MAQUOKETA — The Maquoketa football team revamped its offensive and defensive systems over the past few years.

The Cardinals introduced the spread offense in 2007, and they instituted a unique 3-3-5 defense last season. But Maquoketa's experience with the systems has paid off.

Now the schemes feel familiar, like second nature, not a constant quiz. The Cardinals can just play.

The result: they stand at 5-0 for the first time since 1987.

“The kids are understanding, and I think they're more comfortable with what we've put in,” Maquoketa coach Kevin Bowman said. “Everything's coming together. Everything's going in the right direction.”

An athletic trio leads Maquoketa's offense, which averages 33.4 points a game.

Dual-threat quarterback Colin Nickeson has rushed for a team-high 553 yards and completed 33 of 82 passes for 560 yards and six touchdowns. Entering last week's games, Nickeson ranked second in the area in both rushing and passing yards.

“He's doing a great job running the offense,” Bowman said. “You can tell he's more comfortable by the way he's making reads and the decisions he's making.”

Running back Zach Scheibe has complemented Nickeson with 508 rushing yards. Tyler Rutenbeck, meanwhile, has caught 15 passes for 323 yards and six touchdowns.

“Those guys are just tremendous athletes,” Bowman said. “They've got great speed and athleticism, but they're also strong and have a great work ethic.”

Maquoketa, which finished 11th in last week's Associated Press Iowa Class 3A top 10 voting, has coupled a stingy, opportunistic defense with its explosive offense. The Cardinals have allowed 11.2 points and only nine first downs a game. They yielded fewer than 200 yards of total offense in three of five games.

All while forcing turnovers at an incredible rate. Maquoketa sits plus-15 in turnover margin after making six interceptions and recovering a fumble in last week's 37-8 win over Anamosa at Goodenow Field.

“Our defense has really set the tone for us,” Bowman said.

The Cardinals have already surpassed their win total from last season, when they finished 4-5 and missed the postseason by virtue of a tiebreaker.

“I truly believe the seniors took that disappointment into the offseason as a big motivational force,” Bowman said. “We had a great offseason. The kids worked hard, and they're seeing the benefits.”

Maquoketa appears primed to reach the postseason for the third time since the IHSAA adopted its current playoff format in 1972.

Camanche QB has foreign football experience

CAMANCHE — The Camanche football team has featured a dozen foreign-exchange students over the past four years. But few, if any, possessed skills like quarterback Moritz Mueller.

Mueller, an exchange student from Germany, played club football in his homeland prior to his U.S. venture.

“Most of the foreign kids we've had have kicked for us, and they kicked and then wanted to get the heck off the field,” Camanche coach Steve Dougherty said. “Moritz, on the other hand, is extremely athletic, and the knowledge he brings is excellent. That had a lot to do with why he won the starting quarterback job.”

Mueller played quarterback for the Bonn Gamecocks of the German Football League.

“It's comparable to AAU at the high school level,” Dougherty said.

In Germany, Mueller commanded a pass-happy, spread attack. He needed time to learn Camanche's Wing-T offense, which helps explain why Mueller didn't assume the starting spot until Week 3.

Since taking over, though, he has completed 7 of 17 passes for 145 yards. He went 4-for-6 for 110 yards and a touchdown in Friday's loss to West Liberty.

“That's an excellent evening for a Wing-T quarterback,” Dougherty said.

With Mueller at the controls, the Camanche offense has gradually improved.

The Indians scored no points and gained 124 total yards in his first start. The next week, Camanche scored 12 points and gained 175 yards. Then came Friday's performance, which produced 27 points and 351 total yards.

“We've started to really get the ground game going,” Dougherty said, “and Moritz has helped with that. His throws are keeping the defense honest.

“I see big things for him over the remainder of the season.”

Rebels looking for right mix

GOOSE LAKE — Northeast entered this season looking to solidify its offensive line. Five weeks in, the Rebels hope they've found an answer.

In Friday's win over Edgewood-Colesburg, Northeast used its fifth different combination on the O-line. The Rebels have shifted starters into new spots, as well as named new starters.

The latest combo helped produce 417 yards of total offense on Friday.

The line paved the way for 294 rushing yards while also giving quarterback Jed Rogis time to complete 6 of 16 passes for 126 yards and three touchdowns.

“We're looking for a group to gel and work together,” Northeast coach Jeremy Mosier said. “I think this latest group did plenty of things well.”

Morrison producing on both sides of the ball

Not only did the Mustangs slow down River Valley's track meet Friday night, as the Falcons gained only 207 yards from scrimmage, but Morrison was able to generate a near-perfect game offensively, scoring 36 points in the first quarter and getting a running clock for the entire second half after leading 50-0 at halftime.

As he has for the past few weeks, fullback Josh Vos generated the most rushing yardage, collecting 150 yards on just six carries, but — with the early big lead and continuous clock — the Mustangs were able to share the wealth offensively.

That situation allowed Mustang backup running back Andy Schaver to rack up a season-high 89 yards on just eight carries.

The victory made Morrison playoff-eligible. The Mustangs can clinch a playoff berth Friday night, but it will be probably the toughest matchup they've had so far this year.

Morrison travels to fellow unbeaten Amboy/LaMoille with the lead in the Big Rivers Conference on the line.

Turnovers doom Erie/Prophetstown

Coach Chuck Milem said midweek last week that the Panthers would have to cut down on turnovers in order to have success with Bureau Valley last Friday in Manlius. Two first-quarter fumbles, however, put E/P down by two touchdowns, 20-7, and the Panthers never recovered in what eventually became a 51-20 defeat.

Erie/Prophetstown now must face an uphill battle to make itself playoff-eligible, as the Panthers must win three of the next four, with road games at Fulton and Morrison and a home game against 4-1 Sterling Newman to wrap up the season. E/P faces Peru St. Bede (1-4) at home Friday night.

Giveaways hurt Fulton, too

Turnovers affected the early course of business for the Steamers, as two Fulton turnovers helped Amboy/LaMoille build a 20-0 first-quarter lead and eventual 42-3 victory.

The Clippers dominated behind a power rushing game that a physically-outsized Steamer team couldn't match. Amboy/LaMoille rushed for 445 yards. Leading the charge was Cody Richardson, who rolled up a week's worth of production on his own (183 yards, three TDs). Amboy/LaMoille could have made things even more one-sided, as a kickoff return and 47-yard TD run — both by Richardson — were called back by penalties.

One kick was the only positive that Fulton (2-3) could take away from the night. Travis St. Ores nailed a 27-yard field goal in the second quarter, and that was the only dent that the Steamers made.

Like E/P, the Steamers now have to win three of the next four games to become playoff-eligible. Bureau Valley comes to visit next week, with Erie/Prophetstown looming in two weeks in what could very well be an elimination game for the loser of that contest.

Big plays silence Thunder

Turnovers didn't do in the Thunder in their first nonconference game of 2009. Instead, it was a susceptibility to the big play, and Polo's ability to exploit that, that did in West Carroll in a 28-7 loss last Friday night.

Brandon Wiggins broke off a 75-yard run in the first quarter and Drew Cheatham returned a punt 71 yards in the second quarter as Polo (4-1) jumped out to a 21-0 halftime lead.

The Marcos also were able to largely shut down West Carroll's running attack, holding the Thunder to just 68 rushing yards, forcing West Carroll quarterback Ethan Baisden to attempt 25 passes in the game.

West Carroll needs three wins in the next four games to become playoff-eligible, with a road trip in Week 8 at Pectonica and a home regular-season finale against Dakota remaining.

This Week's Circulars