BETTENDORF — The scoreboard might not have reflected it, but Jake Mueller was convinced his Muscatine football team played its best game of the season to date Friday night.
Held to just nine points in its first two games, Muscatine moved the ball in the first half against a Pleasant Valley defense that pitched a shutout the week before against Iowa City High.
Muscatine, though, was hindered by five turnovers and couldn’t corral all of PV’s offensive weapons.
The Spartans scored seven touchdowns on their eight first-half possessions en route to a 63-6 homecoming win over the Muskies at Spartan Stadium.
“Even though the score didn’t show it this week or last week, I feel we’ve been better each week,” Mueller said. “We’ve got to show more consistency. We’ve got to take it further. It can’t be a quarter or a quarter and a half."
Muscatine (0-3) compiled 138 total yards and five first downs in the opening half. That was a stark improvement from the previous two weeks where it produced only three first downs before intermission.
In particular, the Muskies had some success with the short passing game.
“I thought Muscatine came out and played pretty hard initially,” PV coach Rusty VanWetzinga said. “They did a few different things offensively than what they’ve done the last couple of weeks.”
Receiver Gavyn Ashley, who didn’t play football a season ago, was a bright spot for the Muskies. He hauled in six receptions for 101 yards in the first half, including a 46-yard touchdown catch from Jackson Foulk.
It was Muscatine’s first touchdown in the opening half this season.
“Gavyn is a talented kid,” Mueller said. “He’s given us a little bit of a spark here. He’ll continue to get better and we’ll continue to incorporate him more into the offense as he gets more adjusted to what we’re trying to do.”
But for the success Muscatine had moving the ball, it was derailed by five interceptions, three in the opening half. PV (3-0) turned those into 21 points.
“There aren’t many teams good enough to win with multiple turnovers but for a team as inexperienced as us, we haven’t figured out how to battle back from adversity yet,” Mueller said. “I thought the early mistakes really drained us and took the wind out of our sails.”
The Spartans’ veer-option attack had the Muskies on their heels. PV accumulated 263 yards on the ground and 80 through the air in the first half.
Senior Arthur Braden, a three-year starter, had an 83-yard touchdown on his way to a 106-yard performance in just five carries. Backup quarterback Will Mask also rushed for a pair of scores.
The Spartans had seven different players score touchdowns and finished with 442 total yards (339 rushing).
Mueller wasn’t all that disappointed in how Muscatine defended PV’s offense.
“To be honest, I thought we did a good job,” he said. “They’ve got some good guys, talented kids that have better speed than we did on the edge.
“We just put ourselves in bad spots with some turnovers and special teams mistakes again.”
Muscatine returns home for the next two weeks. It faces North Scott for homecoming next Friday followed by the district opener against state-ranked Bettendorf.
Mueller just wants to see his team take another step.
“We knew this was going to take time and it is,” he said. “We’ll continue to work because we’ve got good kids and good coaches. We’ll continue to fight and get better.”