Prep Football

Iowa City West's offense highlighted by balanced and varied attack

Trojans brings Class 4A's sixth-ranked offense to state quarterfinal rematch with Bettendorf

Iowa City West's Marcus Morgan (20) throws a pass during the first quarter of their high school football game in the
Iowa City West's Marcus Morgan (20) throws a pass during the first quarter of their high school football game in the "Battle for the Boot" at Iowa City West High School in Iowa City on Friday, Oct. 19, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
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IOWA CITY — Iowa City West Coach Garrett Hartwig was a defensive coordinator before taking the reins of the Trojans’ football program.

One of his biggest headaches coaching that side of the ball was preparing for a diverse offensive attack. With the Trojans spreading the ball around to many players each game, Hartwig doesn’t mind forcing opposing coaches to pop a few aspirin during the week.

“I know the hardest thing to guard against is a balanced offensive,” Hartwig said. “I find myself on the offensive side of the ball, working with receivers, and I know we have talent in a lot of spots, too, so it’s a combination of difficulty to guard and also kids who can make plays in all spots.”

West has used its depth to power an offense that ranks sixth in Class 4A and averages 36 points per game. The fifth-ranked Trojans will attempt to avenge their only loss of the season, hosting No. 5 Bettendorf in a Class 4A state quarterfinal Friday night at Trojans Field.

Bettendorf won the first meeting, 10-7, at home in Week 2.

“We know it’s going to be a dogfight,” West’s sophomore quarterback Marcus Morgan said. “We know it’s going to be a battle. We have to match their intensity this time around, too.”

The Bulldogs (9-1) held West to its lowest point total of the season and were the only team to keep the Trojans under 20 points in a game.

West (9-1) has grown from that mistake-laden effort. Most notably, an offense that hands the ball around like an extreme game of hot potato.

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The Trojans have used more personnel than most teams in the state. No one in their district came close to the 16 different rushers with at least one carry or the 17 different receivers with at least one catch this season. West on average had about 11 players per game with the ball in their hands on offense.

Talk about a team-first mentality. Hartwig said he has benefited from unselfish players in the program.

“We’ve been able to win a few football games over the years,” said Hartwig, whose defense only allows 11 points per game. “It’s just the culture that we have where guys know their number could be called at any time but if it’s not I’ll get ready for the next play because it could come my way.”

West has the luxury of a deep talent pool, stemming from the summer work on skills and drills to get them ready to contribute. It wouldn’t be possible without a lot of athletic players.

“I’ll be the first to admit and confess we’ve had good players,” Hartwig said. “The credit goes to those boys and their work ethic. They work really hard. When you have a combination of work ethic and talent, like we’ve been able to put out on the field, good things will happen for the team across the board.”

West still manages more than 154 yards per game on the ground, even though Peter Breitbach is the leading rusher with 313 yards this season. Breitbach also has a team-high 84 carries, but six Trojans have rushed the ball at least 28 times.

The passing game has been more impressive, ranking third in 4A with 2,324 yards while using a platoon system between Morgan and senior Joey Kuehn for most of the season. Four Trojan have attempted passes this season.

Morgan ranks eighth in 4A with 1,629 passing yards, adding 268 yards as West’s leading rusher. He was the only one who threw a pass in the first-round 38-14 win over Cedar Rapids Kennedy, throwing for 266 yards and two TDs and hitting six different targets.

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“We have a lot of threats offensively, whether that’s running or passing,” Morgan said. “We have what I believe to be the best passing corps in the state and our running game is solid as well. It balances things out and gives us many ways of doing things on offense.”

Morgan has adjusted well to varsity, maintaining his calm demeanor and intense competitiveness, according to Hartwig. Kuehn, who has thrown for 616 yards, will likely continue to see action as well, depending on Bettendorf’s defensive schemes.

“A lot of times it’s more about what we do,” Hartwig said. “I’d like to think I’m the luckiest coach in the state with two starting quarterbacks. Both are very unselfish.”

Jalen Gaudet, a Division-I caliber receiver, ranks third in 4A with 892 yards on 32 catches. Justin Thomas is 15th with 584 yards, reeling in a team-best 36 catches. Tate Crane has added 25 catches for 317 yards.

Hartwig said he likes to think he has about six to seven go-to players, but Gaudet is a big-play threat. Even that isn’t possible without the other weapons.

“It depends on the defense we’re playing, too,” Hartwig said. “We try to take what’s given to us and put our guys in position to be successful. You’re always going to look for matchups.

“Jalen is an exceptional receiver in his case. He’s complemented by a few other guys around him. He’d be the first to say that.”

The skill players can’t produce without an offense line creating holes or providing pass protection. The big boys up front have progressed along with the season.

The trenches could play a huge role in determining the outcome.

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“It’s really key,” West senior lineman Marshall Blatz said. “I know Bettendorf takes a lot of pride in their defensive and offensive lines and we do, too. It will be a good battle in the trenches.”

The Trojans have earned two straight state runner-up finishes and are looking for their third straight trip to the UNI-Dome for the semifinals next Friday.

“Our first team goal was to win the district and now we’re moving on to bigger goals like playing in the Dome again,” Blatz said. “It’s kind of become a tradition at West High to play in the Dome, so we’re looking forward to carry on the tradition.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8679; kj.pilcher@thegazette.com

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