The previous four matchups between Muscatine and Iowa City High have been decided by an average of 5.3 points per game, with City High winning three of those.
As a result, coach Jake Mueller knew the tougher team would likely be on the right side of Friday's crucial district matchup.
When it was all said and done, in Mueller's estimation, Muscatine was the tougher team Friday night, which was a big reason it was able to overcome seven fumbles, five of which it lost, and having a punt blocked to pull out a 21-16 win over Iowa City High.
“I was just extremely proud of them,” Mueller said of his players. “The defense played unbelievable, just unbelievable. Our team stayed the course when things weren’t going our way. We didn’t fold our tent, we just kept battling.”
As Mueller alluded to, the Muskie defense unquestionably played their best game of the season.
The Little Hawks had scored more than 25 points in four of their first six games and averaged 339.2 yards per game for the season.
The Muskies (2-6, 2-1) held them to 139 yards of total offense and limited Zach Jones, who led Class 4A in receiving yards (846) before Friday, to five receptions for 63 yards.
City High’s two scoring drives started on the Muscatine 1-yard line off a blocked punt and the Muscatine 10 off a fumble by senior Jackson Foulk.
“They didn’t put any drives together,” Mueller said. “We made some mistakes offensively to put them in good field position and our defense answered the call. Time and time again, they answered the call.”
After Foulk scored the eventual game-winning touchdown on a 17-yard rushing touchdown with 3:44 remaining in the game, the defense stepped up one last time and stopped City High to seal Muscatine's second consecutive win.
Certainly, it wasn’t always pretty, especially when the pouring rain turned the Muscatine playing field into somewhat of a mud pit in the second half.
But with the rain still bearable in the first half, it was all Muscatine. A pair of Foulk rushing touchdowns gave the Muskies a 13-0 lead they took into halftime.
Each touchdown was set up by Timothy Nimely, whose 107 rushing yards against Iowa City High was more than his previous total for the season (92).
The freshman set up a 5-yard touchdown run by Foulk with a 14-yard run on the previous play, and he did the same on the next drive with a 19-yard run on the play before Foulk punched in a 2-yard score.
“For a freshman to come in and play like that says a lot about his character, his demeanor, and they type of football player he is,” Mueller said. “We just needed to grind it out and be tough. Those guys got it done.”
With a 13-0 lead at halftime, it didn’t look like Mueller’s prediction of a close game would come true, but things changed quickly in the second half when Foulk had a punt blocked and City High recovered on the Muscatine one-yard line.
City High’s Bryce Hunger punched it in on the next play, and a few minutes later he threw a 27-yard touchdown to Malik Kimber after a fumble by Foulk to give City High its first lead, 16-13, with 4:49 remaining in the third quarter.
The Muskie offense continued to stall for the next quarter, but with their backs against the wall, mud all over the field and rain pouring from the clouds above, they responded with a winning drive.
“What a drive by those guys,” Mueller said. “Everybody in the stadium knew we were going to run the ball. The passing game was kind of out of the deal.”
The drive started with a three rushes for 27 yards for Nimley, and most of the yards came after contact with him moving a pile.
A few plays later, Foulk put the Muskies ahead for good when he scampered up the middle for his third rushing touchdown on a 17-yard run.
Two weeks ago Mueller said his team needed to win its last four games to have a good shot at the playoffs.
Now Muscatine sits at 2-1 in Class 4A District 7 and controls its playoff destiny with games at Davenport Central and at home against Clinton to close out the regular season.
Muscatine 21, Iowa City High 16
Mus -- Jackson Foulk 5 run (Kobe Vasquez kick), 2:51
Mus -- Foulk 2 run (Kick failed), 11:11
ICH -- Bryce Hunger 1 run (run succeeded), 10:24
ICH -- Malik Kimber 27 pass from Hunger (pass succeeded), 4:49
Mus -- Foulk 17 run (conversion good), 3:44
Muscatine -- Timothy Nimely 15-107, Jackson Foulk 15-36, Gavyn Ashley 4-2, Carson Orr 3-20
City High -- Bryce Hunger 12-16, Zach Jones 1-10, Davonte Foster 8-7
Muscatine -- Orr 8-14-0, 52
City High -- 12-25-0, 106
Muscatine -- Gavyn Ashley 4-33, Foulk 2-10, Nimely 1-8, Kobe Vasquez 1-1
City High -- Jones 5-63, Malik Kimber 5-42, Michael Shoemaker 1-1