DAVENPORT, Iowa − The message was simple for the Muscatine football team after escaping Brady Street Stadium with a one-point win Thursday night: Time to grow up.
“We’re not a good football team yet,” head coach Jake Mueller said. “I told them yet because I expect to be good, but we’re just not good right now. We’ve got to get better at the detailed things and get tougher.
“We’re a young team, but it’s time to grow up.”
Even so, Muscatine did just enough to beat Davenport West, 14-13.
Davenport West (1-2) returned the opening kick for a touchdown only to have it called back by an illegal block in the back. Still, the Falcons struck first and finished their opening drive with a one-yard touchdown run by Jacob Milem.
Milem, a senior, started at quarterback in place of Zachary Trevino, who took a hard hit in last week’s game. Mueller said the Muskies weren’t sure who would play at quarterback, but noted Milem added a new dimension to the game for the Falcons.
“They’re a completely different team in there with (Milem) rather than Trevino,” Mueller said. “There were some adjustments we had to make defensively and I felt like we did. It was tough to figure some of that out but I thought we did a nice job.”
Milem helped the Falcons control the ball for much of the first half, and he finished with 168 passing yards and 121 rushing yards.
With his team in need of a spark, sophomore Eli Gaye caught a screen pass from Carson Orr, made multiple defenders miss and broke multiple tackles on his way to a 59-yard gain.
“We needed a big play and coach (Mueller) was getting after us because we weren’t playing very well,” Gaye said. “It was a screen I was supposed to take outside but cut inside. There was a lot of good blocking down the field, a good throw by Carson and I made something happen.”
On the next play, Gaye was on the receiving end of a nine-yard touchdown pass from Orr with four minutes, 54 seconds remaining in the first quarter. Gaye finished with 13 receptions for 172 yards, while Orr completed 24 of 30 passes for 222 yards.
“We were screens a lot and they usually work. They (West) only had two defensive backs out there,” Gaye said. “When he (Orr) sees that he’s going to throw it because it’s wide open.”
The Muskies (3-0) still trailed 7-6 after a missed extra point, but a 15-play, 88-yard drive set up a 25-yard field goal by senior Carson Borde to give the Muskies a 9-7 lead heading into the locker room.
Midway through the third quarter, Orr booted a 32-yard punt to pin West inside its own five-yard line. Three plays later, the Falcons fumbled the punt out of the back of the endzone for a safety.
Armed with an 11-7 lead, Muscatine marched down the field and Borde converted another field goal – this one from 26 yards out – to extend its lead to 14-7 near the end of the quarter.
However, Milem hit Malik Westerfield for a 52-yard touchdown to start the fourth quarter. But, the Falcons missed the ensuing extra point after the Muskies were called for offsides on the first attempt.
It was a stalemate from there, although the Falcons did threaten deep in Muskie territory late in the game. With less than four minutes remaining and facing a fourth and inches on the Muskie 19, the Falcons ran a quarterback keeper, which had worked most of the night.
Only this time, Muscatine senior Dalton Sell stuffed Milem in the backfield.
“Dalton is a tough kid to block,” Mueller said. “He’s physical, he’s tough, and he’s very, very athletic.”
Although he struggled much of the night, sophomore Tim Nimely’s 14-yard run with under two minutes remaining sealed the win and capped off a game of 25 rushes for 97 yards. From there, the Muskies ended the game exactly how they hoped: In the victory formation.
But they know improvements have to be made.
“We got the win obviously, we were happy with that,” Gaye said. “But we’re not happy with the performance tonight. We know we’re a better team than this.”