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North Scott's Nate Wilkerson makes an interception last season against Cedar Rapids Prairie. 

John Schultz

A little more than nine months removed since Bettendorf's season ended in the Class 4A state semifinals to Cedar Rapids Kennedy, football returns to the Iowa Quad-City metro Thursday night.

Nearly every locker room is optimistic this will be a memorable season as everybody starts with a clean slate. Football often drives school spirit and enthusiasm at the beginning of the year.

As we've seen, a good football season can invigorate the other programs at that particular school.

The first week is packed with some intriguing non-district matchups.

First, there are two Thursday night specials: North Scott vs. Davenport Assumption at Brady Street Stadium and Muscatine travels to Kennedy.

The Friday games are Bettendorf at West Des Moines Valley; Pleasant Valley at Cedar Rapids Jefferson; Clinton at Davenport West; Davenport Central at Burlington and Davenport North at Dubuque Hempstead.

Let’s take a further look at each of the matchups:

Thursday

North Scott at Davenport Assumption

When: Approx. 7-7:30 p.m. kickoff

Where: Brady Street Stadium, Davenport

Twitter: @mattcoss78

BCMoore’s take: Assumption by 6

Thoughts: It is good to see these MAC members squaring off after not playing the past two years. Like any season, teams come into it with unknowns. There are plenty for both teams. North Scott will lean on sophomore Nile McLaughlin or senior Sam Stonskas at quarterback. McLaughlin, as coach Kevin Tippet pointed out, is a little more polished in the passing game. The 5-foot-8 Stonskas didn’t play football last season, but is mobile and has a toughness factor to him. Junior Jared Rus is a player to keep an eye on for the Lancers. With his strength, size and athleticism, he could cause problems for opponents out of the backfield or on the outside. Assumption has a new signal caller as well in Chris Bridges. The Knights are confident in what they have on the offensive line, led by Nolan Melchert and Justin Wright. I’m eager to see who emerges as consistent playmakers for the Knights. Jayce Levy, Justus Burke and Logan Klemme were the names we’ve heard during camp.

Muscatine at Cedar Rapids Kennedy

When: Approx. 7-7:30 p.m. kickoff

Where: Kingston Stadium, Cedar Rapids

Twitter: @jakearyder

BCMoore’s take: Kennedy by 31

Thoughts: Kennedy was the 4A state runner-up last season. While it lost several of its key parts in do-it-all Shaun Beyer (now at Iowa), tailback Tyler Dralle and linemen Dalles Jacobus, it still returns quarterback Nick Duehr (20 TDs, 2 INTs). lineman Jackson Coker and leading tackler Johnson Mator (more than 30 TFL). Muscatine is loaded with experience and talent at the skilled positions – quarterback Luke Wichers, tailback Alphonso Soko, receivers Drew Greenhaw and David Summer. The two keys for Muscatine this season is the play up front on both sides of the ball and depth. If there was one spot where graduation hit Muscatine hard, it was in the trenches. Jake Mussehl will lead the offensive line. Many of the players at the skilled positions will go both ways. Also, how do the Muskies handle a rigorous schedule? Coach Jake Mueller’s first five games are Kennedy, Iowa City West, PV, North Scott and Bettendorf.

Friday

Bettendorf at West Des Moines Valley

When: Approx. 7 p.m.

Where: Valley Stadium, West Des Moines

Twitter: @mattcoss78

BCMoore’s take: Valley favored by 8

Thoughts: I think you’ll be hard-pressed to find more talent on a high school football field in Iowa on Friday night than at Valley Stadium. The Tigers are led by 6-foot-3 quarterback Rocky Lombardi, a Michigan State recruit, and a shifty, elusive second team all-state running back in Jevon Mason. Lombardi and Mason combined for more than 3,800 total yards and 47 touchdowns in Valley’s run to the semifinals last year. It also has its top two receivers returning in Austin Hinkle and Braeden Heald. It’ll be a stiff challenge for a Bettendorf secondary with three new starters. The Bulldogs need to capitalize on their advantage up front, anchored by Mark Kallenberger, Cole Webster and Kamrin Arons. JMichael Young will make his first start at quarterback. Coach Aaron Wiley has praised Young’s progress during the summer and preseason camp. It’ll be paramount for the Bulldogs to make this a ball-controlled game. Don’t think it is in their favor to get into a shootout with Lombardi and Valley’s athletic playmakers. If they can control the action up front, I think this one could be decided in the final 5 to 6 minutes.

Pleasant Valley at Cedar Rapids Jefferson

When: Approx. 7-7:30 p.m.

Where: Kingston Stadium, Cedar Rapids

Twitter: @douglasmilesCRG

Online: qcsn.co/pvspartans

BCMoore’s take: Pick ‘em

Thoughts: Both teams made it to the second round of the playoffs last season. PV, more or less, is rebuilding its defense after graduating the majority of its front seven. Defensive lineman Brady Bormann has emerged as the vocal leader of that group. The Spartans do have speed in the offensive backfield with Arthur Braden, CJ Carter and quarterback Terry Saul, all three rushed for more than 600 yards last season, and will need to shoulder the load until the defense gets experience under its belt. Like several others, PV has a tall challenge in the first four weeks with Jefferson, Iowa City High, Muscatine and Bettendorf. Jefferson, meanwhile, was hit hard by graduation, too. The J-Hawks revolve around two-way standout Tavian Rashed. He rushed for nearly 700 yards and compiled more than 115 tackles last season. Given all the new parts on defense, a road win would give PV a jolt of energy moving into its home opener.

Clinton at Davenport West

When: Approx. 7-7:30 p.m.

Where: Brady Street Stadium, Davenport

Twitter: @dox5

BCMoore’s take: Clinton by 21

Thoughts: There is a lot to like about Clinton’s offense with senior quarterback Johnny Sullivan, tailback Gage Harris, two returning receivers in Sam McEleney and Ty Wenzel along with tight end Makai Hart. Sullivan threw for 270 yards and Harris rushed for 123 in last year’s 46-20 win over West. The offensive line seems to be improved from a season ago as well. The big question for the River Kings: how much have they progressed defensively since the start of fall camp? They return some experience on the defensive line, but the back two ends are primarily comprised of newcomers. West, meanwhile, is seeking to build on last year’s three-win season. Coach Justin Peters has Dot Combs in the backfield and a strong junior class ignited by DJ Mosley and Trevor Burkhart. West needs to establish more consistency on the defensive side of the ball this season. Offensively, quarterback play will be critical as Burkhart and sophomore Jacob Milem were battling for the spot in preseason camp. If West can find some semblance of balance, it'll make Combs an even bigger threat.

Davenport North at Dubuque Hempstead

When: Approx. 7-7:30 p.m.

Where: Dalzell Field, Dubuque

Twitter: @THsportsfeed

BCMoore’s take: Hempstead by 19

Thoughts: Both teams have new head coaches -- North's Brandon Krusey and Hempstead's Mike Hoskines. Krusey was the defensive coordinator at Davenport West last season while Hoskins was the Mustangs' defensive coordinator and has coaches for more than 30 years. These programs were in the same district last year, a game Hempstead won late, 35-28. There is quite a bit of excitement surrounding North. Besides more than 90 players in the program, grades 9-12, it is converting from the double-wing to a spread offense. That should benefit the speed and athleticism of tailbacks Collin Glazek and Zeke Hayslett. Krusey said North plans to use a 4-4 defense. Hempstead's Tay Collins, who rushed for 841 yards last season, is back. 

Davenport Central at Burlington

When: Approx. 7-7:30 p.m.

Where: Bracewell Stadium, Burlington

Twitter: @BRSchuff (Ben Schuff, The Hawk Eye)

BCMoore's take: Central by 1

Thoughts: Central won one game in Ben Sacco's initial season as head coach. This was it, a 27-8 triumph over Burlington. The Blue Devils are short on numbers this season with fewer than 30 players on the varsity level, but Sacco is encouraged by his core of talent. It is led by quarterback Zach Taylor, tailback Kobe Williams and linemen AJ Smith and Hunter Menke. Injuries plagued several of those players a season ago. But with fewer bodies, it becomes even more essential to keep those guys healthy. Burlington has a second-year head coach as well in Zach Shay. The Grayhounds are coming off a 1-8 season as well. Burlington needs to figure out a way to generate more offense this fall after failing to score more than 20 points in any game last season. 

Peeking ahead

Week 2

Burlington at Davenport North (Thursday)

Assumption at Bettendorf

Davenport West at Davenport Central

Iowa City High at Pleasant Valley

Iowa City West at Muscatine

North Scott at Clinton

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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.