Prep Football

Iowa high school football 2020 offseason rankings: Class 3A

A much different look at the top from last year: Pella is a unanimous No. 1

Cedar Rapids Xavier's Jack Lux (36) carries against Western Dubuque last season. Lux returns for the Saints, who are ran
Cedar Rapids Xavier's Jack Lux (36) carries against Western Dubuque last season. Lux returns for the Saints, who are ranked No. 4 in the offseason Gazette/KGYM Class 3A football poll. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

With most of last year’s top Class 3A contenders facing roster overhaul due to graduation, it took a little digging to locate a new favorite.

As it turned out, we all excavated the same gem.

Pella.

After reaching the 3A quarterfinals last year, the Dutch (8-3) are a unanimous No. 1 in the Gazette/KGYM offseason football poll. Unlike many of its contending contemporaries, Pella’s roster returns fairly intact.

It won’t take long for that No. 1 ranking to be put to the test, though. Pella travels to No. 2 Dallas Center-Grimes in its season opener, Aug. 28.

Grinnell is ranked No. 3, followed by Cedar Rapids Xavier and Lewis Central. Last year’s champion, Western Dubuque is No. 8.

This is the fifth of a six-part series previewing the 2020 football season. The panel consists of six voters: Jeff Johnson, K.J. Pilcher, Jeff Linder and Nathan Ford from The Gazette, Andy Krutsinger of the Southeast Iowa Union and Scott Unash of KGYM Radio.

Gazette/KGYM Iowa high school football 2020 rankings

8-Player offseason rankings

Class A offseason rankings

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Class 1A offseason rankings

Class 2A offseason rankings

Following is the Class 3A poll. Later Friday: Class 4A.

1.

Pella

2019: 8-3, 3A quarterfinalist

60 poll points (6 first-place votes)

The Dutch captured three consecutive 3A championships from 2014 through 2016, and appear poised to return to the top. Quarterback Ryan Mace returns for his senior season after passing for 1,735 yards and 19 touchdowns last year, and Aaron Downs (841 yards, 14 TDs) spearheads the ground attack. The top six tacklers — including Kody Huisman (16 tackles for loss) — all return for a defense that surrendered just 14.7 points per game.

2.

Dallas Center-Grimes

2019: 9-2, 3A quarterfinalist

43 poll points

When Dallas Center-Grimes is involved, expect a low-scoring clash. The Mustangs scored 19.5 points per game last season and allowed 10.5. The offense should pack more of a punch this fall behind QB Ty Walker (1,145 passing yards, 14 TDs) and RB Zach Brand (792 rushing yards). DCG has more holes to fill on defense, but brings back leading tackler Blake Willey, who made 87.5 stops, 12 for loss.

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3.

Grinnell

2019: 6-3

35 poll points

Remember former Iowa City West coach Brian Sauser? He’s at Grinnell now, and has the Tigers on the rise. His son, Dallas Sauser, started at quarterback last year as a freshman and passed for 1,748 yards and 15 touchdowns. All of his top five targets are back for their senior year, and so is RB Wyatt Hunter, who rushed for 1,589 yards and 23 touchdowns. All told, Grinnell’s attack — which averaged 35.4 points per game last year — will be balanced and very difficult to stop.

4.

Cedar Rapids Xavier

2019: 8-2, 3A playoff qualifier

23 poll points

This might be as “under-the-radar” as Xavier has been since its move to 3A, but it would be foolish to think the Saints will be down far, or for long. Duane Schulte will reload around Jack Lux (557 rushing yards, 5 touchdowns) in the backfield and Tyler Wilken (23 catches, 399 yards, 4 TDs) on the edge. Non-district opponents include 2019 nemeses Western Dubuque (which ended the Saints’ 32-game win streak) and North Scott (which knocked them out of the playoffs).

5.

Lewis Central

2019: 10-2, 3A semifinalist

22 poll points

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Lewis Central may have assembled the strongest schedule in 3A. The Titans face Sergeant Bluff-Luton, Dallas Center-Grimes and Norwalk in the non-district portion, and were assigned to District 9 along with Harlan and Carroll. Receiver Thomas Fidone will get a lot of attention from opposing defenses; he finished 2019 with 39 catches for 576 yards and seven touchdowns last season.

6.

Harlan

2019: 7-3, 3A playoff qualifier

19 poll points

More than anyone, Harlan IS Class 3A football with 12 state titles. The Cyclones haven’t struck gold since 2009, but this edition looks like a threat. Led by junior-to-be Will McLaughlin (75 tackles), Harlan’s defense — which allowed 8.3 points in the final four games — appears to be stacked. The top offensive weapons are Brenden Bartley (522 rushing yards, 9 touchdowns) and Joey Moser (18 catches, 339 yards). The Cyclones host Lewis Central in a Week 9, District 9 showdown.

7.

North Scott

2019: 9-2, 3A quarterfinalist

18 poll points

The Lancers could argue that they were the second-best team in 3A last year, and it wouldn’t be invalid. Both of their losses were to Western Dubuque, including one in the second round of the playoffs. North Scott will be affected as much as any of last year’s elite teams by graduation, but the Lancers were assigned to a relatively soft District 4, from which its strongest challengers are Davenport Assumption and Dubuque Wahlert.

8.

Western Dubuque

2019: 13-0, 3A state champion

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16 poll points

Like Xavier and North Scott, the Bobcats are in reload mode. Both the Saints and the Lancers are on Western Dubuque’s non-district schedule, along with Davenport Assumption and Washington (Iowa), so the challenges will be coming early and often. The Bobcats bring back a couple of quality receivers in Tommy DeSollar and Logan Brosius, who combined for 31 catches and five touchdowns last year. The pivotal District 3 game is Week 8, when the Bobcats travel to West Delaware.

9.

Sergeant Bluff-Luton

2019: 10-2, 3A semifinalist

15 poll points

SBL was a touchdown short from its first trip to the state finals last year, dropping a 43-36 decision to Solon in the semifinals. The Warriors are another top team that will put forth a lot of new faces next season. Kaden Helt ran for 458 yards and six touchdowns last season, and Jacob Imming caught seven TD passes. Expect their load to increase this fall. SBL will be challenged in District 1 by Storm Lake, Boyden-Hull/Rock Valley and Le Mars.

9.

West Delaware

2019: 5-4

15 poll points

The Hawks have missed the playoffs two straight years after qualifying for each of the previous 10. They won their last three games last year after a 2-4 start, though, and could be poised for a return to prosperity. Nearly all of West Delaware’s skill people return on offense, piloted by quarterback Jared Voss. Cael Meyer is back after rushing for 732 yards and six touchdowns. Don’t be stunned if the Hawks make their way to the UNI-Dome in November.

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Others receiving votes: Clear Creek Amana 14, Washington (Iowa) 13, Carlisle 12, Norwalk 9, Adel ADM 7, Bondurant-Farrar 4, Nevada 4, Webster City 4, Carroll 1

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

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