West High senior Oliver Martin runs against Washington in the 4A semifinals. Jeff Yoder/For Your Prep Sports. By Ryan Murken
Your Prep Sports
West High made its first trip to the UNI-Dome since 2002 a successful one with a 35-7 win over Cedar Rapids Washington in the Class 4A semifinals last Friday.
The Trojans will try to make their return to the state title game even more memorable.
West High (10-2) will face three-time defending 4A champion West Des Moines Dowling (11-1) in the state championship game on Friday at 7:06 p.m. at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls.
Dowling and West High have some championship history with two of the three state titles for West High coming with wins over Dowling.
West High defeated Dowling 42-0 in the 1995 title game and downed the Maroons 38-10 to win the 1998 championship.
On Friday, West High will attempt to end a 16-year title drought by unseating Dowling as the king of Class 4A.
Here are five things to watch that could determine who reigns supreme in 4A.
West High got off to a bit of a rocky start in its return to the UNI-Dome last week.
In its first trip to the Dome since 2002 West High fumbled on its opening two possessions and trailed Cedar Rapids Washington 7-0 after the first quarter.
West High closed the game with 35 unanswered points against the Warriors but can ill afford a similar slow start on Friday against the three-time defending champs.
Dowling jumped to a 13-0 lead in its semifinal win over Ankeny Centennial and has outscored opponents 41-13 in the past three title games.
“We just have to match them in what they do and punch them right in the mouth right off the bat,” West High senior offensive lineman Alex Kleinow said. “Then try to keep doing that for four quarters.”
West High makes a play against Washington. Jeff Yoder/For Your Prep Sports.
Doing What They Do
It isn’t tough to figure out the offensive plan for Dowling. The Maroons want to run the football.
The tough part is actually stopping it.
Dowling has run the ball on 80 percent of its offensive plays this season, attempting just 128 passes.
Only six teams in 4A averaged less pass attempts per game than the 10.7 throws the Maroons have attempted this season.
That hasn’t stopped Dowling from again being among the most effect offenses in the state.
Dowling is averaging 291 rush yards per game and is picking up 7 yards per carry on the season.
Dowling has rushed for at least 220 yards in nine straight games and has gone over 350 yards five times during that span.
“They are big up front and they are going to do what they do and they are going to do it all day,” West High senior defensive tackle Blake Ealy said. “It’s easy to figure it out you just have to be able to stop it.”
Perhaps the biggest improvement for West High this season has been its ability to stop the run.
West High is allowing 161 rush yards per game and is coming off a performance in which it limited Cedar Rapids Washington to 90 yards on the ground, its third straight playoff game holding an opponent under 165 yards rushing.
Prior to the season recruiting sites and scouting services declared Oliver Martin the top player in the state.
Over the last 12 weeks the West High senior receiver has backed up those rankings leading Class 4A in receptions (83), receiving yards (1,245) and touchdown catches (14).
Martin has been at his best when West High has needed him most with 24 catches for 338 yards and four touchdowns in the postseason.
He has a touchdown catch in every game during West High’s current seven-game winning streak and is coming off an eight-catch, 117-yard, two-touchdown performance against Cedar Rapids Washington in the semifinals.
Martin will likely need another big game against a Dowling defense that allows less than 11 points per game.
The one constant for Dowling during its three-year reign atop Class 4A has been a dominant defense and no spot has been more dominant for Dowling than the defensive line.
That has trend has continued this season with Dowling ranking second in Class 4A with 29 sacks.
The defensive end combo of John Waggoner (6-5, 230) and Atlias Bell (6-3, 260) has combined for 14 of the Maroon’s 29 quarterback takedowns with Waggoner logged a team-high eight.
Keeping junior quarterback Evan Flitz clean in the pocket will be a top priority against the Dowling pass rush that is coming off a seven-sack performance in a 41-17 semifinal win over Ankeny Centennial.
West High has done a good job protecting Flitz during the playoffs allowing four sacks in three playoff wins.
“They are a little bigger up front so we are going to have to change our scheme a little but not too much,” Flitz said. “Our offensive line is really confident in what they are doing and I have all the confidence in those guys.”
Flitz has gotten the protection, he has one of the state’s all-time best receivers at his disposal and over the last three weeks the junior has performed like one of the best quarterbacks in the state.
West High will need its junior gun slinger to come up with a fourth straight stellar postseason performance on Friday.
Flitz is averaging 268 yards through the air and has 10 touchdown passes in three playoff wins but it has been his efficiency that has been the biggest key.
The 6-foot, 175-pound junior is completing 74 percent of his passes and has just one interception in postseason play.
It is hard to find any weakness in the Dowling defense but if the Maroons have one it may be defending the pass.
Dowling has allowed 12 touchdowns through the air this season and given up more than 200 yards passing four times after Ankeny Centennial threw for 224 yards in the semifinals.