EPWORTH, Iowa — The skill position players always get the credit.
But Western Dubuque is in the position it’s in because of a group of unheralded players who just put their noses down and go to work.
“We don’t need any of that credit,” said Will Conlan, a 6-foot, 215-pound senior offensive lineman. “I just love playing with these guys and going out, being fast, being intense and having fun out there doing it. I don’t really care about any of that recognition as long as we’re putting points on the scoreboard for our offense and getting those rush yards and touchdowns.”
The Bobcats will put their offensive line — a starting unit that includes Conlan, Tim Althaus, Joe Loffa, Garrett Pitz and Owen Hatcher — to work once again tonight with everything on the line: Class 3A No. 1-ranked and second-seeded Western Dubuque (10-0) hosts ninth-seeded and No. 5-ranked North Scott (9-1) in a state quarterfinal rematch tonight at Buchman Field.
“It’s a pretty awesome perspective in that it’s purely focused on the team,” Western Dubuque offensive line coach Mike Elgin said. “That’s what makes these guys so special. They care about working together, they care about each other and they care about this team. They give their best attitude and best effort every single day in practice, in meetings and games, to make that happen.”
It’s the second consecutive year the Bobcats and Lancers have met in the state quarterfinals, following Western Dubuque’s 45-21 victory last season in Eldridge. The Bobcats ran for 375 yards as a team in avenging a 7-6 regular-season loss on the same field and clinching the program’s first trip to the UNI-Dome since the 2001 championship season.
This year, Western Dubuque handed the Lancers their only loss, a 21-3 setback in Week 4 in Epworth. It was one of only two times this season North Scott has allowed 21 points in a game.
The Lancers scored a late touchdown to beat two-time defending state champion Cedar Rapids Xavier, 9-3, in their first-round game.
“This rivalry is pretty intense for us,” said Althaus, a 6-2, 225-pound senior. “We’ve grown up playing these guys in almost every sport. We know their first names and we know a lot about them. I like playing these guys. It’s fun. It is hard beating a team twice though, so we’ve got our work cut out for us.”
Four of the Bobcats’ starting five up front saw playing time last season, though Loffa and Althaus suffered injuries and missed all or some of the playoff run. Conlan and Pitz both stepped up as injury replacements for the Bobcats.
Hatcher joined that quartet this season to form a unit that has paved the way for Western Dubuque to gain 3,758 yards of offense (1,809 passing, 1,949 rushing) with a combined 53 offensive touchdowns. The Bobcats are averaging 7.3 yards per snap.
“With our group, you don’t necessarily see the 275-pound kid,” Western Dubuque coach Justin Penner said, “but our offensive line is kind of that no-name offensive line where five guys work together as a unit.”
Western Dubuque found it tougher to run the ball against North Scott this year. The Lancers held Jake Hosch to 83 yards — 107 fewer than in the quarterfinals — and the Bobcats managed just 150 rushing yards as a team. Calvin Harris completed 12 of 15 passes for 180 yards and a touchdown.
“We just have to go out there and listen to our coaches,” said Loffa, a 5-10, 230-pound senior. “We have Coach Elgin, he’s probably the best O-line coach in the state, could probably be a Division I coach. We just have to go out there and listen to what he says.”
The Bobcats hope to enjoy their home-field advantage. Western Dubuque is trying to cap off a second consecutive undefeated season at Buchman. The Bobcats haven’t lost at home since Oct. 6, 2017.
“We’re just playing like normal every game,” said Hatcher, a 5-11, 205-pound junior. “We don’t change any of our habits or anything. We just play like normal and try to do our best.”
The winner advances to Thursday’s state semifinal at either 5 or 8 p.m. at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls against an opponent to be determined by seeds.
“It means everything to us,” said Pitz, a 5-11, 205-pound senior. “We have one goal: Championship.”