CEDAR FALLS, Iowa — Tom Wilson has watched Bettendorf's football program from afar for more than three decades.
From coaches Merv Habenicht and Randy Scott to Aaron Wiley, the West Des Moines Dowling head man knew his team was in for a battle Friday night.
"I knew what we were about to get into and tried to get our kids to understand that," Wilson said. "Whether they did or didn't, they soon found out."
Bettendorf controlled the line of scrimmage most of the night, but Dowling rallied from a 17-point halftime deficit to survive a four-overtime contest, 41-34, in the UNI-Dome.
The Bulldogs held the Maroons — second in Class 4A rushing — to 308 total yards. Jayson Murray, coming off a 239-yard performance in the quarterfinals against West Des Moines Valley, was bottled up to 104 yards on 27 carries.
"Our defense did a phenomenal job," cornerback Brandan Tillman said. "I think coming into the week, we had a really good game plan. Our defensive coaches and coach Wiley set us up for everything we could hope scheme-wise to put us in the best position."
Coming into the game, Wiley said Bettendorf had to match Dowling's physicality to have a chance.
The Bulldogs did that. They rushed for 184 yards, and Bell had ample time to throw most of the game.
The defense, led by Rocky Schoenfelder, Griffin Liddle and Alex Blizzard in the front seven, never allowed a scoring drive more than 47 yards.
Dowling's two touchdowns in regulation covered 6 and 5 yards, respectively. The three overtime touchdowns were each 10 yards.
"I thought Bettendorf's defense was setting the tempo and the physicality of the game," Wilson said. "I told coach Wiley afterward, I thought defensively they were great."
Still, a program with seven state championships and in the semifinals for the fifth time in six years, Bettendorf was not into moral victories afterward.
"We felt we were good enough to play with them and have a chance to win," Wiley said. "They got it done when they needed to get it done."
Bettendorf says goodbye to 14 starters.
South Dakota prospect Carter Bell, Iowa State recruit Darien Porter, Tillman, three-year starter Griffen Deere, Schoenfelder and Blizzard are among the talented class.
"I wouldn't really call the season a success," Porter said. "Our goal was to win a state title, and if you don't do that, it is a bit of a disappointment.
"We accomplished a lot of good things, played a lot of great teams and played good games, so that's a silver lining."
In particular, Wiley ached for his seniors after.
"Some of these guys — Bell, Porter, Schoenfelder — they are as good as anybody we've ever had play here," Wiley said. "It will be tough to replace those guys.
"It is a tough one to swallow because we had chances."