Friday night’s contest between the Muscatine Muskies and Bettendorf Bulldogs wasn’t so much about catching the opponent by surprise as it was about executing what the other team knew was coming.
Both sides sport solid defenses and run-heavy, physical offenses. But it turned out to be special teams that swung things in favor of the Bulldogs.
The Muskies and Bulldogs were tied at seven after a half of play, but the second half saw Bettendorf take advantage of two blocked punts on consecutive Muskie drives. In the end, the Bulldogs came away a 21-7 winner in Muscatine.
Running back Ryan Cole led the way for the Bulldogs with 11 carries for 107 yards while scoring all three Bettendorf touchdowns.
Two came from 4 yards out, the other — his first — from two yards out.
But a 40-yard run to set up his first score proved to be the longest play from scrimmage of the night, as the Bulldog defense smothered the Muskies in the second half.
Muscatine couldn’t have asked for a better start to the game, however, as senior linebacker Reed Ulses wrestled the ball away from a Bettendorf receiver after the Bulldog made the catch and was running along the sideline.
While making the tackle, Ulses snagged the ball and took off 21 yards the other way for a Muskie score, giving the home team a 7-0 lead.
Bettendorf, however, found its answer and more over the last three quarters.
“We came out and started pretty fast,” Muscatine head coach D.J. Hawkins said. “We created some turnovers and got the field position. But special teams and field position are so important. And with it, the momentum swung. That swung in a hurry.
“One really big play (the Cole 40-yard run) in the first half and field position,” said Hawkins. “We came out flat in the second half and they took advantage.”
In the first half, the Muskies accumulated 104 rushing yards and 18 yards through the air to Bettendorf’s 106 yards on the ground and 24 passing.
Muscatine couldn’t get anything working in the second half, finishing with 141 total yards.
The two blocked punts, however, set the Bulldogs up deep in Muskie territory. The first, on the Muscatine 27, set up the final Cole touchdown.
Muscatine was able to escape the second block without surrendering points, but that came with just under two minutes left in the third and time was running out as the Muskies tried to make up the two-score difference.
Senior running back Tim Nimely played his most complete game of the season after battling injuries to this point.
Nimely led the Muskies on the ground with 52 yards on 12 carries. Senior Mentor Cooper was right behind with 49 yards on nine carries.
But coming into the game, the Muscatine offense had been carried by senior Eli Gaye, who took over at quarterback in Week 3.
The Bulldogs rendered Gaye mostly ineffective. He had 21 yards on 19 carries, his longest of the night going for 7 yards.
“I told them I still love them (after the game),” said Hawkins. “It wasn’t the outcome we wanted, but people make mistakes and we’re going to learn from it and have a great week of practice and take another shot at it next week.”
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