The first three games of the season have been a collection of good and bad for Bettendorf’s football team.
If you look at the glass as half-full, the Bulldogs are ranked second in Class 4A and one of just seven undefeated teams remaining in their classification. They were extremely stingy on defense the first two weeks against Pleasant Valley and Iowa City West and established the run game last Friday versus Dubuque Hempstead.
If you view the glass as half-empty, Bettendorf has yet to find a consistent passing game, has been hindered by penalties (28 in three games) and has battled through injuries to multiple starters. The Bulldogs are averaging 19.7 points per game, down from the 37.2 they recorded in 2017.
“I think we’ve underperformed in our games,” senior lineman Griffen Deere said. “We can definitely do a lot better.”
“Even though we haven’t played our best, we’re still playing well enough to win,” Deere said.
Everybody in Bettendorf’s camp agrees it has to piece together its best game of the season Friday night in the UNI-Dome to conquer third-ranked Cedar Falls.
Cedar Falls (3-0) has an elite middle linebacker in Iowa recruit Jack Campbell, a do-it-all receiver in Logan Wolf (a Northern Iowa football and basketball commit) and an offensive line which matches the size of many small college schools.
The Tigers rarely beat themselves. They’ve turned the ball over only once and yielded just seven points in victories over Ames, Iowa City High and Ankeny.
“They’re just steady across the board,” Bettendorf coach Aaron Wiley said. “They’re not flashy, but they’re going to run the football and they don’t make many mistakes.
“I think Wolf separates them from some of the other teams they’ve had. He’s a problem because he can run and he’s big. He’s a big-play guy, so we’ll need to know where he’s at all the time.”
Listed at 6-foot-4 and 185 pounds, Wolf has 13 receptions for 252 yards. Of Cedar Falls’ eight passing touchdowns, six have gone to him. Wolf also averages 11 yards per rush in limited carries, and he’s even completed all four of his passes.
Bettendorf allowed only one touchdown in the first two weeks. Its defense surrendered 20 first downs and 336 yards last Friday at Hempstead.
“Coming off last week’s struggle on defense, it really is key this week to prove that was just a fluke,” linebacker Alex Blizzard said. “We need to play defense like we did those first two games.”
Bettendorf ran for 240 yards last week. Austin Kalar had his best game as a Bulldog with 138 rushing yards and three touchdowns.
The passing attack remains a work in progress.
Bettendorf quarterback Carter Bell is 21 of 45 with three interceptions through three games. Dropped passes were a problem in the opener. The Bulldogs didn’t have Iowa State recruit Darien Porter (foot injury) for most of the second half in Week 2 and all of last week.
Center Jax Dormire also was sidelined last week.
According to Wiley, the injuries to Porter and Dormire are not season-ending. Still, they have required the Bulldogs to make adjustments.
“We can get a lot better, no question,” Wiley said. “I think our offense made some strides, particularly in the run game, last week. We were sloppy defensively, so we’ve got to get that cleaned up.”
Penalties have been a concern. Bettendorf has been flagged at least eight times in every game.
"I think it will work itself out with more game time," Deere said.
No football team wants to be a finished product in September.
However, for what is a fairly veteran squad, it is imperative for the Bulldogs to put a complete game together in all three phases.
“There is definitely another gear we need to kick into,” Blizzard said. “We have the talent, we have the firepower. This is the time to put it all together and show what we can really do.”
In the big picture, Friday is a non-district contest — not a make-or-break game for either team. Both schools are favorites to win their district and reach the playoffs.
Still, this is another barometer to see where Bettendorf stacks up against the other 4A heavyweights in eastern Iowa.
It is an opportunity to make a statement in the UNI-Dome, a place it hopes to revisit in November for the state semifinals.
“We’ve got to go up there and win now,” Wiley said. “It will be a good experience for our kids in there, but at the same token, this is not a field trip. We have to go up and be all business.”