Evan Flitz looks for a receiver against Bettendorf. Jeff Yoder/For Your Prep Sports. Ryan Murken Your Prep Sports
IOWA CITY – Standing on the sideline watching your team battle to keep its postseason hopes alive can be a helpless feeling for an athlete.
Evan Flitz knows that feeling.
A loss in its district opener at Cedar Rapids Prairie turned the final four weeks of the season into a series of possible elimination games for West High.
A knee injury in that on Sept. 23 loss to the Hawks turned Flitz from starting quarterback and team leader to a nervous onlooker for half of that stressful four-week stretch.
Flitz didn’t let the injury or the subsequent time on the sideline turn into an excuse, instead he turned it into an opportunity.
“After my injury I had a lot of time to just look at film and get a lot of mental reps,” Flitz said. “When I came back I think I just started seeing the field a little differently and seeing things a little better and that has helped me make better decisions.”
Classmate and backup quarterback Ethan Postler performed admirably while keeping West High’s playoff hopes alive by directing the Trojans to a pair of wins in Flitz’s absence.
Flitz returned to the field healthy and better than ever in week eight and has directed West High to four straight wins and into the Class 4A playoffs for the first time since 2002.
West High (9-2) brings a six-game winning streak into its semifinal meeting with fourth-ranked Cedar Rapids Washington (10-1) on Friday at 7:06 p.m. at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls.
“From week one to now I think the game has slowed down for both Evan and Ethan,” West High coach Garrett Hartwig said. “I credit coach (Andrew) Durham and the offensive staff breaking down film with those guys, getting them comfortable with what they are doing and not trying to doing too much.”
West High junior Evan Flitz
Flitz started the season by throwing for more than 210 yards in each of the first three games of his career, tossing six touchdowns while leading West High to a 3-0 start.
That’s when things got bumpy for the first-year starter.
Flitz completed 13-of-27 passes for a season-low 79 yards in a loss to cross-town rival City High.
He passed for 103 yards the next week against Prairie before leaving in the second half with a knee injury in what turned into a 39-20 loss.
Flitz didn’t play the next two weeks, as Postler directed West High in wins over Burlington and Cedar Rapids Kennedy, but he definitely didn’t miss those games. Instead Flitz took the time on the sideline as a chance to learn and re-evaluate in what had been a whirlwind first season as a varsity starter.
Flitz has impressed in his return to the field.
He completed 10-of-12 passes for 119 yards with two touchdowns in his first game back, a 50-7 road win over Linn-Mar.
Flitz has passed for better than 220 yards in each of the last three games, including a career-high 330 yards and five touchdowns in a 38-21 quarterfinal win over Prairie.
“He’s definitely improved and I feel like that is how it is for a lot of players but he has definitely gained more confidence in himself,” West High senior receiver Oliver Martin said. “I feel like he is making quicker decisions, he is reading the defense better and making good throws.”
The 6-foot-1, 175-pound Flitz has passed for 1,797 yards and 19 touchdowns while completing 69 percent of his passes this season.
Flitz has been at his best since his return from injury.
Over the last four games Flitz has completed 77 percent of his passes while averaging 226 yards per game and throwing for 11 touchdowns with just two interceptions.
“He is doing a lot of things well,” Hartwig said. “He is really getting the ball out of his hands to the guys that catch it and run with it because those guys are good players.”
One of the biggest keys for Flitz has been confidence.
A 220-yard, two-touchdown performance on the road against fifth-ranked Bettendorf and its vaunted defense in the playoff opener helped build that confidence.
Last week against Prairie it showed.
In the first two postseason games of his career Flitz has completed 36-of-48 passes for 550 yards and seven touchdowns with one interception.
“It’s hugely important to be able to trust yourself and trust how prepared you are,” Flitz said. “It’s a huge thing to just go out there and relax and play your game. It helps to have great teammates that support me and let me know what they are seeing.”
Flitz will get perhaps his toughest test of the season to date on Friday against an aggressive Washington defense that ranks sixth in 4A in sacks with 21.
“We’ve seen a lot of good defensive lines but they are one of the best that we have seen,” Flitz said. “Obviously, every team at this point in the season is going to have a very impressive defense so we just have to be ready and execute.”