VAN METER — Friday night’s game between Class 1A second-ranked Mount Ayr and eighth-ranked Van Meter was one of just four matchups statewide pitting unbeatens against one another.
The Bulldogs came out of the matchup unscathed, as Mount Ayr was its own worst enemy in a 14-0 loss.
The Raiders drop to 5-1 for the season and 2-1 in Class 1A District 7, while Van Meter takes control of the district title race at 6-0 overall and 4-0 in district play. Ogden is also 2-1 in the district, while Pella Christian currently occupies the fourth spot at 1-1 in district play.
Mount Ayr co-head coach Delwyn Showalter said one of the keys for his team going into the game would be cutting down on its number of penalties, especially when going up against a tough opponent like Van Meter.
The Raiders did just that, committing just three penalties for 22 yards. But, the Raiders turned the ball over five times.
Both Van Meter touchdowns came off of Mount Ayr turnovers.
“That’s probably the beginning and the end of the story right there,” Showalter said. “I don’t know that we ever had a chance to really get going offensively, just because the turnovers never let us get on track.”
Mount Ayr’s initial drive started at its own 1-yard line, and the Raiders quickly moved the ball to the 42, before a false start turned second and four into second and nine, stalling the drive out.
The Raiders forced a Van Meter punt, and were driving down the field again early in the second quarter, when a Jacob Sobotka fumble was hopped on by Van Meter at midfield.
On the ninth play of the ensuing Bulldog drive, quarterback Brandon Brittain connected with Grant Hoppes for a 15-yard touchdown on third and 11, putting the Bulldogs up 7-0 with 4:42 left in the first half.
With :34 seconds left in the first half, junior Lincoln Martin fielded the punt deep in his own territory and returned the ball, but fumbled it at the 22-yard line, where Van Meter once again hopped on the ball.
After Mount Ayr was flagged for pass interference on the first play, Brittain found Logan Crawford for an 11-yard score with :11 left in the half, to make it 14-0.
“The one right before the half, I’m kicking myself for that one,” Showalter said. “I’m thinking, well it’s a slick ball and a wet field, and maybe the punter’s going to mishandle the snap, but the ball was just as slick for us, so we give it right back to them down there. If we don’t give them that one, then we’re coming down here at the end looking for the tying score, and who know what happens then.”
Showalter was referring to Mount Ayr’s best scoring chance on the final drive of the game, when the Raiders marched from their own 19-yard line down to the Van Meter 13-yard line before time ran out.
“Two scores up is always better than one score up,” Van Meter head coach Eric Trudo said. “We were trying to get that third one in the second half, but they’re a good football team. No doubt about it. Well-coached, great players. But that (touchdown) certainly made a huge difference that we were able to capitalize on that turnover.”
This year’s game was almost a mirror-image of last year’s game, in that Brittain finished with the exact same number of passing yards (136) and nearly the same number of rushing yards with 51, compared to 54 last year.
The difference this time around was that it was Mount Ayr turning the ball over five times, whereas Van Meter committed five turnovers last year.
The Raiders also racked up 352 rushing yards in the 25-13 win last year, but managed just 77 rushing yards Friday — the team’s fewest in a game since picking up just 61 yards against Council Bluffs St. Albert last year in the state quarterfinals.
Sobotka finished the game 20-of-31 passing for 156 yards with two interceptions. Kyle Dolecheck caught eight passes for 63 yards, while Erik Freed added six for 38 yards and Lincoln Martin caught five passes for 52 yards.
Freed led the team in rushing with nine carries for 46 yards. Cody Stackhouse ran the ball four times for 22 yards. Sobotka was held to just eight rushing yards on nine carries.
On the other hand, Van Meter finished with just 90 rushing yards last year, but picked up 134 rushing yards on Friday, led by Cody Blackwell’s 73 yards.
“They’re a good offense. It’s certainly the best offense we’ve gone against this year,” Showalter said. “I think at the beginning of the game, we were probably overly concerned with their quarterback’s ability to run the ball and we weren’t quite getting enough of a pass rush on him. I thought in the middle of the second quarter, we got a little better at getting pressure, and then I thought we did a much better job after that.”
Mount Ayr now sets its sights on a rivalry game at Central Decatur on Friday, in a game of great importance for Central Decatur’s playoff hopes.
“We’ve said every week our opponent is ourselves, and we need to make sure we are getting better,” Showalter said. “I don’t know that we got better this week. Regardless of what the scoreboard said, we didn’t accomplish what we needed to do, so we need to make sure we learned from what happened tonight.
“We’ve got a tough one, a rivalry game coming up next week with Central Decatur,” he continued. “And our focus has got to be on that.”
Van Meter 14, Mount Ayr 0
MA 0 0 0 0 - 0
VM 0 14 0 0 - 14
VM — Grant Hoppes 15 pass from Brandon Brittain (Bryce Godwin kick), 4:42
VM — Logan Crawford 11 pass from Brittain (Godwin kick), :11
Rushing: MA - Erik Freed 9-44, Cody Stackhouse 4-22, Jacob Sobotka 9-8, Grant Staats 3-3, Riley Weehler 1-2. VM - Cody Blackwell 16-73, Brandon Brittain 19-54, Grant Gordon 1-7.
Passing: MA - Jacob Sobotka 20-31-2 for 156 yards. VM - Brandon Brittain 12-19-1 for 136 yards.
Receiving: MA - Kyle Dolecheck 8-63, Erik Freed 6-38, Lincoln Martin 5-52, Cody Stackhouse 1-3. VM - Logan Crawford 4-51, Cody Blackwell 2-21, Grant Hoppes 2-23, Jake Koch 2-7, Ben Flaherty 1-38.
Tackles (solo-assists): MA - Riley Weehler (6-4), Cody Stackhouse (2-8), Mason Mercer (1-8), Caleb Schnoor (1-6), Jacob Taylor (5-1), Jacob Sobotka (2-3), Tucker Winemiller (2-3), Joe Ricker (1-4), Kyle Dolecheck (2-2), Jed McCreary (1-3), Lincoln Martin (1-1), Jake Ricker (1-1).
Interceptions: MA - Jacob Sobotka 1.