It is a matchup dripping with tradition. 

West Des Moines Dowling's football program has won eight state titles and accumulated 76 playoff victories. Bettendorf has seven state championships in its trophy case and has amassed 71 postseason wins.

The schools rank 1-2 in Class 4A in titles and playoff victories.

When the powerhouse programs meet for the first time in 18 years Friday afternoon at the UNI-Dome in a state semifinal, Bettendorf will attempt to halt what has been one of the most dominant runs in Iowa high school history.

Dowling (9-2) has 25 consecutive playoff wins and is vying for a sixth straight state title, an unprecedented feat in Iowa's largest classification. 

"What they've accomplished, the five state titles in a row, is unbelievable," Bettendorf coach Aaron Wiley said. "We've seen them play a lot over the years and respect what they do. 

"We're going to have a heck of a challenge to play with them."

The last encounter came in the 2000 state final, a 35-28 win for Dowling and the program's first championship.

Wiley was the Bulldogs' defensive coordinator and had to scheme against Dowling quarterback Matt Macri, who eventually made it to the big leagues with the Minnesota Twins.

"I remember that one clearly," Wiley said. "They were very good."

They still are good.

The Maroons stumbled twice during the regular season, losing to West Des Moines Valley (20-6) and Ankeny Centennial (14-7). Since that setback in Week 4, Dowling has won its last seven games by a 342-29 margin. It has five shutouts in that span. 

Coach Tom Wilson's team avenged the loss to Valley with a 31-9 thumping in the quarterfinals last Friday.

"They stumbled a little bit early in the season, but they've fixed their problems and are playing really good football right now," Wiley said.

Dowling has an all-state tailback in a 5-foot-8 and 180-pound senior Jayson Murray. He's rushed for 1,929 yards (averaging almost 9 yards per rush) and scored 28 touchdowns. 

"He's one of the best I've seen," Wiley said. "We've got to get a lot of hats on him and get to him. That's easier said than done, but he makes them go."

The Maroons are massive up front, with their line averaging 6-3 and 286 pounds. Jesse Alger is the biggest of the group at 6-5, 340.

They are second in 4A with 3,043 rushing yards.

"Our thing will be to match the physicality of Dowling on both sides of the ball," Wiley said. "That will be the determining factor."

Bettendorf is making its fifth trip to the UNI-Dome in six years. The challenge for the Bulldogs is getting over the semifinal threshold. 

Counting its regular-season loss to Cedar Falls, Bettendorf has lost six straight in the Dome since the semifinal victory over Cedar Falls in 2011.

"It is big motivation for us," receiver Brandan Tillman said. "We know when we visited there last year, we didn't get the job done. We didn't get the job done six or seven weeks ago, and we've had a chip on our shoulder ever since that game."

Wiley said it was intentional to schedule the Cedar Falls game so his team could get acclimated to the Dome during the regular season.

Instead of going in wide-eyed, everybody on Bettendorf's roster has played in the environment once or twice in the last 12 months.

"Playing there in Week 4, it really made us feel a lot more comfortable going up there this time around," lineman Griffen Deere said. "We'll be able to keep our cool a lot more and know what to expect.

"We want to break the curse it seems and get past the semifinal round. We've worked to win a state championship, not just getting to the Dome."

The Bulldogs (10-1) are playing their best football of the season. They scored 43 points and netted 423 total yards last week against an Iowa City West defense that was yielding fewer than 10 points a contest.

Bettendorf understands it'll need to execute at a high rate again. The Bulldogs haven't reached 20 points in any of their last four semifinal games.

"Our offense really does have to click in this game," Tillman said. "Our defense has been outstanding. When we hold them or stop them, we need to take advantage of that and score.

"I feel with our ability to throw to multiple targets and the way we're running the ball, we're a nightmare to try and scheme against right now."

The winner earns a trip to the state finals on Nov. 16 against Cedar Falls (11-0) or upstart Southeast Polk (6-5).

With nearly 30 seniors on its roster, Bettendorf is eager to change the script.

"This is a senior group which has always been there for each other," tailback Austin Kalar said. "We wanted to be this team.

"When Rocky (Schoenfelder) and I played football in the backyard growing up, we saw all those great Bettendorf players on the news and winning in the Dome. It was always our dream. We're trying to live it now."


Sports Editor

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.