Bulldogs look to grab Homecoming upset

Ottumwa senior Trae Swartz stretches past Marshalltown defenders into the end zone for a touchdown during the first quarter last Friday in the home opener for the Bulldog football team at Schafer Stadium.

OTTUMWA — They're big, they're fast and they're athletic.

That's how Brian Goodvin describes the top-ranked Southeast Polk Rams. There aren't many weaknesses in the team that tops the Class 4A statewide rankings, making them perhaps Iowa's best high school football team in the year 2020.

This would be that classic moment in a sports movie, say Friday Night Lights, where things would look bleak for the team in the role of the underdog. It's a role the Ottumwa Bulldogs will be playing this Friday night as OHS will take on No. 1 Southeast Polk on Homecoming night at Schafer Stadium.

With the playoffs in sight in two weeks for every team actively playing, including Ottumwa, there really is nothing to lose for the Bulldogs. At 0-4 so far this season, a loss to the Rams would do minimal damage to Ottumwa's potential postseason draw which could include another match-up with Southeast Polk later this month.

Nothing to lose. Everything to gain. No fear. In the sports movies, that's what has created those magical moments where the mighty underdog nearly pulls off the massive upset or even topples the giant in the end.

Will that happen on Friday night? Only time will tell, according to Goodvin.

"We've got some kids on our team that are great competitors and cherish the idea of competing with the best in the state," Goodvin said. "We'll see what we can do one play at a time. It's a great opportunity to see an outstanding football team and compete the best we can with them."

Southeast Polk is 4-0 on the season, dominating teams defensively having allowed just 30 points all season. The Rams spent last Friday limiting West Des Moines Valley to just 19 rushing yards on 24 carries in a 34-7 win over the Tigers.

Those numbers and that performance certainly caught Goodvin's eye, especially considering Ottumwa's main offensive production this season has been on the ground having gained 545 of 930 total yards running the football. The Rams have been stingy all season against the run, allowing just 52 yards on 48 carries over the past three games starting with one total yard allowed on the ground on 22 carries in a 29-0 shutout win against Ankeny Centennial.

In fact, only Waukee senior Alexander Lindquist had any success rushing against Southeast Polk, going for 149 yards on 32 carries in the first game of the season. All other backs have gained just 80 yards on 60 carries against the Rams, making it a challenge for the Bulldogs to get players like Kie Glosser and Colton McKinnon going in open space after the two gained 151 yards and rushed for a two of Ottumwa's three touchdowns in a 42-21 loss to Marshalltown.

"We've watched a lot of film on Southeast Polk. We pride ourselves on establishing the run. That's going to be a tough go of it," Goodvin said. "They're line is big and athletic. They've got an offensive lineman (Kadyn Proctor) that's a four-five star recruit. They've got a safety (Xavier Mwankpa) that received offers from every top program in the nation. I'm not sure he'll be able to play. He received a targeting penalty against Valley, but the kid they brought in to replace him is one of the better receivers, so they don't miss a whole lot."

Ottumwa's first home game in nearly a full year produced a strong start in front of the home fans at Schafer Stadium last Friday against Marshalltown. Trae Swartz recovered a fumble on the first play of the game and caught a 14-yard touchdown pass on the second play, giving the Bulldogs a 7-0 lead in just nine seconds.

The Bulldogs could not only use an equally explosive start against top-ranked Southeast Polk, but will need to sustain that success throughout the game. Marshalltown responded to the sudden haymakers thrown by Ottumwa, methodically taking over the game with long sustained drives that led to a 21-21 halftime tie and a one-sided second half from the Bobcats.

"Being at home and being in front of our fans will certainly help. I wouldn't expect anything less than another great crowd out to support us," Goodvin said. "The kids are going to try and take advantage of the opportunity that is out in front of them.

"Not everyone each week has the chance to play football, so we feel fortunate to do that. We've prepared for this game just like any other week. We're trying to put our kids in the best position to make plays. We're still conditioning and still preparing like any other week. The season is a grind, but if you stay the course week to week, it's the best way to go."

— Scott Jackson can be reached at sjackson@ottumwacourier.com. Follow him on Twitter@CourierScott.

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