After giving up a couple of big plays in the first half that surrendered the lead going into halftime, the Muscatine football team's defense buckled down and the offense did just enough to deliver the Muskies a resilient 21-14 victory over Davenport Central on Friday night in Muscatine.
Central scored from 30 and 40 yards out in the first half and took a 14-7 lead into the break.
But Muscatine flipped the script in the second half, and seniors Eli Gaye and Tim Nimely ripped off several big plays in the final period to rally the Muskies.
In the first half, the Muskie offense was bottled up for the most part, especially early.
But in the fourth, Gaye and Nimely combined for four runs that went for 20 or more yards each.
Both Gaye and Nimely had fourth-quarter touchdowns as well. Nimely’s came from 2-yards out after Gaye, the Muskie quarterback, set it up with a 13-yard run to get it down to the Central four. A Blue Devil penalty moved the ball halfway to the goal line and Nimely scored to make it 14-all with 9:01 left.
After Gaye’s 10-yard scoring run gave Muscatine a 21-14 lead with 2:05 left, Central put itself in position to score and potentially extend the game, but senior cornerback David Dalbey intercepted a Nate Hummel pass in the end zone.
“Coach told me I needed to start playing the ball more than the (receiver),” Dalbey said. “I saw (Hummel) bring his shoulder back and I knew he was going to throw deep, so I got on my man, read the ball and got the interception.”
After that, all the Muskies (3-4) needed was to take a knee on two snaps to run out the clock.
Gaye’s score to put Muscatine ahead was his second of the night, the first came with 8:03 left in the second quarter. It was from 13-yards out and pulled the Muskies to within seven at 14-7 after Central’s Hummel and running back Dane Howard had scored for the Blue Devils.
“At halftime, we talked about putting the pedal to metal and coming out fast,” said Dalbey. “We love this game … We came together and won the game.”
The Muskie quarterback ended with 135 yards rushing to go with the two scores while Nimely also ended around 100 yards, which put the running back over 2,700 yards for his career at MHS.
It was Nimely’s most complete game of an injury-riddled season.
“We knew we had to play our best football in the second half,” Gaye said, “and that’s what we did … That’s definitely a confidence-builder, especially going into the playoffs. We’re a way better team with Tim back there.”
Muscatine’s defense held, too, but allowed a couple big plays in the opening half that were responsible for Central’s first-half lead.
But Central didn’t help its own cause, with several very costly penalties in the latter part of the game after a relatively clean first half by both sides.
The Blue Devils (1-6) committed nine penalties that gave up over 70 yards of field position. Two holding calls especially haunted Central. Between the two flags, Central went from a second-and-seven to third-and-27 situation with the game in the balance.
That led to a punt, which set up the Gaye touchdown to give Muscatine its first lead of the game with just over a minute to go.
The first big play came when Muscatine was unable to contain the outside and Hummel went 30 yards for a score at the 6:24 mark in the first quarter.
Then, on the first play of the second, senior running back Dane Howard found paydirt around the left end from 40 yards out to put Central up 14-0.
Muscatine, however, was able to take advantage of good field position after the Howard touchdown run. The Muskies took over after the Blue Devils tried a pop-up style kick, allowing the Muskies to start at midfield.
That drive spanned nine plays and three first downs before senior Eli Gaye would cap it off with a 13-yard touchdown run with 8:03 left in the second quarter to narrow the Central lead to 14-7.