a great challenge.”