What to Watch in the Battle for the Boot
Nate Wieland runs against Linn-Mar on Aug. 26. Tork Mason/For Your Prep Sports.By Ryan Murken
Your Prep Sports
IOWA CITY – Rivalry games always offer the possibility of the improbable.
The bigger the rivalry the more potential for unpredictability.
When it comes to prep football in Iowa no rivalry is bigger than the annual Battle for the Boot.
In typical rivalry fashion there have been plenty of unexpected outcomes and wild finishes in the cross-town showdown between City High and West High.
City High’s 14-12 storm-delay, rain-soaked win at Bates Field last season fits the bill of the rivalry chaos.
From weather conditions to trick plays there is no telling what the rivalry will produce.
That should be the case again on Friday as Class 4A fifth-ranked West High (3-0) hosts No.9 City High (2-1) at Trojan Field.
Determining an outcome can be nearly impossible when these two meet but here are five things to watch during the Battle for the Boot on Friday.
Two of the best offensive players in the state will be on display as City High senior quarterback Nate Wieland and West High senior receiver Oliver Martin share the field for perhaps the final time.
West High senior Oliver Martin
Both teams will be counting on big games from their senior offensive leaders.
Wieland has had a strong start to his bounce back season after missing most of last year with injuries.
Last year’s win over West High was Wieland’s only full game of the season and he passed for 139 yards and a touchdown and ran for 54 yards.
The Northern Illinois recruit has passed for 281 yards and run for a team-high 327 yards and four touchdowns this season.
“We’ll see if we can play with 13 guys against him,” West High coach Garrett Hartwig joked. “I have a lot of respect for that kid with the way he’s come back from his injuries. Nate Wieland is a monster and he is a challenge that we have not seen yet and if we are not ready to meet it he’s going to have a great night.”
Martin is off to his own stellar start this season catching 21 passes for 371 yards and four touchdowns.
The four-star recruit has now caught a touchdown pass in 10 consecutive games dating back to last season and has multiple touchdown grabs in half of those games.
Martin has 100 receiving yards in nine of his last 10 games and has caught 70 passes for 1,222 yards and 16 touchdowns during that span.
In last year’s meeting with City High Martin caught seven passes for 61 yards and threw a touchdown pass.
“Obviously their receivers are one of the strengths of their team and I think our defensive backs are one of the strengths of our defense so we will find out a little bit there,” City High coach Dan Sabers said. “I think that’s going to be interesting to see if we can cover them.”
In the recent history of the rivalry no stat has been as telling as the rushing yardage.
The team with more yards on the ground has won eight straight games in the series. Since 2008 eight neither team has won the Battle for the Boot while losing the rushing battle.
Twice during that span (2009 and 2013) West High finished with more total yards than City High but lost as the Little Hawks had more yards on the ground.
“I think it just fits,” Sabers said of the rushing leader winning the game. “You are all cranked up for the big game, well what’s the easiest thing to do? Get out there and run and block and push and all that stuff so I think it kind of lends itself to that type of game. I think that is why it has kind of gone that way.”
City High sloshed its way to a 119 to 34 edge in rushing yards in last year’s soggy victory.
Both teams have flashed revved up running games early this season.
The return of a healthy Wieland has helped City High increase its rushing production by nearly 100 yards per game.
City High is averaging 222 rushing yards per game after averaging 123 rushing yards per game a year ago.
West High has made a similar jump.
A year after averaging just 104 rushing yards per game the Trojans ran for 280 yards in a season-opening win and enter Friday averaging 184 yards per game on the ground.
“City High is incredible tough to run on, I don’t know how we are going to do it but you’ve got to run the ball in Iowa,” Hartwig said. “I don’t care if it’s City High or anyone else you have to run the football and both teams will try to establish that no doubt.”
Home Sweet Home
For the last half decade home field advantage has been pivotal in the cross-town rivalry.
The home team has won five straight in the series including the 14-12 win by City High last year at Bates Field.
West High has won the last two games at Trojan Field by a combined score of 74-6, the most recent win a 30-6 victory in 2014.
The last win by a visiting team was a 41-21 City High win in 2010.
“I think there is something to that, there is no question about that,” Sabers said. “The seniors will tell you boy if it’s on your home field you don’t want to see somebody else celebrating with that trophy so I think that is something that gives the other team a little advantage.”
West High fell into an early 7-0 hole against City High last season and was never able to dig its way out.
That hasn’t been a problem so far this season for the Trojans.
West High has struck first in all three of its games this season and has outscored opponents 21-0 in the opening quarter this year.
“I credit coach (Andrew) Durham, he comes in with a very good game plan. we watch a lot of film and we practice hard,” Hartwig said. “I credit coach Durham for having our offense prepared and coach (Tyler) Meade on the defensive side of the ball those two get us ready to go.”
The Closer the Better
Since 1989 the Battle for the Boot has been decided by a touchdown or less only twice.
Both of those meetings have come in the past three years and both have belonged to City High.
The Little Hawks’ 14-12 win last year equaled the smallest margin of victory in the history of the series and came two years after a 14-7 City High win in 2013.
City High’s recent success in close games hasn’t been limited to its meetings with West High.
The Little Hawks are 5-1 in games decided by less than a touchdown the past two seasons and is 3-0 in games decided by less than three points.