Coming off a state semifinal appearance, the Pleasant Valley High School football team had plenty of expectations and hype surrounding it going into the season.
It had a state ranking attached to its name. It had multiple athletes attracting Division I attention. It had oodles of experience.
But after two defeats in its first three games and losing starting quarterback Barrett Lindmark to a collarbone injury, the Spartans were backed into a corner.
“We were not practicing hard, we were kind of selfish and some of us were focused on our futures,” junior Rusty VanWetzinga said.
The Spartans have found themselves again and showed Friday night they are still one of the teams to beat in the eastern half of the state in Iowa Class 5A.
Led by an offense that churned out 23 first downs and 310 rushing yards and a defense that pitched a second-half shutout, PV handed second-ranked Iowa City High its first blemish of the season 31-14 at Spartan Stadium.
Suddenly, 1-2 has turned into 5-2 for coach Rusty VanWetzinga’s squad.
“This shows we’re not just all hype,” defensive end Andrew DePaepe said. “We’re trying to prove ourselves. I’m sure it is going to be all over social media how we held them to 14 (points).
“This is a statement win.”
City High (6-1) had no answer for PV’s option attack.
Quarterback Caden McDermott rushed for 149 yards and two touchdowns. Sophomore Tyge Lyon battered his way for 84 yards and Makhi Wilson finished with 69 yards on the ground as PV ran the ball on 65 of its 67 offensive snaps.
That came against a Little Hawks defense which was surrendering only 76 yards a game on the ground and had recorded three shutouts this season.
“I’m going to bring some doughnuts for (our offensive line) tomorrow,” linebacker Rusty VanWetzinga said. “That’s awesome.”
Coach VanWetzinga wasn’t stunned by the rushing output.
“We were going to be able to move the ball because they hadn't seen anything like that yet,” he said. “Dowling (Catholic) was able to get downhill and North got downhill on them at times last week. It wasn’t going to be pretty, but we were going to get chunks on the ground, eat clock and wear on them.
“I think that’s what happened.”
Deadlocked at 14 at halftime, PV asserted itself in the closing two quarters.
City High went three and out on its first possession and mustered only one first down on its second series. PV, meanwhile, capitalized on field position following the punts to get a 36-yard field goal from Carter Spangler and a 3-yard touchdown run from VanWetzinga to surge ahead 24-14.
Early in the fourth, with the Little Hawks at the Spartans’ 30-yard line, VanWetzinga shot the gap and dropped Ronnie Major for a two-yard loss on fourth and 1.
“Big-time players make big-time plays,” the middle linebacker said. “I saw an opening and took it. I didn’t hesitate. I didn’t think. I just reacted.”
Then, PV did what it does best. It leaned on its offensive line and McDermott to march 68 yards in 14 plays over 7 minutes, 18 seconds. McDermott capped it with a 2-yard run to deliver the knockout punch.
“Our line worked together magnificently and our quarterback really led us to a strong victory,” lineman Luke Vonderhaar said. “We came out of halftime ready to go and pulled the trigger on it.”
After a couple defensive mishaps in the first half, PV allowed only four first downs and 85 total yards following intermission.
The 6-foot-5 DePaepe had three tackles for loss, including a sack in the second half.
“We talked at half to our corners and secondary about making sure you stick with your guy so it gives our defensive front enough time to go sack the quarterback,” DePaepe said. “It worked.”
The Spartans have a plethora of momentum heading into the final two regular-season games at Dubuque Senior and Iowa City West. Two wins and PV likely locks up a first-round home playoff game.