'That's just our brand of football'

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Dome lights not too bright as Bulldogs advance to state title game


By Audrey Posten, Times-Register


MFL MarMac will play for its first-ever football state championship this week, after a statement 41-28 win over Underwood in the Nov. 10 Class 1A state semifinal.


The physical Bulldogs ground down the second ranked team in the state, all while putting up a monumental 432 rushing yards.


“That’s just our brand of football,” summarized senior Carver Blietz-Bentien after the victory. 


Last week marked MFL MarMac’s first appearance at the UNI-Dome. After recording its first winning season in 26 years in 2019, the team had suffered four straight quarterfinal losses before breaking through. The senior-laden Bulldogs didn’t play like they’d never been on this stage before, though, said head coach Dan Anderson.


“The lights weren’t too big for them today,” he stated. “They came out and were confident. They believed they could win this football game.”


Junior fullback Quinn McGeough, who was responsible for five MFL MarMac touchdowns, called the moment unreal.


“I’m so happy we did it as a team, done what nobody’s ever done before,” he said.


“It’s the most excitement I’ve ever felt in my life,” agreed senior Bryce Diehl. “This has been our dream since our freshman year, and we finally accomplished it. We kept working and working. That’s all we could do.”


The potent Eagles came into the match-up having scored over 40 points in eight of their 10 victories. They were buoyed by sophomore quarterback Garrett Luett, who had totaled nearly 2,500 passing yards and 29 touchdowns to that point.


True to form, Underwood scored quickly on its opening drive, but led just 6-0 after missing the extra point. McGeough tallied his first touchdown—an 11-yard run—at the five-minute mark in the first quarter, giving the Bulldogs a brief 7-6 advantage before the Eagles reclaimed the lead, 13-7, later in the frame.


The second quarter was all MFL MarMac, though. The offense possessed the ball for over 11 minutes as McGeough reached the end zone twice more for a 21-13 halftime lead.


They did it all after senior running back Wyatt Powell left with an injury.


Although disappointing, the Bulldogs had to spring into a “next man up” mentality, according to Blietz-Bentien.


“We know Wyatt is a huge part in this team—he’s been a backbone for us for a long time—but we have good depth,” he said.


Between McGeough and Bryce Radloff, who took over at running back, as well as quarterback Blietz-Bentien, everyone stepped up to shoulder the load, Anderson noted.


“And a lot of credit goes to those linemen up front. When you run that many yards, you have to have linemen who are pushing, and our receivers did a good job blocking down field,” he said. “Our kids take pride in their back side blocks—we call them touchdown blocks. That’s what springs those runs that were going to be 5-, 6-yard runs and turns them into touchdown runs. That’s what’s made the difference in our offense going from a good team to a great team.”


The Bulldogs opened up a 28-13 margin over the Eagles early in the second half after Radloff snagged a 34-yard pick-6 on the initial drive. Underwood responded with a 66-yard touchdown, trimming the lead to 28-21, but the Bulldogs took advantage of another turnover—this time a fumble by Luett—late in the third quarter. 


Senior Kade McElwaine recovered the ball near the Underwood 30 yardline, and McGeough later punched it in from 4 yards out. After a failed kick, MFL MarMac led 34-21. 


But the Bulldogs didn’t ease their defensive pressure, picking off Underwood again on the next drive. 


Diehl credited the turnovers to MFL MarMac’s preparation and physicality.


“We knew the plays they would run. We kept laying out hard hits. Made it hurt,” he said. “Those turnovers helped set the tone for the game, and really helped us win.”


McGeough tacked on a 35-yard score midway through the quarter—coming within a touchdown of tying MFL MarMac’s single-game record. Although the Eagles reached the end zone with under four minutes remaining, the contest was out of reach.


MFL MarMac’s 41-28 win was impressive on both the offensive and defensive fronts.


Although the Eagles put up 282 passing yards, including a few lengthy completions, the Bulldog defense was largely able to hold them in check. Twenty-eight was Underwoods’ third-lowest point total this season.


“We knew it was going to be kind of difficult because they’ve got a really good quarterback with a strong arm and some really good receivers. We had to try to get as much pressure on that quarterback as we could, create some turnovers, and then obviously possession time. You know they can’t score if they don’t have the ball in their hands,” Blietz-Bentien said.


Anderson listed time of possession and turnovers as difference makers in the game.


“We were able to wear them down, grind them down,” he said.


Blietz-Bentien racked up a team-leading 11.5 total tackles, including 7 solo efforts and a sack. Radloff had the next highest total, at 5, followed by McElwaine and Brayden Gordon with 4.5 apiece and Elias Hatt 3.5.


Underwood’s defense, meanwhile, had shut out opponents six times this season but was incapable of stopping MFL MarMac’s Wing-T offense. Blietz-Bentien threw the ball just six times for 14 yards, but it wasn’t necessary with Bulldog runners accumulating 432 yards on the ground. McGeough had 161 yards and five touchdowns on 27 carries, while Blietz-Bentien totaled 158 yards on 16 attempts. Radloff carried the ball 15 times for 71 yards. 


“There are a lot of Wing-T non-believers out there, and I think we proved them all wrong with the way we were able to run the ball today,” Blietz-Bentien said. “When you’re running the ball like that and Quinn McGeough has five touchdowns, your offensive line is getting a push like that every single play, there isn’t a need to throw the football.”


McGeough, too, was complimentary of the offensive line.


“There were a couple times I would go untouched going into the end zone. They deserve all the credit in the world,” he said.


Also deserving of credit: the MFL MarMac crowd. The players and Anderson said the large UNI-Dome following boosted their confidence.


“We had way more people in the stands than Underwood did, and that gave me the strength to keep going, and thinking about all the previous teams that didn’t make it. We’re doing it for them,” McGeough said.


“A loud crowd really pushes us to work better,” Diehl added. “Thank you for the support, thank you for the drive. Keep coming out and supporting. It’s great for our team.”


Said Anderson, “It’s great to bring this much joy to our community.”


The third-seeded Bulldogs will face top seed and undefeated Grundy Center in the state title game at 4 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 16. 


McGeough said MFL MarMac’s status as underdog is nothing new. The team has enjoyed proving critics wrong the past five years.


The Bulldogs will continue to play with heart, desire and physicality, he quipped.


“Keep playing our brand of football. I think that will get it done,” agreed Blietz-Bentien. “This was our goal from the start of the year.”


Anderson is excited for the opportunity to play another week.


“Grundy is an excellent team...very well coached and been here a lot,” he said, “but our kids played like they’ve been here. We’ll give everything we’ve got.”

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