Iowa Western football coach Scott Strohmeier said he is sitting five players, including quarterback Connor Bravard and two other starters, for Saturday’s contest at North Dakota State College of Science. Strohmeier cited a reported alcohol violation on campus last week.
The Reivers are also without injured starting running back Akise Teague and linebacker Devonte Snyder.
Bravard, a sophomore out of West Des Moines Dowling, has thrown for 758 yards and nine touchdowns for the third-ranked Reivers. Teague leads the team with 306 yards rushing and three touchdowns.
The Reivers take a 3-0 record into Saturday’s game, and one reason has been a strong defense. Although the unit returns just two starters from last year’s national championship team, it has allowed opponents to reach the end zone just twice.
Iowa Western has given up only 17 points (5.7 per game) to opposing offenses this season. It carries a six-quarter scoreless streak into Saturday’s game.
“Defensive coaches take a lot of pride in keeping that goose egg up on the scoreboard as much as you can,” said Reivers defensive coordinator Mike Blackbourn. “Keeping them out of the end zone, that’s the biggest thing.”
In the first two weeks, Trinity Valley and Iowa Central each reached the end zone once against the Reiver D. Those points didn’t come easily. Trinity Valley converted on two fourth downs during its 93-yard drive before scoring on a third-and-15 play. Iowa Central got help from a pass-interference penalty and converted a fourth down on its 15-play, 73-yard TD drive.
Ellsworth finished with less than 100 total yards during last week’s shutout, even though IWCC played without injured starting linebackers Ryan Langford, Stephen Meyer and Snyder.
Blackbourn said building depth on defense has been a key to the early success by the Reivers this season. Freshman linebackers Cody Poock and Marcus Montgomery stepped in and made plays last week against the Panthers. Poock recorded a team-high seven tackles while Montgomery had four stops, a fumble recovery and an interception and returned a blocked punt for a score.
“You’ve got to be ready when your number is called,” Blackbourn said. “Even just this last week, the guys that were getting some opportunities stepped up. Were they perfect? No, they weren’t. But they stepped up and made some plays.
“When you get competition at several positions, and I think we have that, it elevates everybody’s game. They know that ‘I can’t be slipping up because the guy right behind me is waiting in the wings. He’s ready to go.’”
Defensive end Landon Schultz and Meyer are the lone returning starters from 2012, though Langford and tackles Ashton Henderson and Marco Naughton, before suffering a season-ending injury, saw significant playing time. The Reiver secondary, led by Arizona recruit Jamie Byrd, is completely new.
“We just talk about all-out effort, getting to the football and being assignment sound,” Blackbourn said. “Not trying to do too much, just playing within the scheme. We’re only three weeks in, but everybody has done their part. We’re nowhere near as good as we can be. That’s encouraging.”