IOWA CITY — The sequel is almost never as good as the original.
This time, it almost certainly was better.
Bettendorf coach Aaron Wiley and his players certainly liked the ending.
The Bulldogs got off to a rocky start in their rematch with Iowa City West in the quarterfinals of the Class 4A playoffs Friday night, then completely took control late in the first quarter and rolled to a 43-28 victory that puts them in the semifinals at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls next Friday night.
"I’m just happy for these kids," Wiley said. "They persevered. They faced a lot of adversity on the road tonight, and they really came through. This never gets old."
Bettendorf prevailed 10-7 in a ferocious defensive tussle the first time the two teams played, in Week 2 of the regular season, but this game was nothing like that one as both teams topped 400 yards of total offense.
Bettendorf (10-1) fell behind 11-0 in the first quarter, but then reeled off 29 straight points and was never in serious danger despite some late offensive fireworks by the Trojans (9-2).
The Bulldogs agreed that it was almost certainly their best all-around offensive effort of the season.
"Everything was working tonight," senior running back Austin Kalar said. "The line was getting a push, we were running it, throwing it, everything."
Kalar rushed for 189 yards in 22 carries, including an 80-yard burst early in the fourth quarter. Carter Bell completed 10 of 18 passes for 168 yards, and Iowa State-bound wideout Darien Porter had what he considered the best game of his high school career, catching seven passes for 119 yards and two very timely touchdowns.
Although Iowa City West finished with 408 yards of offense, much of that came against a fairly passive defense in the fourth quarter.
Sophomore quarterback Marcus Morgan, who had completed 59 percent of his passes coming in, threw 14 consecutive incomplete passes at one point as Porter, Bell, Brandan Tillman and others blanketed the Trojans’ receivers most of the night. Morgan finished 14 for 41 for 238 yards.
"We knew going in that we were facing what was supposedly one of the best offenses in the state," Tillman said. "We took that personal."
West stunned the Bulldogs on the first play of the game as 225-pound Jalen Gaudet caught a pass from Morgan along the right sideline, twisted away from a tackler and took off for a 70-yard gain. Morgan flipped a 2-yard scoring pass to Tate Crane a few plays later on fourth down and the Trojans converted a 2-point conversion to take an 8-0 lead.
The Trojans then capitalized on a Kalar fumble to make it 11-0 on a 43-yard field goal by Joshua Jacek.
"I can’t imagine a worse start," Wiley admitted.
But then the Bulldogs took control.
"When it was 11-0, we were just keeping everyone positive," Kalar said. "We knew it was early. We just had to stay positive."
The game turned when they went for it on fourth-and-12 at the West 36-yard line and Bell hit Porter in stride for a touchdown and Kalar added a 2-point conversion
Kalar capped a 57-yard drive with a 3-yard touchdown run to give the Bulldogs the lead early in the second quarter, and Bell finished a 72-yard drive with a sneak into the end zone in the final minute of the half. That march included a 28-yard run by Kalar, a 25-yard pass to Tillman and a 19-yard pass to tight end Noah Abbott on third-and-19.
Their margin grew to 29-11 when Porter made a spectacular leaping catch in the corner of the end zone for a 25-yard score less than five minutes into the second half.
West countered with a field goal, but Tillman picked off a Morgan pass and returned it 43 yards for another score to give the Bulldogs their biggest lead.
Even after Morgan and Gaudet finally got going, the Bulldogs didn’t flinch. After Gaudet scored on a 28-yard touchdown pass, Kalar bolted 80 yards up the middle to score on the very next play.
"It just feels great to get back to the Dome," said Porter, acknowledging that some observers questioned whether the Bulldogs had this sort of offensive firepower. "We don’t really listen to all the outside noise. We just keep grinding, keep playing. Our goal is to win a state championship, and we’re going to do it."