Sports

Offseason poll: 4A football up in the air

Is there any end in sight?

West Des Moines Dowling has won the last seven Class 4A football championships, and the Maroons (12-1 in 2019) figure to be a force again this fall.

Ankeny, on the other hand, has a veteran team that returns most of its pieces from last year’s 7-4 squad that reached the quarterfinals.

The result is a split decision among voters in The Gazette/KGYM panel. And a tie for the No. 1 slot in the offseason rankings.

Dowling (three first-place votes) and Ankeny (two) both scored 54 poll points. West Des Moines Valley earned the other top vote, scored 46 points and stands at No. 3.

That’s the start of a trend — the big-school power hub, again, lies in central Iowa suburbia. Seven of the top 10 teams form a ring around Des Moines, from Waukee to Pleasant Hill.

T-1. ANKENY (7-4 in 2019,

4A quarterfinalist)

54 poll points (2 first-place votes)

The Hawks lost to Dowling twice last year by verdicts of 24-14 and 42-14, but they have the talent and experience now to hang with anybody. Senior-to-be Jase Bauer passed for 20 touchdowns and ran for six more. Colin Kadolph is a returning 1,000-yard rusher, and four receivers that had at least 10 catches are back. About half of the key defensive players return, and that all adds up to a very dangerous team.

T-1. WEST DES MOINES DOWLING (12-1, 4A state champion)

54 poll points (3 first-place votes)

It’s only fair that the best team gets the toughest schedule, right? Dowling’s slate is a monster. Its nine opponents were a combined 70-27 last season, and eight of them made the playoffs. Louis Brooks is the top offensive returner after leading the team with 29 catches last season for 522 yards and six touchdowns. Jack Meyer was fifth on the team in tackles, with 52.5.

3. WEST DES MOINES VALLEY (12-1, 4A state runner-up)

46 poll points (1 first-place vote)

Valley is another program that reloads annually, and smoothly. The Tigers split a pair of games with Dowling last year, winning the regular-season contest, 29-22, then falling in the state final, 21-16. This year’s grudge match is Week 2. Jayden Williams will be Valley’s backfield star after netting 1,004 yards and 12 touchdowns last year.

4. CEDAR FALLS (10-1,

4A quarterfinalist) 37 poll points

The top team outside the Polk/Dallas county power magnet, the Tigers will see how they measure up immediately with a Week 1 contest against Dowling at the UNI-Dome. Ryan Ostrich ranks third among returning 4A rushers with 1,185 yards (he scored 18 touchdowns), and the returning combo of Daniel Hutchins and Trey Campbell will keep opposing defenses honest.

5. WAUKEE (7-4, 4A quarterfinalist) 28 poll points

Our panel is not in agreement on the Warriors — three of us have them ranked in the top four, two of us don’t have them in the top 10. This is fact: Waukee has a lot coming back, particularly on defense. Five of the top seven tacklers are back, led by Chase Evanson (52). There are returning offensive weapons, too: Alexander Linquist and Aaron Smith combined for 1,369 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns.

T-6. CEDAR RAPIDS KENNEDY (10-2, 4A semifinalist) 22 poll points

The Cougars took a senior-laden team and advanced to the UNI-Dome before bowing to Dowling. There are a lot of holes to fill, but the return of quarterback Max White is comforting. White didn’t pass often last year (just 93 times in 12 games), but he completed 71 percent of his throws for 751 yards. He is a dangerous runner, racking up 1,114 ground yards and 21 touchdowns.

T-6. SOUTHEAST POLK (7-3,

4A playoff qualifier)

22 poll points

Six of the Rams’ 10 games were decided by 11 points or less last year (they went 3-3). Quarterback Jaxon Dailey is back for his junior season after passing for 1,297 yards and 14 touchdowns as a soph.

8. BETTENDORF (9-3, 4A semifinalist)

13 poll points

Beware the Bulldogs’ defense, which might develop into one of the best in the state. Ryan Cole (73.5 tackles, 10 for loss) spearheads a unit that returns four of its top five tacklers from 2019. On the other side of the ball, Tynan Numkena caught 30 passes for 356 yards and three touchdowns. The schedule features Cedar Falls, Kennedy, Valley and Dowling.

9. URBANDALE (7-4,

4A quarterfinalist)

11 poll points

The J-Hawks won six of their last seven regular-season games last year, then pulled the shocker of the 4A first round, knocking off Ankeny Centennial, 29-28. There are pieces in place to build on that momentum, particularly on defense, where the top three tacklers from last year return. Tucker Langenberg rushed for 439 yards (11.2 per carry) last year.

10. ANKENY CENTENNIAL

(8-2, playoff qualifier)

10 poll points

Along with Dowling, the Jaguars were handed the most challenging schedule in 4A. Their opponents, seven of which made the playoffs in 2019, were a combined 70-27. In addition, graduation hits hard on both sides of the ball. Tyler Johnson is back; he was the second-leading rusher at 694 yards (and scored four touchdowns).

OTHERS RECEIVING VOTES:

Cedar Rapids Prairie 7, Iowa City West 7, Linn-Mar 7, Dubuque Senior 6, Dubuque Hempstead 4, Johnston 2.

Editor’s note: Part of six-part series on the The Gazette/KGYM early high school football rankings. Our panel consists of Jeff Johnson, K.J. Pilcher, Nathan Ford and Jeff Linder from The Gazette, Andy Krutsinger from the Southeast Iowa Union and Scott Unash from KGYM Radio. The Class 3A poll will appear in Tuesday’s issue of The Union.