Just three weeks ago, Davenport Central dominated the first quarter and rolled to a rout of city rival Davenport West.
But if the Blue Devils thought they were going to enjoy a repeat performance to open the Class 4A playoffs Friday night, they were sorely mistaken.
Instead, Central had to overcome a first-quarter deficit before grabbing a 35-10 win over West at Brady Street Stadium. Central plays fourth-ranked Pleasant Valley next week at Spartan Stadium.
After the first quarter, the Blue Devils were out-gained 59 to minus-11 and trailed 3-0. Three weeks prior, they led 24-0 after 12 minutes and rolled to a 59-0 win.
"It was a trying week, trying to keep the kids motivated in practice, given the circumstances," Central head coach Ben Sacco said. "We tried to say, that first go-around, there were some things that made West different than what you would see tonight. It took us a while to just start playing hard; I don't even know about playing good football, but just playing hard."
Caleb Hass opened the scoring with a 27-yard field goal for West (0-8), its first points since the third quarter of its loss to Central DeWitt on Sept. 4, snapping a span of 21 straight scoreless quarters.
"This was the best week of practice we've had this year and this shows us that if you prepare right, good things can happen for you," West head coach Brandon Krusey said. "I was really happy with the way they came out. It shows that they can do it if they prepare the right way."
Central (2-6) responded, taking advantage of a pair of short fields to take control of the game. A face mask penalty following a West punt put the Blue Devils at the Falcons’ 43-yard line to start their first drive of the second quarter.
On the very next play, quarterback Nate Hummel rushed down the left side for 42 yards, setting up a 1-yard sneak from the junior two plays later to put Central up 7-3.
Brian Morris intercepted Falcons quarterback Brady Hansen two plays into West’s ensuing drive, giving the Blue Devils the ball at the West 12.
Two plays later, Dane Howard took a handoff around the left side for a 9-yard touchdown as Central scored two touchdowns just 88 seconds apart. Josh Howlett made it 21-3 with a 63-yard score with 2:10 left in the half.
"We thought it was just West and we could come out and beat them," Howard said. "But then we picked it up on defense, we stopped them and we didn't let them score."
Howard opened up the second half with a bang, taking the opening kickoff 83 yards for a touchdown, and finished the night with 78 yards rushing. Hummel added 76 yards on 14 carries and two touchdowns, including the final Central score of the night with 11:55 left in the game.
Defensively, Central was led by junior Raymond Robinson. After a bit of a slow start on West's field goal drive in the first quarter, Robinson finished the game with at least eight tackles, including one sack and two forced fumbles.
"It was scary at first, but a switch turned on in me and it was like, this is the last game you could play, so you've got to kick it in," Robinson said. "In the first half, I was tripping a lot, but once I stopped being on the ground as much and started making plays, and my coach stopped yelling at me as much, that's when I felt like the switch had flipped."
West was led by senior RJ Molloy, who had 34 carries for 187 yards and a fourth-quarter touchdown, just the second touchdown scored this season by the Falcons.
West entered the night averaging just 1.5 yards per carry and only had 269 total rushing yards as a team, but Molloy was elusive all night, enjoying a huge final game at Brady Street Stadium for the Falcons, averaging 5.5 yards per carry.
"I was happy for him and the linemen in front of him," Krusey said. "It's been a rough year for those guys and we've had a lot of games where we've had negative yardage so we've got some positive things going on. ... It was good for the younger guys to see the run game can do things if you do things right."
Now the work turns to the continued buildup of the Falcons, something Krusey knows plenty about. He led Grundy Center to the playoffs for the first time in 17 years in 2011, helped Independence end a 29-year postseason drought in 2014 and led Davenport North to a winning record in his third year.
"This winter and spring are going to be huge for us," Krusey said. "We've got to make huge gains in strength and then it's just about reps. I thought we progressed through the year; not fast enough, but we did progress."
Central, meanwhile turns its attention to Pleasant Valley, which beat the Blue Devils 31-7 on Sept. 18. The Spartans were idle this week, but Sacco is glad his team got a game under its belt before heading into the next round.
"For our kids, it's definitely good we played this week and didn't sit around," Sacco said. "If we can limit our mistakes and force PV to run a lot of plays, bend but not break, we'll give ourselves a chance to be competitive. If we go over there, make a ton of mistakes and don't play fundamental football, it's going to be a long night."