The Ottumwa football team has yet to pull off the kind of high-profile victory that can put a football program on the map.
But come Friday, the Bulldogs will have a chance to do exactly that when they travel to Valley Stadium to face a formidable West Des Moines Dowling Catholic team in Class 4A, Division 3 action.
Dowling is ranked No. 6 in Class 4A and is 2-0 against Division 3 opponents. The Maroons, who are 4-2, have played a brutal schedule: Four out of the six teams they have faced are ranked in the top 10 of Class 4A. Dowling boasts wins over No. 10 West Des Moines Valley and No. 8 Southeast Polk. It’s two losses, which were by eight points or less, came against top-ranked Ankeny and No. 9 Urbandale.
Yet, the Bulldogs (3-4, 1-1) will go into the game with some momentum after beating Mason City 21-3 last Friday in its homecoming game. The contest benefited Ottumwa in a number of ways including, but not limited to; reigniting the Bulldogs passing attack and giving the defense a much-needed surge of confidence. The game also showed that Alec Maas is more than capable of being Ottumwa’s No. 1 run option if the situation warrants it.
After Seth Griffiths tweaked his ankle early in the contest, Maas, who has primarily played fullback this season; took over the running duties usually admirably carried out by Griffiths. Far from being uncomfortable about suddenly being thrust into a new role, Maas appeared to embrace it with vigor. Time after time he ran right into the teeth of the Mohawk defense, often for modest or substantial gains. He ended up gaining 172 yards on an exhausting 32 carries. Of course, the offensive line certainly deserves credit for opening big enough holes for Maas to squirm through.
“I really thought our whole offensive line blocked well last game,” Ottumwa coach Zach Pfantz said.
The reawakening of Ottumwa’s passing game was a welcome sight as the Bulldog offense tries to recast itself as a multi-dimensional threat. Alex Goodvin’s two touchdown passes to Griffiths, which included a beautiful 34-yard toss; hopefully is a sign of a passing attack that has just begun to blossom.
After a humbling experience at Marshalltown, Ottumwa’s defense responded in a way that showcased the depth of this team’s character, holding Mason City to only three points. The Bulldog defense, completely shut down the Mohawk’ run game, holding Mason City to just 32 yards on the ground. Strong safety Tyler Johns was at the epicenter of much of this success; he finished with a team-leading eight tackles and ran back a dropped lateral pass 14-yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
While Johns was especially impressive, the inspired defensive performance was truly a team effort with linebackers Chris Peden, Titus Weller and Cole Eklund combining for 19 tackles.
Ottumwa’s defense must be at the top of its game tonight to contend with a Maroon offense that knows how to put points on the board — Dowling hasn’t scored less than 27 points this year.
“They are a really good offense,” Pfantz said. “We are going to have to play with a great effort and great intensity and be ready to battle for four quarters.”
The Maroons’ primary quarterback Ryan Boyle boasts a more than 70 percent completion rate and has thrown six touchdowns and two picks this season. Boyle also can run the ball when the situation calls for it; he has gained 233 yards on 73 runs. Brandon Mauro also has taken more than a few snaps behind center for the Maroons. He’s completed 14 passes for 209 yards.
Chase Dowell is the cornerstone of Dowling’s running attack. He’s rushed for 535 yards on 112 carries, including eight touchdowns. Another popular run option for the Maroons has been Nate Christian, who has rushed for 267 yards, including two touchdowns, on 39 carries.
Matthew Haack has served as Dowling’s No. 1 receiver and it’s dangerous kick-off return man. Haack has made 41 receptions for 758 yards and caught seven touchdowns. In addition, his three kickoff returns have gone for an average of about 53 yards. Though not as impressive as Haack, but solid nonetheless, Chase Dowell has averaged 28 yards on his three kickoff-returns.
The performance of the Maroon defense, specifically how many points it allows in a game, seems to play a substantial role in whether Dowling is able to secure a victory or not. Dowling’s defense has allowed no more than 16 points in the Maroons’ four victories, while it gave up 35 points in both its defeats.
Michael Sherinian leads Dowling with 59 tackles this season, Reed Flood has 52 tackles and Michael Palme has 51 tackles plus two fumble recoveries. Michael Gillotti leads Dowling in interceptions with two.
There’s no getting past the fact that the boys will be the major underdog tonight, they will have to play up to their full potential and leave everything out on the field to have a chance of pulling off the upset.
“We see it as a great opportunity, being the underdog,” Pfantz said.
OTTUMWA VS. DOWLING CATHOLIC
Time and Place: The Ottumwa football team will try to build on it’s 21-3 triump over Mason City last Friday when it takes on No. 6-ranked Dowling Catholic (4A) at 7:30 p.m. tonight at Valley Stadium in Class 4A, Division 3 action.
Records: Ottumwa is 3-4 overall and 1-1 in the division after snapping a three-game losing streak last Friday. Sixth-ranked Dowling Catholic is 4-2 and 2-0.
Last meeting: The Bulldogs eked out a 25-24 victory over Dowling the last time the two teams met in 2003.
Key Fact: In its four victories, Dowling’s defense surrendered no more than 16 points to the opposing team. In their two losses, the Maroon defense gave up 35 points.
Ottumwa Probable Starting Lineup
QB — Alex Goodvin (6) Sr.
RB — Seth Griffiths (34) Sr.
FB — Alec Maas (19) Sr.
WR — Zach Bowling (9) Jr.
WR — Kyle Keck (11) Sr.
LG — Lucas Lunford (72) Jr.
RG — Clayton Cudworth (84) Sr.
C — Joey Lee (77) Sr.
LT — Aaron Wagner (53) Sr.
RT — Josh Hudnut (65) Jr.
TE — Zach Bowling (9) Jr.
K — Justin Vonderhaar (56) So.
DE — Kyle Lundy (12) Jr.
DE — Logan McCarty (30) Sr.
DT — Jonah Wright (62) Sr.
DT — Conner Mier (64) Jr.
LB — Chris Peden (7) Jr.
LB — Titus Weller (35) Jr.
LB — Cole Eklund (46) Sr.
CB — Zach Bowling (9) Jr.
CB — Andrew Altfillisch (8) So.
FS — Shawn Foster (14) Sr.
SS — Tyler Johns (15) Sr.
P — Bryce Ward (88) Sr.