Western Dubuque’s defense swarms in for a tackle during a Sept. 3 game against North Scott. The Bobcats return to Buchman Field in Epworth, Iowa, tonight for a rivalry showdown against Dubuque Hempstead.

Most rivalry games hinge on a turnover or a key defensive stop.

Last year’s showdown between Dubuque Hempstead (1-2) and Western Dubuque (1-2) turned on a big play late in the game.

Both coaches are wary of that as they prepare for tonight’s non-district showdown at Buchman Field in Epworth, Iowa.

“If you look into advanced analytics, that’s almost as telling as turnovers in a football game,” Western Dubuque coach Justin Penner said.

And so it will be as they reunite at the scene of last season’s thrilling victory by the Bobcats. Hempstead was leading late before Logan Brosius’ 89-yard catch-and-run touchdown helped Western Dubuque erase the final bits of what had been a 10-point deficit in its 40-37 victory.

For Hempstead, it’s the second leg of a revenge tour. The Bobcats handed the Mustangs their only loss of the regular season last year. Hempstead earned its first victory of the season last week over Iowa City West, the team that ended its season in the playoffs.

“To win this game it’s going to take a lot of discipline and trying not to hang our heads whenever we go through those hills and valleys,” Mustangs lineman John Ostrander said. “Our coach always mentions hills and valleys. I like to really push through those valleys and celebrate the top of the hills. When everyone else can do that, it just brings the team closer and the glue just becomes stronger and the team is able to perform better and put points on the board.”

Penner pointed out that both teams are on the same trajectory at this point in the season and it’s true.

Western Dubuque lost its first two games against premier competition before picking up its first win last week at Iowa City Liberty.

“Those first two games really were eye-openers and just to show our team that we have the potential to be better than we are,” Bobcats running back Spencer Zinn said.

Hempstead also lost a pair of tough games to open its season before knocking off the Trojans last week.

Now they get another test against the 2019 Class 3A state champions.

“Coming off a big win, we’ve just got to execute on the little things and kind of play with a chip on our shoulder,” Mustangs quarterback Noah Pettinger said. “They’re the smaller school, but that doesn’t really mean anything in an intracity game. So if we just do the little things right, I think we’ll have a pretty good outcome.”

Part of the little things, Hempstead coach Jeff Hoerner said, is limiting big plays.

Iowa City West had a touchdown run of 44 yards last week and averaged 42.5 yards on four kickoff returns. Pleasant Valley averaged 7.2 yards per rush the week prior.

“They’re going to have a good game plan together for us, so I think if we can execute our game plan, that’s what it’s going to take,” Hoerner said. “I think we’re going to have to be really solid on both sides of the ball.”

The Bobcats allowed just one touchdown last week, but it came on a 71-yard pass.

WD’s Nick Bryant scored on a 56-yard touchdown last week and Andrew Oltmanns had a 79-yard score in Week 1.

Now the Bobcats get a team with a size and enrollment advantage.

“It’s just going to take execution,” WD lineman Brody Steger said. “We know what to expect up front. They’re a little bigger than us, we just have to punch them in the mouth.”

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