CEDAR FALLS, Iowa — The run game never was established. The receivers struggled to get separation. The offensive line couldn’t reach the second level.
The result was an evening of offensive frustration for Bettendorf’s football team.
Top-ranked Iowa City West held Bettendorf to only six first downs and a meager 98 total yards in a 23-0 semifinal triumph Friday at the UNI-Dome to secure its second consecutive trip to the Class 4A title game.
“We couldn’t get in any type of groove or get any momentum the entire game offensively,” receiver Ben Wilson said.
Fourth-ranked Bettendorf (10-2) came into the game averaging more than 40 points per game and had committed only three turnovers all season (just one by its starters).
The Bulldogs turned the ball over four times and punted eight times, leading to their first scoreless outing since Sept. 14, 2012 — a span of 66 games.
“It is tough when they can cover us man-to-man and we couldn’t run the ball,” Bettendorf coach Aaron Wiley said. “We didn’t give Carter (Bell) much of a chance there.”
Bell, Bettendorf’s quarterback, played after leaving in the second quarter of last week’s quarterfinal game against North Scott with a left shoulder injury.
He practiced on a very limited basis throughout the week.
“I might have taken 40 reps all week,” Bell said. “It hurt a little bit, but you’ve got to play. It is a state playoff game. I wasn’t really limited (in what I could do).”
West’s defense was the one inflicting pain.
Bettendorf finished with a season-low 54 rushing yards on 31 attempts, less than two yards per carry. The Trojans’ secondary clamped down on Bettendorf’s receiving unit, too.
Bell had thrown 132 pass attempts this season without an interception. He was picked off twice, both times in the red zone.
“That was probably the best corner group we’ve seen this year,” Bell said. “We had a tough time.”
“Honestly, it was nothing we hadn’t seen before, but their (defensive backs) are really talented,” Wilson stated. “You’ve got to give them a lot of credit because they played a really good game.”
Wiley has said countless times playoff games are decided by three components — which team controls the line of scrimmage, turnovers and big plays.
West (12-0) won all three facets.
“That’s the best defensive game we’ve played this season,” West senior linebacker Caden Fedeler said. "Unbelievable."
Even so, Bettendorf had its opportunities.
The Bulldogs forced three turnovers. Freshman Griffin Liddle and Wilson recovered fumbles, and Josh Licata intercepted a pass.
Trailing 9-0, Bettendorf had the ball inside West’s 30-yard line with less than a minute remaining in the second quarter. Faced with second and 10, Bell was picked off by Austin West.
“He read it very well,” Bell admitted.
Still down 9-0 late in the third quarter, Licata picked off Evan Flitz to set the Bulldogs up at the Trojan 20-yard line.
With first and goal at the 6, Nijel McIntosh fumbled and West recovered.
“The two chances we had down there, to come away with no points, that was big,” Wiley said. “You’ve got to capitalize when you get down there. That’s a credit to them.
“If we could have punched it in down there a couple times, it becomes a different game.”
West did take advantage.
Flitz threw for 284 yards and two scores, including a 43-yard touchdown strike to West in the final 10 seconds of the third quarter to extend the margin to 16-0. The Trojans added another score in the fourth when Flitz hooked up with Austin Geasland for a 28-yarder.
“We were well-oiled tonight, we just had a few too many mistakes that kept this game a little closer than it should have been,” Flitz said.
The senior completed 21 of 28 throws, including three on third downs in the second half to extend drives.
“He was pretty good,” Licata said. “He found receivers like he was coached to do, and our defense broke coverage a couple times. If you can’t cover, the quarterback is going to look good.”
West faces Dowling Catholic in a rematch of last year’s title game next Friday night. The Maroons are vying for a fifth straight title. The Trojans are seeking their fourth state championship and first since 1999.
“We’ve got very good players, a senior-led team,” West coach Garrett Hartwig said. “We’re not the biggest team, but we’re fast and we move. Our guys understand their responsibilities and never give up on a play.
“To go out there and play at this level against a good team like Bettendorf speaks to the maturity and level of preparation of these boys.”
Bettendorf, meanwhile, lost in the semifinals for the fourth time in five seasons. All four defeats have been by double figures, and the Bulldogs have scored a collective 38 points in those games.
“I feel bad for our seniors,” Wiley said. “They really fought and battled. Football is a tough game sometimes, and it hurts right now for everybody.
“At the end of the day, only one team ends this with a win. I told our kids it is going to hurt for a while, but in the end you’re going to look back on this and have some great memories.”