They’d like to forget about the first game.
Dowling Catholic and Valley know better than to base a Class 4A semifinal off a rivalry game from September. But the West Des Moines powers are frequent playoff foes and are preparing for Friday’s 7 p.m. matchup with their strengths, in the wake of the Maroons’ Week 4 win.
Top-ranked Dowling (11-0) is the deepest team in Iowa. No. 4 Valley (10-2) has some of the state’s brightest young stars. That’s why the rematch is ready for the UNI-Dome.
“We know we have to perform better against Dowling than we did the first time, but they had a lot to do with that,” Valley coach Gary Swenson said.
“Once the ball is kicked off, the only thing that matters is what happens on that field. I don’t think anything preceding, whether it’s this year or in the past, matters. The kids don’t think about it.”
In seven playoff meetings since 2000, the winner of West Des Moines’ regular season game is 7-0.
Valley led early on Sept. 18, but Dowling took control of a 38-21 win and the No. 1 spot in 4A. The overwhelming balance of that Drake Stadium performance kick-started the rest of the season for Dowling’s dual-quarterback system, run by seniors J.T. Brown and Kurt Walding.
“There have been times when one plays better than the other and then the next series or next day, it’s different,” Dowling coach Tom Wilson said last week. “They’ve put the individual workload aside and worried about the success of the team and I think we’ve benefited because of that.”
The Maroons won the most recent of the UNI-Dome rematches in 2013, which began their back-to-back title runs. They’re sharing the glory even more this season; six players have at least 25 carries and 150 yards rushing this season, led by running backs Jacob Zachary and Cole Deskin.
Zachary broke out with 145 yards and a touchdown against Valley, but he’s been able to conserve energy all season with platoons on defense, on the offensive line and in the backfield.
“I’ve always liked to go with two running backs,” Wilson said. “With the schedule we play, it’s tough to have one main ball-carrier and be able to survive that pounding. We thought with the use of multiple guys, we could preserve bodies to make a run late in the year. They’ve stayed fresh.”
Valley has great participation, too, but has developed a young core to carry the load.
Junior quarterback Rocky Lombardi will expect to better his Week 4 outing, as will classmates Austin Hinkle and Braeden Heald at receiver and sophomore running back Jevon Mason.
The offense has just four senior starters and three are on the offensive line.
“We’ve had several guys step up as key contributors and Jevon is certainly one of them,” Swenson said.
“He’s running very hard, but we’ve seen big improvement in his pass protection and we knew he’d be good with the ball in his hands. He’s turning into a more well-rounded player and we need him to do that.”
Mason has run wild in Valley’s big wins while being contained – 28 carries for 158 yards and one touchdown – in two defeats. Johnston held the elusive back under 100 yards in the quarterfinals, but another youngster, junior Cole Hahn, stepped up for the game-winning field goal.
To stop their rival’s unbeaten run and dream of three straight titles, and reverse the trend of recent playoff sweeps, the Tigers will need that youth to use all its experience. A title game berth depends on it.
“I’m happy with our guys,” Swenson said.
“You don’t ever get in to a semifinal game and not expect to play a really good team, and that’s certainly the case this year.”
SERIES SWEEPS SINCE 2000
West Des Moines powers Dowling Catholic and Valley have met in both the regular season and postseason seven times since starting their championship runs in 2000. Below is the year each team won both games, as well as the playoff round they met.
2000: Dowling Catholic, semifinals
2001: Dowling Catholic, first round
2005: Valley, semifinals
2008: Valley, quarterfinals
2010: Dowling Catholic, second round
2011: Valley, quarterfinals
2013: Dowling Catholic, semifinals