BURLINGTON – In previous seasons, this has been the game that has provided the Ottumwa High School football team with most of the program's brightest moments.
On Friday, the Bulldogs head to Burlington seeking to start putting some dark days behind them. Injuries, illness and an overall lack of sustained success have kept Ottumwa from even finishing a game within 20 points of any one of their first three opponents.
Ottumwa head coach Brian Goodvin, however, feels there is a light at the end of the tunnel that the Bulldogs can pursue heading into Bracewell Stadium for their week four contest with the Grayhounds. Like Ottumwa, Burlington is still very much a program looking to regain its footing after struggling to produce wins and numbers in recent years.
"It's unfortunate for them and unfortunate for us in the grand scheme of things, but it's fortunate for us this week that we match-up pretty well in terms of numbers," Goodvin said. "We have about the same number of kids participating in varsity football. That will help in the long run. We're not going to be over matched in terms of depth."
While the players on each sideline will be even going into Friday night, the two teams have had much different experiences within the sidelines so far this season. Burlington is 2-1 on the season, falling to Oskaloosa on Friday night after scoring impressive wins over Washington (33-18) and Keokuk (41-14) over the first two weeks of the season.
"They're not real complicated, but they're just really good at what they do," Goodvin said of the Grayhounds. "They get the ball to (Bryant) Williams. He's got some good offensive linemen blocking for him. They get after it."
Ottumwa, meanwhile, is coming off a 45-0 loss to eighth-ranked (5A) Des Moines Roosevelt. The Bulldogs actually had their best start of any game this season, opening with the ball and moving down the field putting up the first scoring threat after allowing opening-drive touchdowns in losses to Oskaloosa and Fairfield.
Ultimately, a common problem for the season of not being able to sustain offensive success cropped up again on Ottumwa's opening drive. Tanner Schark was sacked after a 22-yard run by Ethan Renteria set the Bulldogs up in the red zone, ultimately derailing the promising start as the Bulldogs could not find points.
"We came out with a real good game plan and drove the ball for the first 6:30. Once again, we just couldn't finish," Goodvin said. "Our guys are on the field so much that adjustments are hard to make."
Already on the lower end of numbers compared to most of the larger schools in the state, Ottumwa's depth has been further tested throughout the season. Most recently, bouts of illness including a rise in COVID-19 cases has forced players to miss time.
"Because of that, we're playing a lot of kids on both sides of the ball," Goodvin said. "With Burlington, they'll be in the same position as us. They won't be able to adjust as much, either. The score last week against Roosevelt is not indicative of the way we played. We played a good football game all around. We just need to figure out how to finish offensively and put points on the board."