West High celebrates its win over Bettendorf. Jeff Yoder/For Your Prep Sports. Ryan Murken
Your Prep Sports
It’s been a while since West High played a football game in the UNI-Dome.
14 years to be exact.
West High (9-2) will end that streak when it faces fourth-ranked Cedar Rapids Washington (10-10) in the Class 4A semifinals on Friday at 7:06 p.m.
It’s been even longer since the Trojans played in a state title game. West High hasn’t played for a state crown since winning the second of back-to-back titles in 1999.
If that streak is to be broke next week the Trojans need to get past a Washington squad attempt to return to the 4A championship game for the second time in three seasons.
Here are five things to watch that will determine who is playing on the final Friday of the season.
Through 11 games West High has won the turnover battle.
West High is +8 in turnover margin entering Friday night’s semifinal against a Washington defense that specializes in creating takeaways.
The Warriors have forced 21 turnovers on the season, returning eight of them for touchdowns and have scored 21 defensive touchdowns over the past three seasons.
Washington forced six turnovers and returned a fumble 32 yards for a touchdown in a 30-14 win over City High last week.
“Our coaches have stressed that defense is their hallmark and certainly in forcing six turnovers against City and they have done that all year,” West High quarterback Evan Flitz said. “We are just going to have to prepare for that type of defense and execute on Friday night.”
West High committed its first two turnovers of the postseason last week against Prairie and has turned the ball over just 12 times in 11 games this season, three coming in a loss to City High.
Washington meanwhile has had its struggles holding onto the ball. The Warriors have committed 25 turnovers on the season and have seven games with three or more turnovers.
Balancing It Out
Evan Flitz, Oliver Martin and the West High passing game have been clicking over the last month.
Flitz has passed for more than 200 yards in three straight games with Martin catching 22 passes for 356 yards and three touchdowns during that span.
West High will need strong performances from its junior quarterback and all-American receiver on Friday.
Perhaps just as importantly the Trojans will need to be able to run the ball.
“I think that’s been a key all year is to be balanced and really get the run game going so that we can open up our playmakers on the outside,” Flitz said. “We want to be balanced.”
That’s where Devontae Lane comes in.
The 6-foot-1, 205-pound senior running back gives West High a true threat in the backfield, averaging 7.4 yards per carry while rushing for 676 yards and nine touchdowns in seven games.
Lane and the offensive line have their work cut out for them against a Washington defense allowing 97 rushing yards per game and 2.8 yards per carry.
“Our passing game has been really strong in the playoffs but that was only set up because our running game in the regular season was very strong,” Hartwig said. “At some point, we are going to have to go back to run and if it’s Friday night and we need to run the ball hopefully we are able to do that.”
Drew Dostal has done a little bit of everything for Washington this season.
Dostal has excelled as a receiver, catching 43 passes for 744 yards and eight touchdowns but that’s just the beginning of what the 6-foot-1, 190-pound senior does for the Warriors.
He has rushed for 180 yards and a touchdown and also passed for 64 yards and a score.
On defense, Dostal has a team-high four interceptions and returned one 88-yard for a touchdown. He has also recovered a pair of fumbles including one he returned 32 yards for a score last week against City High.
That’s not all. Dostal has returned two punts for touchdowns and averages 18.6 yards per punt return and is the Warriors top kick returner as well.
To top it off, he also punts, averaging 40.8 yards per boot.
“He is a good player,” Hartwig said. “We will definitely know where he is at all times.”
Dominant Defensive Duo
For Washington it always starts with defense and like any good defensive team it starts with the guys up front for the Warriors.
Seniors O’Rien Vance (6-3, 235) and Rane Weiland (6-4, 210) are the top two tacklers for the Warriors and have combined for 34.5 tackles for loss and 14 sacks.
Vance, an Iowa State recruit and Weiland, the team leader with 90 tackles are the lynchpins on an aggressive Washington defense that allows just 214 total yards per game.
The Warriors will move the duo around in an attempt to get pressure from a variety of different positions.
Part of the key for West High is knowing where those two players are at. The other key is matching the intensity and aggressiveness the entire Warrior defense brings.
“They athletic, tough, good, just like everybody this time of year,” Hartwig said. “They are definitely one of the top defenses we’ve seen. They may be the best defense we have seen, to get to this point you have to be playing good defense.”
Instant Offense Ian
For six weeks the usually explosive Washington ground game was caught in neutral.
Washington rushed for 101 yards per game through the first six weeks of the season, averaged 3.8 yards per carry and never ran for more than 189 yards in a game.
Enter Ian Thomas.
Since the 5-foot-9, 195-pound Thomas has assumed the lead rushing role the Washington running game has been humming.
Thomas has rushed for 785 yards and eight touchdowns over the last five games, helping Washington average 289 yards per game on the ground during that stretch.
Washington has rushed for more than 200 yards in each of its last five games, including a season-high 406 yards in an opening round win over Western Dubuque.
Thomas has rushed for 100 yards in three straight games, rumbling for 234 in the regular season finale and 257 in the win over Western Dubuque. He is hard to tackle, he is a solid kid,” Hartwig said. “We are going to have to get guys to the ball and we have to gang tackle.”