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Justice O'Conner was a spectator for the final three quarters and overtime of Bettendorf's football game last week because of a rib injury.

"It killed me watching my team go out there and struggle in the fourth quarter (against Iowa City West)," O'Conner said.

Even less than 100 percent and not going through any contact drills this week in practice, O'Conner made certain he was around for all four quarters Friday night.

And the senior put on quite a spectacle.

O'Conner had four touchdowns — two rushing, one receiving and an 80-yard kickoff return — to fuel Class 4A top-ranked Bettendorf to a 42-26 district triumph over No. 8 North Scott at TouVelle Stadium.

"He's special," Bulldog coach Aaron Wiley said. "I don't know if we've had a guy like him around here in a long, long time. I don't know who I'd compare him to, but the skill set he brings is a different level."

North Scott (5-2, 2-1) surged to a 20-7 cushion in the second quarter, but O'Conner ignited a run of 35 unanswered points for Bettendorf (7-0, 2-0). 

The 5-foot-7 and 175-pounder returned a kickoff 78 yards to set up a short Xavier LaDouceur scoring run. He caught a 22-yard touchdown pass from Cyle Cox on 3rd and 12 to give Bettendorf a 21-20 halftime lead.

Then on the opening kickoff of the third quarter, Dalton McLaughlin pitched the ball back to O'Conner. When it appeared he would be tackled, O'Conner wiggled out of the scrum and jetted 80 yards for the score.

"Everyone on the sideline was getting quiet when we were down 20-7, but that's when it is crunch time," O'Conner said. "Clutch players stand out. I know I can make plays. I just need to get the ball in my hands."

O'Conner admitted he was uncertain if he'd play.

"We were hoping for the best," he said. "We didn't know until we got out here, and it went well."

O'Conner finished with 108 yards rushing and more than 180 return yards.

"You just never know what he's going to do with the ball," Bettendorf linebacker David Smith said. "He can go vertical, horizontal, and he gets up field. He makes great plays that bring momentum to our football team."

O'Conner is averaging more than 8.5 yards per carry for the season.

"He's tough to bring down and he finishes runs," North Scott coach Kevin Tippet said. "Some backs are shifty, but he's shifty and runs tough."

Even with O'Conner's exploits, North Scott trailed only 28-20 entering the fourth quarter.

Faced with 2nd and 5 at Bettendorf's 25, Lancer quarterback Matt Sacia had the ball stripped by a Bulldog defensive lineman. Smith picked it up and sprinted 73 yards for a touchdown.

"Right place, right time," Smith said. "Anytime you get a play like that, it motivates the offense, motivates the defense. It got our momentum going."

In addition to the long kickoff returns and fumble recovery for score, Bettendorf connected on pass plays of 41 and 47 yards, respectively.

"We made plays, we just didn't make enough of the big plays," Tippet said. "We knew it would take all three facets. 

"They won special teams, we had a hard time stopping the run in the second half and we didn't capitalize on offense. That makes for a long half."

Sacia completed 25 of 42 throws for a season-high 312 yards and four touchdowns. Ricky Grimes, Jordan Gronewold, Dane Steidler and Kier Brown had receiving scores for the Lancers, who outgained the Bulldogs 367-339. 

But after racking up 236 yards in the first half, North Scott had just 131 in the second half, only nine coming on the ground.

"They're tough to match up with because they spread you out and have some athletic guys," Wiley said. "I just thought we shored some things up with our coverages and got a little bit better pass rush.

"It wasn't perfect and maybe not exactly how we wanted it to go, but we faced some adversity and found a way."

Bettendorf 42, North Scott 26

North Scott 7 13 0 6 -- 26
Bettendorf 7 14 7 14 -- 42


First Quarter

Bett — Justice O'Conner 24 run (Matt Perk kick), 4:53

NS — Dane Steidler 11 pass from Matt Sacia (Colton Jessen kick), 0:57

Second Quarter

NS — Kier Brown 48 pass from Sacia (kick failed), 10:09

NS — Jordan Gronewold 22 pass from Sacia (Jessen kick), 6:26

Bett — Xavier LaDouceur 3 run (Perk kick), 5:42

Bett — O'Conner 22 pass from Cyle Cox (Perk kick), 0:40

Third Quarter

Bett — O'Conner 80 kickoff return (Perk kick), 11:42

Fourth Quarter

Bett — David Smith 73 fumble return (Perk kick), 10:50

Bett — O'Conner 7 run (Perk kick), 7:59

NS — Ricky Grimes 25 pass from Sacia (kick failed), 5:11


First downs 21  15 
Rushes-yards 22-55  43-213
Passing yards 312  126
Total yards 367  339 
Comp-Att-Int 25-42-1  6-13-1
Punts-Avg. 5-33.4  3-25.0 
Fumbles-lost 1-1 1-1 
Penalties-yards 1-10  9-70


Rushing -- North Scott, Matt Sacia 13-33, Jacob Ridgeway 8-22, Kier Brown 1-0. Bettendorf, Justice O'Conner 14-108, Xavier LaDouceur 16-70, Cyle Cox 11-40, Matt Wolfe 1-(-3), Team 1-(-2).

Passing -- North Scott, Sacia 25-42-1, 312 yards. Bettendorf, Cox 6-13-1, 126 yards. 

Receiving -- North Scott, Ricky Grimes 9-111, Brown 4-80, Dane Steidler 7-71, Jordan Gronewold 4-44, Ridgeway 1-6. Bettendorf, Austin Cullor 1-47, Suni Lane 1-41, O'Conner 1-22, Owen Ridenour 1-10, Wolfe 2-6.

Sophomores: Bettendorf 38, North Scott 14


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.