Toward the end of the regular season, Ryan Fick — Bettendorf's state championship quarterback in 2004 — had a chat with several of the current Bulldogs football players.
The message was simple.
"He just said, 'All those games are regular season. Play the games that matter,'" Bettendorf linebacker Sam Ambrose recalled.
Pleasant Valley was the superior program during the regular season, but Bettendorf delivered when it mattered most.
The Bulldogs stymied the second-ranked team in Class 4A after the opening drive and received two big offensive plays of their own to record a 17-6 quarterfinal victory Friday night at a jam-packed Spartan Stadium.
Once the clock hit triple zeroes, Bettendorf coach Aaron Wiley raised his left arm and gave a big fist pump.
After a pedestrian 6-4 mark last season, the Bulldogs (10-2) are headed to the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls for the third time in four years next Friday to play Cedar Rapids Xavier (11-1) at 4:06 p.m.
"I don't care who we beat; it is just nice to get back there," Wiley said. "Last year is behind us, and we're not done yet."
PV (11-1) ran over and around Bettendorf's defense for 354 yards in a 35-14 win on Sept. 20. The Spartans seemed poised to do the same with a 78-yard scoring drive on the game's first series, capped by Brady Letney's 32-yard touchdown run.
The Spartans never scored again.
"Our defense was phenomenal," Bulldog running back John McLaughlin said. "They were physical and aggressive, and our pass rush was killer."
In particular, Bettendorf handcuffed Letney. The senior quarterback had 73 yards rushing in the opening quarter, but finished with just 17 yards on his next 16 carries.
"We had a better game plan," Ambrose said. "In Week 4, we didn't execute our game plan.
"This time, we needed to make sure their linemen didn't have free run at our linebackers. We were able to occupy their linemen and free up our linebackers."
Bettendorf's offense mustered only eight first downs, but it didn't commit a turnover and came up with two game-changing plays to spring the upset.
Cyle Cox connected with McLaughlin on a 63-yard screen pattern to set up the the first score before halftime.
"I just slid past the lineman, caught it and saw a bunch of green (turf)," McLaughlin said. "We knew we needed a big play, and we knew it was a big-play opportunity."
Cox punched it in from 2 yards to give the Bulldogs a 7-6 lead at intermission.
Then, on the opening drive of the third quarter, senior Gabe Rees took a jet sweep 78 yards for a touchdown. Rees finished with a game-high 101 yards rushing.
"Coach (Phil) Schaefer came up with that play halfway through the year," Rees said. "John and I are great runners and can get to the edge. He set the whole thing up.
"Big plays won us the game."
And a stingy defense.
Charlie Cox also contributed two PAT kicks and booted a career-long 50-yard field goal in the fourth quarter to virtually ice it.
PV had opportunities, but never could convert.
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Hunter Sickels missed a pair of field goals, Letney threw an interception and the Spartans were forced to punt five times. It also lost senior playmaker Nick Slavens to a knee injury in the third quarter.
"There was a lot of pressure from the outside, a big, hyped game and I think that might have gotten to us a little bit," PV coach Rusty VanWetzinga said. "And when the game wasn't going in our favor, we started pressing a little bit."
The six points was PV's lowest output since losing to Bettendorf 27-0 in 2010, a span of 42 games. The Spartans have finished 11-1 and bowed out in the quarterfinals each of the last two seasons.
"Any time you go 11-1, those kids have a lot to be proud of," VanWetzinga said. "We just didn't play very well tonight, and that's disappointing. We had too many mistakes and it cost us.
"We just had an off night."
Bettendorf, meanwhile, seized it.
"This is indescribable," Rees said. "I've never been to the Dome. This is the greatest feeling, to get an opportunity to go with my teammates."
Bettendorf 17, Pleasant Valley 6
PV - Brady Letney 32 run (kick failed), 8:03
Bett - Cyle Cox 2 run (Charlie Cox kick), 0:26
Bett - Gabe Rees 78 run (Ch. Cox kick), 11:11
Bett - Ch. Cox 50 FG, 4:10
Rushing -- Bettendorf, Gabe Rees 6-101, John McLaughlin 16-50, Cyle Cox 13-32; Pleasant Valley, Brady Letney 24-90, Nick Slavens 6-53, T.J. Zerbonia 6-18, Adam O'Brien 3-12.
Passing -- Bettendorf, Cox 4-12-0 83 yards; Pleasant Valley, Letney 11-15-1 79 yards.
Receiving -- Bettendorf, McLaughlin 1-62, Tyler Scheib 3-21; Pleasant Valley, Ryan Blunk 4-27, Slavens 2-16, O'Brien 2-12, Logan Jacobs 1-9, Zerbonia 1-9, Chase Kipper 1-6.