Your Prep Sports
Only a few days remain in the 2023 prep football season.
State championship games are scheduled for Thursday and Friday at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls and the season will officially come to a close with the conclusion of the 5A title game Friday evening.
The season ended in the Your Prep Sports area last Saturday with Solon dropping a 3A semifinal contest to Williamsburg.
Before the dust settles on the season we take a look back at some of the best plays, performances, games and moments from the 2023 season as well as handing out some individual awards.
Best individual offensive performance: West High junior Jack Wallace against Cedar Rapids Prairie. Already a three-year starter Wallace has started 27 games in his prep career. The most recent game was the best for the West High quarterback as Wallace produced a career-best effort in a season-ending loss to the Hawks. Wallace completed 27-of-44 passes for a career-high 458 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 47 yards and a touchdown in 45-38 loss.
Best individual defensive performance: Liberty High senior Dantrell Skinner against Cedar Rapids Washington. Skinner had a lot of big games during a stellar prep career but was never more dominant than he was in a 60-10 win over the Warriors. The 6-0, 210-pound Skinner had three sacks and four tackles for loss among five tackles and recovered a fumble as Liberty High held Cedar Rapids Washington to 0 rushing yards on 32 carries.
Best individual overall performance: Clear Creek Amana senior Jackson Stevens against Oskaloosa. There weren’t many better all-around performances anywhere in the state this season than the effort Stevens had in a 28-21 win over Oskaloosa. Stevens rushed for 276 yards and three touchdowns and caught a 12-yard pass on offense. The 5-foot-10, 155-pound Stevens had a team-high nine tackles, an interception and a sack on defense and blocked a punt.
Best individual overall performance part 2: West High senior Santana Miller against Cedar Rapids Jefferson. Over the course of his career Miller earned a reputation as a big-time playmaker and the West High senior linebacker/running back was at his big-play best in a 44-0 win over Cedar Rapids Jefferson. Miller had a rushing touchdown and scored on a pair of two-point conversion runs. The 5-foot-11, 205-pound Miller blocked a punt that he recovered a returned 14 yards for a touchdown, returned an interception 84 yards for a touchdown and made 6.5 tackles,
Best play calls: Liberty High fourth down calls against City High. Cross-town rivals Liberty High and City High were locked in a 14-all tie late in the first half before a pair of fourth-down calls swung the momentum to the Lightning. Liberty High took a 21-14 halftime lead when Sutton Koller scored on a 5-yard touchdown run on a fourth-and-three play. On the opening drive of the second half the second half Liberty High converted another fourth-down play when Beckman connected with Dallas Miller for a 5-yard touchdown. The two touchdowns in a span of 2 minutes 45 seconds turned a tie game in a 14-point lead and sparked a 41-14 Liberty High win.
Best game plan: Solon against Mount Vernon. In two losses to Mount Vernon last season Solon totaled 217 rushing yards while averaging 2.7 yards per carry. Solon broke out a wildcat formation with sophomore Conlan Poynton taking direct snaps and rolled up 246 yards on the ground while averaging 6.3 yards per carry. Poynton rushed for 218 yards and three touchdowns in his first varsity action in a 3-20 Solon win in Mount Vernon.
Best individual offensive play: Grant Knipper against Clear Creek Amana. The 57-yard catch and run by Knipper was an impressive play. Knipper caught a pass near the sticks on third-and-four broke a tackle, avoided another defender while cutting to the sideline where he broke another tackle and raced to the Clipper 8-yard line to set up the only touchdown in a 7-3 Solon win. It was the timing of the play that earns this spot on the list. A Solon offense with a first-year quarterback scored seven points in a season-opening loss and needed a boost early against Clear Creek Amana and Knipper made an individual play that helped spark a 10-game Solon win streak.
Best individual defensive play: Logan Wright against Waterloo Columbus. What is better than a defensive lineman getting an interception? A defensive lineman returning an interception for a game-winning touchdowns. That is what Wright did against the Sailors when he picked off a pass and raced 39 yards for a touchdown with less than four minutes remaining to give West Branch a 30-23 win.
Best individual special teams play: Julian Manson against Liberty High. Trailing 21-14 at the half Manson returned the second half kickoff 87 yards for a touchdown to turn the momentum in the favor of the Trojans who went on to win the season opener 35-28.
Best team offensive performance: Regina against Mid-Prairie. Area teams had games with more yardage and more points this season but few teams can match the efficiency of Regina in its 51-19 week-two win over Mid-Prairie. Regina scored 51 points and racked up 529 total yards on 57 offensive snaps, averaging 9.3 yards per play against a Mid-Prairie team that reached the second round of the 2A playoffs.
Best team defensive performance: City High against Linn-Mar. Needing a win to keep its postseason hopes alive City High turned to their defense and the Little Hawk defenders delivered. City High limited a Linn-Mar team that reached the 5A playoffs to 108 total yards and just 2 yards per play in a 30-0 win. The Little Hawks forced eight punts, had an interception, 3.5 sacks and 10 tackles for loss and recorded a safety.
Best comeback: Solon against Benton Community. Solon didn’t overcome a giant deficit in its 16-13 win over the Bobcats but in a game where points were at a premium the late rally by the Spartans was impressive. Solon trailed 10-3 in the fourth quarter before putting together a nine-play, 80-yard touchdown drive that was capped by a 6-yard touchdown run by Eddie Johnson.
Best clutch performance: Bobby Bacon against Bettendorf. Facing a ranked opponent on the road and needing a win to secure a playoff spot Bacon came up with one of the best games by a quarterback in the state all season. The City High junior completed 18-of-21 passes for 336 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Little Hawks to a 42-21 win.
Best clutch performance part 2: Cale Seydel against Regina. The stats are solid. Seydel caught four passes for 58 yards and a touchdown, rushed for 17 yards, had 3.5 tackles and two interceptions. To be a clutch performance you have to make clutch plays and Seydel made the biggest plays of the game in crucial moments in a 21-17 West Branch win. Seydel had an interception in the end zone to stop a Regina drive. On the ensuing possession he caught two passes and had an 18-yard run that set up the game-winning touchdown. His second interception on the next Regina drive sealed the win.
Best game: Solon against West Delaware. What else would anyone expect between a couple of longtime conference rivals with a semifinal spot on the line than a wild, one-point game that came down the wire? Solon jumped to a 14-0 first-quarter lead and then rallied late for a 36-35 win over West Delaware stopping the Hawks twice in the final
Best halftime adjustment: West Branch against Pleasantville. After playing to a 7-7 tie in the opening 24 minutes of its Class 1A playoff opener West Branch made a halftime adjustment for the ages and outscored the Trojans 28-13 in the second half of a 35-20 win.
The Bears went to a heavy package with 220-pound Quin Rocha at fullback and senior Cale Seydel at quarterback and ran the ball on 35 of 36 second-half plays racking up 266 rushing yards in the second half while scoring on its first four drives before taking a knee at the 2-yard line to end the game.
Best finish to a game: Solon against Benton Community. Solon needed a pair of goal line stops to escape with a 16-13 win over the Bobcats in a game that came down to the final play. Solon stopped Benton Community tailback Carson Bruns just shy of the goal line on a fourth down play in double overtime to secure the win.
Best drive: West Branch against Regina. What proved to be the game-winning drive in a 21-17 win was perhaps the best drive of the season for West Branch given the circumstances. The 11-play, 80-yard march featured a 33-yard screen pass from Brennan Dale to Auron Marsh on a second-and-23 play and ended with a 1-yard QB sneak by Dale with 4:13 remaining.
Breakthrough offensive performer: Liberty High junior Sutton Koller. The versatile Koller burst onto the scene in his first season of full-time action accounting for 1,146 yards of total offense and 15 touchdowns. The 5-foot-11, 165-pound Koller rushed for 330 yards and seven touchdowns and caught 59 passes for a team-high 816 yards and eight touchdowns.
Breakthrough defensive performer: West High junior Declan Bunn. After getting his feet wet at the varsity level last season Bunn became a key player in the middle of the Trojan defense this season ranking second on the team in tackles. The 5-foot-10, 180-pound Bunn plays bigger than his size and racked up 55 tackles including 6.5 for loss and recovered a fumble in his first season as a starter.
Most improved offensive player: Regina senior Gentry Dumont. After a solid junior season last fall Dumont emerged as one of the most productive quarterbacks in the state this season as a senior. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound Dumont ranked in the top-20 in the state in passing yards (2,390), passing touchdowns (26) and completion percentage (64) and rushed for a career-high 168 yards and four touchdowns.
Most improved defensive player: City High senior Dax Judge. As a junior last season Judge made 6.5 tackles in part-time duty on the defensive line. This fall the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Judge was a disruptive force for City High ranking third on the team with 40 tackles and second with 12 tackles for loss from his defensive end spot while leading the Little Hawks with 6.5 sacks.
Most versatile: City High senior Drew Larson. It’s not just that Larson lined up all over the field or accumulated stats in a variety of categories is the fact that he excelled in every position he played. How many players are actually versatile enough to pass for 1,800 yards one season and start at safety the next? That’s what Larson did after breaking his thumb in week two and managed to recover a fumble, intercept two passes and catch eight passes for 76 yards and two touchdowns.
Most consistent: West Branch senior Max Lodge. West Branch had one of the best offensive lines in Class 1A the past several seasons and Lodge was a big reason for the success up front. A stalwart on the Bear line the 6-foot-1, 225-pound Lodge was a key component in helping West Branch rush for better than 170 yards per game this season.
Coach of the year: Lucas Stanton. Solon was one of the most improved teams in the state from week one to the final weeks of the season making Stanton an obvious choice for coach of the year. The Spartans rattled off 10 consecutive wins after a season-opening loss to Davenport Assumption to return to the Class 3A state semifinals for the second time in three seasons.
Offensive newcomer of the year: City High senior Miles Parlet. The hard-running Parlet provided a boost to the City High running game in his first season in the program rushing for 1,388 yards and 13 touchdowns. The 5-foot-9, 185-pound Parlet had 100-yard rushing games in five of the final seven games of the season after taking over as the full-time back and caught 18 passes for 168 yards and a touchdown.
Defensive newcomer of the year: West Branch sophomore Cooper Gates. In his first season at West Branch Gates made an immediate impact ranking fourth on the team in tackles while leading the team with four sacks. The 5-11, 185-pound Gates had 39 tackles including 10 for loss on a West Branch defense that allowed just 15.6 points per game.
Freshman of the year: Regina’s Tate Wallace. The 6-foot-1, 190-pound Wallace didn’t look much like a freshman and didn’t play anything like a first-year player this fall. A two-way starter, Wallace ranked second on the team in receptions and third in receiving yards catching 35 passes for 430 yards and three touchdowns and had 22.5 tackles, with a sack, 1.5 tackles for loss and an interception as a linebacker.
Biggest under the radar impact: Solon senior Brayden Moore. Playing alongside all-state teammate Brett White the past two seasons has likely taken some attention away from Moore who was one of the better linebackers in Class 3A this season. The 5-foot-9, 185-pound Moore ranked second behind White with 45 tackles including 8.5 for loss and a sack.
Comeback player of the year: City High senior Jake Mitchell. After a leg injury forced Mitchell to miss last season the senior made a major impact in his return to the field this fall leading the Little Hawks in tackles from his safety spot. The 5-foot-5, 135-pound Mitchell had four sacks and seven tackles for loss among his team-high 59 tackles and had an interception and scored two rushing touchdowns as a goal-line quarterback.
Comeback player of the year part 2: Solon senior Nash Kotar. A broken collarbone sidelined Kotar just a few games into his junior season but the Solon two-way standout made up for lost time making plays on both sides of the ball this fall. Kotar ranked second on the team with 24 receptions and 309 receiving yards with three touchdowns and was equally valuable on defense where he ranked sixth on the team with 30.5 tackles and had an interception from his defensive back spot.
Unsung hero: Clear Creek Amana junior lineman Vinnie Keller. The 6-foot, 270-pound Keller hasn’t garnered a lot of accolades but what junior lineman has done is play really good football over the past two seasons. This season Keller made his mark on defense ranking fifth on the team with 31.5 tackles with six tackles for loss from his defensive tackle spot.
Offensive MVP: Liberty High senior Graham Beckman. There aren’t many players in the state that have meant more to their team or been more productive than Beckman the past two seasons. The Liberty High signal caller followed up an incredible debut season last year with an equally impressive senior campaign in which he averaged 288 passing yards per game, ranked third in the state in total passing yards and accounted for 31 total touchdowns. Beckman completed 187-of-310 passes (60%) while throwing for 2,593 yards and 28 touchdowns and added 201 rushing yards and three touchdowns while helping the Lightning average 37.6 points per game.
Defensive MVP: Solon senior Brett White. Few players in the state have been better than finding the football over the past three seasons than White who led Solon in tackles for the third straight season this fall. After undergoing off-season shoulder surgery the 6-foot, 210-pound White set career highs in tackles (106), tackles for loss (25) and sacks (5) this fall while also recovering three fumbles.
Most Valuable Player: Regina senior Jackson Naeve. No player in the area was more involved in the success of his team this season than Naeve who rarely came off the field while helping Regina to a 9-2 record and a spot in the Class 1A quarterfinals. A starter at receiver and defensive back and a threat in the return game on special teams Naeve accounted for 1,193 yards of total offense and 23 touchdowns this season.
The 6-foot-1, 180-pound Naeve caught 41 passes for 848 yards and 11 touchdowns, rushed for 344 yards and eight touchdowns and threw a touchdown pass. Naeve returned two kickoffs and a punt for touchdowns, ranked sixth on the team with 30.5 tackles and led Regina with five interceptions.