Prep Football

Iowa high school football 2019: The Gazette's area district predictions

Iowa City West football player Grant Henderson hauls in a pass during practice at West High School in Iowa City on Thursday, Aug. 15, 2019. (David Harmantas/Freelance)
Iowa City West football player Grant Henderson hauls in a pass during practice at West High School in Iowa City on Thursday, Aug. 15, 2019. (David Harmantas/Freelance)
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The first year of determining the Iowa high school football postseason field by RPIs brought mixed feelings, and a measure of confusion. Year 2 is upon us. The Gazette’s Jeff Linder projects area district races.

Projected playoff teams are denoted by an asterisk.

Class 4A District 3

Cedar Falls (12-1 in 2018) came within a touchdown of dethroning West Des Moines Dowling for the 4A state championship last season. Quarterback Cael Loecher (2,008 passing yards, 29 touchdowns) leads the Tigers’ attack, while Collin Bohnenkamp and Alex Paxson highlight a defense that allowed 8.2 points per game. Despite the graduation of Keegan Simmons (3,847 rushing yards the past two seasons), Cedar Rapids Prairie (7-3) is the Tigers’ most legitimate challenger. Cedar Rapids Jefferson might be primed for a climb after going 1-8 in Chris Buesing’s rookie season as head coach.

Projections

1. *Cedar Falls

2. *Cedar Rapids Prairie

3. Cedar Rapids Jefferson

4. Dubuque Senior

5. Dubuque Hempstead

6. Waterloo West

Class 4A District 4

Iowa City West (9-2) has won 14 straight district games in a streak that dates back to 2016, and the Trojans are the pick to run the table again this fall behind junior quarterback Marcus Morgan (1,875 passing yards, 376 rushing yards, 17 total TDs). The most likely challenger? First presumption would be Pleasant Valley (5-5), but the Spartans took some graduation hits. That could open the door for somebody like Muscatine (5-4), Davenport North (5-4) or maybe Linn-Mar (3-6). With the return of quarterback Marcus Orr and a solid crop of receivers, the Lions could make some noise in the air.

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Projections

1. *Iowa City West

2. *Muscatine

3. *Davenport North

4. Linn-Mar

5. Pleasant Valley

6. Iowa City High

Class 4A District 5

There’s a pretty good chance that the champion will be determined in Week 7, when Bettendorf (10-2) visits Cedar Rapids Kennedy (6-4) at Kingston Stadium. This figures to be Kennedy’s best team since its 2015 squad reached the state finals. Bettendorf reached the semifinals last year before losing a four-overtime heartbreaker to West Des Moines Dowling. The Bulldogs will be bolstered by the transfer of RB Harrison Bey-Buie, who rushed for 1,386 yards and 22 TDs last year at Moline (Ill.). Kennedy counters with Cairron Hendred (1,233 rushing yards) in the backfield, plus LB Cade Parker, who has collected 214.5 tackles in the past two seasons.

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Projections

1. *Cedar Rapids Kennedy

2. *Bettendorf

3. Davenport Central

4. Cedar Rapids Washington

5. Davenport West

6. Burlington

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Class 3A District 3

Independence (6-3) was one of the area’s biggest surprises through the majority of last season, but dropped its last two games to narrowly miss the playoffs. The progress should continue this fall, and it might be enough to translate into a district title. Senior quarterback Logan Schmitt passed for 1,414 yards, ran for 902 and accounted for 31 touchdowns. Even better, the Mustangs return all of their top six tacklers from 2018. Top to bottom, this should be one of the state’s best 3A districts. Waverly-Shell Rock (8-2), Decorah (8-3) and West Delaware (5-4) are established programs, and Charles City (4-5) and Waterloo East (0-9) should be vastly improved.

Projections

1. *Independence

2. *Waverly-Shell Rock

3. Decorah

4. West Delaware

5. Charles City

6. Waterloo East

Class 3A District 4

The two-time defending 3A state champion, Cedar Rapids Xavier (13-0) owns a 26-game winning streak. That includes a pair of wins last season over Western Dubuque (10-3),with the Saints prevailing 34-20 in the state championship game. The roles are reversed this fall, with Western Dubuque the favorite in this district, and maybe in 3A as a whole. QB Calvin Harris passed for 2,280 yards and 27 touchdowns, the entire backfield returns, and Will Burds and Jake Hosch lead the defense. Xavier won’t go away quietly; the Saints possess a pair of Iowa recruits in OL Josh Volk and LB Ethan Hurkett. Look for Maquoketa (1-8) to make a big stride forward and join Marion (4-5) and Center Point-Urbana (5-4) as playoff hopefuls.

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Projections

1. *Western Dubuque

2. *Cedar Rapids Xavier

3. Marion

4. Maquoketa

5. Center Point-Urbana

6. Dubuque Wahlert

Class 3A District 5

North Scott (9-2) won all five of its district games last season by four touchdowns or more, and the Lancers are the favorites again, though the gap figures to close dramatically. Clear Creek Amana (8-2) returns three of its top tacklers — led by J.J. Denny — from a unit that held six opponents to seven points or less. The big leap will come from Iowa City Liberty (3-6) which is virtually intact from last season. And you can’t count out Davenport Assumption (4-5) or DeWitt Central (5-4). Don’t be surprised if three playoff teams come from this district.

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Projections

1. *North Scott

2. *Clear Creek Amana

3. *Iowa City Liberty

4. Davenport Assumption

5. DeWitt Central

6. Clinton

Class 3A District 6

An unbeaten regular season ended quickly in the postseason (a first-round loss to Western Dubuque), but Solon (9-1) enters the season with a 21-game district win streak, and the dominance should continue this fall. Prepare to hear the phrase “Miller to Coons” by PA announcers throughout the area; Cam Miller passed for 1,627 yards and 26 touchdowns, including 48 catches, 815 yards and 12 TDs by Coons. If anybody is going to challenge the Spartans, it might be Washington (6-3), which possesses its own strong signal-caller in Luke Turner (16 touchdowns passing, 10 rushing).

Projections

1. *Solon

2. Washington

3. Mount Pleasant

4. Keokuk

5. Fort Madison

6. Fairfield

Class 3A District 7

Projections

1. *Pella

2. Oskaloosa

3. Newton

4. Knoxville

5. Grinnell

6. South Tama

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Class 2A District 4

My preseason 2A top-10 ballot is slanted to the northeast at the top, and two of my top four are from this district. Defending district champion Waukon (10-2) has ambitions for bigger things after reaching the semifinals last year; the Indians bring back their quarterback (Creed Welch) and their top running back (Dawson Baures). Waterloo Columbus (7-2) narrowly missed the postseason in 2018, but the Sailors figure to be a force behind a defense that returns nine of its top 11 tacklers. After racking up 93 wins in 11 years at North Fayette Valley (3-6), Bob Lape has moved on to Oelwein (3-6), and will try to get the Huskies’ program back off the ground.

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Projections

1. *Waukon

2. *Waterloo Columbus

3. North Fayette Valley

4. Monticello

5. Anamosa

6. Oelwein

Class 2A District 5

Last season was a dream season for West Liberty (8-4), which shook off a 1-3 start, won a district title and advanced to the state semifinals. The pivotal game in this district comes in Week 5, when the Comets travel to Mount Vernon (5-4), which is coming off a rare postseason absence. West Liberty returns a good crop of receivers in Lake Newton, Talen Dengler and two-way star Will Esmoil. Mount Vernon counters with its passing tandem of Brady Ketchum and Zach Baker. Louisa-Muscatine (3-6), Tipton (6-3) and Camanche (4-5) are not to be taken lightly.

Projections

1. *West Liberty

2. *Mount Vernon

3. Louisa-Muscatine

4. Tipton

5. Camanche

6. West Burlington-Notre Dame

Class 2A District 6

After recovering from an 0-3 start to win a district title and reach the 2A quarterfinals, Williamsburg (7-4) moves on without the graduated Gage Hazen-Fabor, who racked up 5,616 rushing yards and 65 touchdowns in the past three seasons. Still, the Raiders remain the team to beat in this district; Eddyville EBF (5-4) was the only other team to finish above .500. Williamsburg will try to get the ball to Kaden Wetjen as much as possible; he finished with 39 catches, 758 yards and 10 touchdowns. Albia (4-5) probably is the next best team in the district.

Projections

1. *Williamsburg

2. Albia

3. Mid-Prairie

4. Central Lee

5. Eddyville EBF

6. Davis County

Class 2A District 7

This race ended in a three-way tie (Benton Community, West Marshall and Union Community all finished 4-1) and it could be crowded at the top again. Benton (9-2) ranks as a slight favorite behind quarterback Clay Krousie, who passed for 1,744 yards and rushed for 260, with a total of 21 touchdowns. The Bobcats reached the second round of the playoffs. West Marshall (7-3) and Union (6-4) should be in the hunt again as well, and we’re also including Vinton-Shellsburg as a dark-horse contender despite last year’s 0-9 mark. Judging by scores alone, the Vikings got better as last season progressed, and many of their key figures return.

Projections

1. *Benton Community

2. West Marshall

3. Vinton-Shellsburg

4. Union Community

5. Nevada

6. Roland-Story

Class 1A District 4

Few programs churn out consistent winners as well as West Branch, and Coach Butch Pedersen’s landmark 300th career win last season is testament to that. A lot of good pieces return from last year’s quarterfinal team, including Tanner Lukavsky (1,309 rushing yards, 358 receiving yards, 21 combined touchdowns). Lukavsky also is a member of a defensive unit that returns seven of its top eight tacklers. Bellevue (10-1) is the reigning district champion, but has far more holes to fill than the Bears. The Comets figure to battle Cascade (5-4) for the second spot and a possible playoff berth.

Projections

1. *West Branch

2. Bellevue

3. Cascade

4. Dyersville Beckman

5. North Cedar

6. Northeast

Class 1A District 5

Projections

1. *Mediapolis

2. *Sigourney-Keota

3. Wapello

4. Wilton

5. Columbus Community

6. Van Buren

Class 1A District 6

Dominant on both sides of the ball last season, Dike-New Hartford (12-1) reached the 1A state final. The Wolverines return as lot of star power, and rate as a solid favorite to retain their district title and perhaps make another UNI-Dome run. Quarterback Drew Sonnenberg, running back Cade Bennett and speedster Parker Kiewiet are the top weapons. Last year’s playoffs went on without Iowa City Regina (5-4) for the first time since 2003, and the Regals will be challenged to return despite the presence of QB Ashton Cook and WR Alec Wick. South Hardin (3-6) returns a good share of its top players and could surprise.

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Projections

1. *Dike-New Hartford

2. South Hardin

3. Iowa City Regina

4. North Linn

5. Jesup

6. East Marshall

Class A District 4

Projections

1. *Saint Ansgar

2. South Winneshiek

3. Mason City Newman

4. Central Springs

5. Postville

6. Nashua-Plainfield

7. Starmont

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Class A District 5

All signs point toward a pivotal Week 7 game at Edgewood. Defending district champion Edgewood-Colesburg (12-1) enjoyed a spectacular 2018 that ended in the state semifinals. The Vikings graduated a lot of their skill personnel, and will rely on a defense that held seven opponents to one score or less. That group includes Max Bahls (68.5 tackles, 3 fumble recoveries) and Parker Rochford (48.5 tackles, 4 interceptions). Alburnett (5-4) played a lot of close games last season; seven were decided by two touchdowns or less. If the Pirates can get those swing games in their favor behind quarterback Hunter Caves, a playoff berth awaits.

Projections

1. *Edgewood-Colesburg

2. *Alburnett

3. Maquoketa Valley

4. Lisbon

5. MFL MarMac

6. Clayton Ridge

Class A District 6

Belle Plaine rolls past Lynnville-Sully in Week 0 with 0 passing yards

Projections

1. *Durant

2. Belle Plaine

3. Pekin

4. BGM

5. Highland

6. Cardinal

Class A District 7

Projections

1. *Hudson

2. *North Tama

3. *Wapsie Valley

4. *Grundy Center

5. East Buchanan

6. Conrad BCLUW

7. Garwin GMG

8-Player District 3

The 8-player game is offense-driven, and Turkey Valley (8-2) has the horses to score a lot. The Trojans piled up 50.4 points per contest last season, scoring 38 or more every time out. Key returning weapons include RBs Ethan Leibold and Dylan Elsbernd. Shore up the defense just a little, and a special season could be in store in Jackson Junction. Central City (8-2) made a breakthrough in sharing the district title with Turkey Valley and Midland (9-2). Springville (5-5) might be the team poised to take a big leap this fall; Kyle Koppes passed for 30 touchdowns last season.

Springville hunting for playoff spot with experienced senior class

Projections

1. *Turkey Valley

2. Springville

3. Easton Valley

4. Central City

5. Midland

6. Lansing Kee

7. Elkader Central

8. West Central

8-Player District 4

Along with District 1 in northwest Iowa, this cast of teams might be the deepest in the state. New London is the reigning state champion, winning the title in its first season in the 8-player game. The Tigers (12-1) split two games with Iowa Valley (10-1), claiming the postseason encounter, 56-20. Both teams will be solid again, but it doesn’t stop there. HLV (7-2) narrowly missed the playoffs last year, and Lone Tree (4-5) comes into the season with some momentum, winning its last three games. It’s possible that four of the top 16 teams hail from this district, but it will be tough for all four to reach the postseason.

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Projections

1. *New London

2. *Iowa Valley

3. *HLV

4. Lone Tree

5. Winfield-Mount Union

6. WACO

7. Montezuma

8. English Valleys

9. Tri-County

8-Player District 5

Projections

1. *Ackley AGWSR

2. Gladbrook-Reinbeck

3. Collins-Maxwell

4. Colo-Nesco

5. Melcher-Dallas

6. Twin Cedars

7. Baxter

8. Meskwaki

l Comments: (319) 368-8857; jeff.linder@thegazette.com

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Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.