By Kurt Ritzman
Assistant Sports Editor
It’s the final week of the football regular season and there’s still a lot to be decided.
A good example of that is Class 3A District 6, where two local teams have games with playoff implications.
Maquoketa (4-4, 2-3) faces Clear Creek-Amana (4-4, 2-3) with the winner clinching the fourth and final playoff spot from the district.
Central DeWitt (5-3, 4-1) already has clinched a playoff spot but has a chance to win the district in coach Mike Miller’s first season. The Sabers host Marion (7-1, 5-0) in the finale. Solon (6-2, 4-1) could also play into the fight for the district title, and it hosts Benton Community.
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Central DeWitt needs to beat Marion by at least 11 points to clinch the district title.
“We’ve informed the players; they know the situation and all the different scenarios,” Miller said. “They’re well aware of that. What’s more important is they’re aware of what we need to do in preparation, and the kids have done that.”
If the Sabers win by five points, they would clinch the No. 2 seed and homefield advantage for their postseason opener, which Miller said was more important than the district title.
“We’ve been very well supported within the community and the school,” he said. It would be a great reward for our fans and obviously we’d benefit.”
Senior running back Chris Keitel agreed with his coach, to a point.
“It would be really big,” he said. “It’s been a long time since we’ve had our first playoff game at home. But winning the district title, that’s our main goal.”
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But first, Central DeWitt needs to beat a team that hasn’t lost in district play and is on a six-game winning streak.
“They’re really big and physical,” Miller said of Marion. “They have physically imposing guys up front and in the backfield. (Trev Beiry) is a good runner. They try to lull you to sleep with the run and then throw off play-action. They force you to be balanced because you have to respect the run and pass.”
Beiry, a 220-pound senior, leads Marion with 974 yards and 16 rushing touchdowns. Junior quarterback Trevor Hardman has thrown for more than 500 yards and four touchdowns.
Early in the season, it didn’t seem as if Central DeWitt would be in this position. The Sabers lost their first two games — both out of district — by a combined score of 52-28.
“These kids are resilient,” Miller said. “They stayed the course. It’s tough to start 0-2, but they approached it as a learning experience. We’ve been able to mesh as a football team in all three phases. That positioned us for a Week 9 shot at the district title.”
Keitel said there was an attitude change on the team as well.
“We all came together and said we can’t have this any more,” he said. “We figured out what we needed to do to win.”
And win they have, taking five of their past six games. Last season, the Sabers dropped their first two games before finishing 4-5 and just outside of a playoff berth.
“It was a huge letdown,” Keitel said. “We were better than we performed, which has been the case some this year, too. But we’ve stepped up lately. Friday we hope to be the team that gets the job down.”
Miller said he’d been pleased with the way his team has progressed since the opening weeks.
“They’re really understanding our scheme and what we’re trying to accomplish offensively,” Miller said. “They’re playing faster and they understand their assignments, which allows us to execute better. They’re playing with confidence, which is exactly what we need going against a team the caliber of Marion.”
Central DeWitt and Marion have developed a rivalry over the past few seasons.
“I’ve been informed about it,” Miller said. “The past few years the teams have gone back and forth. If you look at the tradition of the two programs, it speaks volumes about both teams. I’m excited to be a part of it and anxious for Friday to get here.”
As far as the Sabers offensively, Keitel leads a rushing attack that is tops in Class 3A with 2,606 yards. Four Sabers — Keitel, Mitch Green, Jake Feldpausch and Austin Lechtenberg — have gone over 300 yards rushing this season, with Keitel’s 921 leading the way and placing him 12th among individuals.
“I have a mirror above the headboard on my bed at my house where I write my goals,” Keitel said. “I want to get 1,000 yards and I’m 89 short, win the district title and a state championship.”
Keitel has a chance to cross two of those goals of his list Friday night.
“That would be awesome,” he said.
Preston can clinch district
The final week drama action isn’t limited to Class 3A
Preston already has clinched a playoff berth in eight-man football, but the Trojans (7-1) can win the title outright in District 4 by beating winless Cedar Valley Christian.
In Illinois, both Morrison and Erie/Prophetstown can guarantee themselves playoff berths with wins on their home fields Friday night in the Big Rivers Conference. Both teams have 5-3 records and could make the playoffs even with losses.
Erie/Prophetstown entertains the team right above the Panthers in the conference standings: Peru St. Bede (6-2). Morrison, meanwhile, welcomes a 4-4 Bureau Valley team that needs a win for any chance to see postseason action.
While none of the other area schools can get into the playoffs in Iowa, several districts do have battles for postseason berths.
In Preston's district, Maynard West Central plays at Lansing Kee on Friday in a matchup of teams with 5-2 district records. Midland will have a chance to pull into a tie with the loser of that game if it can be Springville (6-1 in the district).
In Class 1A District 5, Tipton plays at Alburnett in a matchup of 3-2 teams that share third place in the standings, but Durant-Bennett would move into a tie with the loser of that game if it can beat Bellevue.