The one thing that got the Bettendorf boys soccer team’s attention on Thursday night was not anything the Bulldogs did.
After Clinton’s Brennen Lemke scored in the 19th minute to tie the Bulldogs at 1-1 during the Mississippi Athletic Conference contest at TouVelle Stadium, the hosts shifted things into high gear.
Bettendorf went on to score four goals in the next 30 minutes to pull away from the visitors and eventually win the contest, 7-1.
With the victory, Bettendorf earned a share of the MAC title with Pleasant Valley as both teams finished 8-1 in the conference. It was the Bulldogs' (12-2) third-straight season of getting a least a piece of the MAC crown and also the program’s 21st overall conference title.
Despite the final score, it was no cakewalk early on, and when Lemke bulldozed his way through three Bettendorf defenders to tie the score, things went from a relaxed senior-night atmosphere to the Bulldogs going into full attack mode.
“It definitely got our attention,” Bettendorf senior Dustin Harris said of Lemke’s game-tying goal. “We knew after that we needed to get down to business and tighten up things. But we were able to get things going after that.”
Harris scored his first of four goals in the 17th minute when he showed off his own individual moves to get past three defenders and beat Clinton keeper Brayden Malone to the far post. After the game was tied, it took all of one minute to answer as Justin Wehr pounced on a rebound to put the hosts back up 2-1.
Sixty seconds later, Joey Parker sent a great over-the-top ball to a streaking Blake Rollinger who beat Malone into the left corner to push the lead back to 3-1 and establish some semblance of control.
Harris got his second goal in almost the most weird way possible in the 44th minute when he collided with a Clinton defender when attempting to latch on to a cross 6 yards out. But the senior was able to position himself so the ball went off his stomach and the redirection fooled Malone who could only watch the ball slowly roll in.
“I have never scored with just my stomach,” Harris said.
Rollinger added his second goal in the 50th minute from a normal run of play and Harris got his hat trick in the 56th minute in a similar situation to give the Dogs a 6-1 edge. Harris final goal came on a bit of luck as his shot from the top of the penalty box was deflected but the wicked spin on the ball ate up Malone who could not quite grasp the spinning shot that ended up in the back of the net.
“Sometimes you just have to take a shot and things happen,” Harris said.
That final goal was the only real mistake Malone made for the River Kings (7-9 overall, 2-7 MAC). Bettendorf recorded 31 shots on goal, and Malone made 21 saves in the game, including several with Bettendorf attackers on his doorstep.
Bulldogs coach Ben Pennington actually labeled three of Malone’s saves as "unbelievable" and gave a lot of credit to the goalkeeper’s effort for his team. Pennington added that he was proud of his team’s accomplishments that ended in another MAC championship.
“It is tough to do (win the MAC) because a lot teams we play just pack things in and we have to find ways to breakthrough,” Pennington said. “We were having a tough time scoring at the beginning of the season, but we are starting to work the ball outside more and guys are more aggressive and in the right spots. When you start 11 seniors, they have pretty good chemistry.”
As for Harris and the 12 total seniors on the Bulldogs roster, time has flown by. The next obstacle is to try and improve on last season’s third-place finish at state. Bettendorf is currently ranked third in Class 3A.
“I definitely have a lot of good guys behind me and I have been playing with them since I was young. Just to come up with them and play all four years with them is really something special,” Harris said.
It’s weird that it has flown by. One minute, you are just this 14-year-old freshman playing with a bunch of six-foot kids and then all of sudden it’s your turn to lead and then leave. It’s crazy how fast it has flown by.”