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The Second Winning Streak: 1987 - 1988 - 1989

THE SECOND STREAK began on Friday, September 5th, 1987, when an unranked Bulldog squad opened up the ’87 season with a 26-0 victory over North Scott; from that point on, the Bulldog’s offense—both methodical and punishing—never stopped and was led by junior tailback Greg Brown (1,515 yards, 26 TDs) who led all of Class 4A in rushing that season.  Brown’s path was cleared by fullback Clint Watkins (845 yards, 16 TDs) along with a mammoth offensive line in the likes of tackle Joe Judge and guards Brad Schoenfelder and Scott Roberts.  While the offense virtually steamrolled over every opponent, the defense—featuring standout ends Adam Bergeron and Gregg Folks, tackles Steve McCall and Eric Carlson, noseguard Mike Woolverton, linebackers Brian West and Scott Downs, and defensive back Andy Wall—simultaneously shut them down.  Simply put, every time they took the field, the Bulldogs made a statement.

The Bulldogs ended the regular season with an 8-0 record—only the third time a Bettendorf team had done so since 1966—and for the fifth time in school history qualified for the Class 4A playoffs.  In the 1st Round, Bettendorf hammered Pleasant Valley, 38-13, to advance to the Quarterfinals against a Davenport West squad they had previously defeated 43-7 the last game of the regular season; however, this time around, the contest was much closer but the Bulldogs manage to edge the Falcons, 19-14, to meet the Dubuque Wahlert Eagles in the Semifinals.  Early in the game Bettendorf found themselves down, 14-0, before responding by rattling off five-straight touchdowns on the way to a 35-14 victory to propel themselves into the 4A title game for only the third time in school history. 

The title game contest against the Dowling Maroons of West Des Moines was a defensive battle and the Bulldog’s crew alone stopped Dowling four different times inside the red zone.  At halftime with the score reading 0-0, Bettendorf Head Coach Merv Habenicht and his staff convened in the locker room while his wife, Evelyn Habenicht, stood in on his behalf as he was inducted into the Iowa High School Football Coaches Hall of Fame.

The game remained scoreless after it restarted in the 3rd quarter but during the final period, Bettendorf finally drew first blood when Watkins scored from one-yard out to take a 7-0 lead.  However, on their next possession, the Maroons countered with a touchdown and elected to go for the win with a two-point conversion.  In what would be the play of the game, junior defensive back Scott Franks knocked away a pass  and when the clock reached 0:00, the Bulldogs remained the only unbeaten team in Class 4A by capping a perfect 12-0 season with their 7-6 victory over Dowling.  The title game itself was a prophecy fulfilled:  the seniors had been told as early as 7th grade that someday they would win a state title.  In the post-season, Judge, Schoenfelder, and McCall earned 1st Team All-State honors while 2nd Team players included Brown, Bergeron, and kicker Chad Skogman.  As well, Augie Gutierrez was named to the 3rd Team as a kicker.

At the beginning of the 1988 season, Bettendorf was ranked #1 by the Coaches Poll as they returned a core group of players that included Brown, Roberts, receiver LaVance Banks, noseguard Dave Donohoo, defensive tackle Jason Reading, linebackers Downs and Sok On Yi, and Franks.  In what would be both a history and record smashing season, Bettendorf began their quest for a second-straight state title with a lopsided victory over North Scott—this time 43-3—and then juggernauted through the regular season to finish 9-0 and thus extend the winning streak to 21 games. 

Junior quarterback Matt Ulrich directed the offense and by the end of the season amassed 923 yards in passing with 15 touchdowns; his most prolific targets were receivers Banks (25 receptions for 634 yards, 7 TDs) and tight end Jeff Deere (27 receptions for 378 yards, 5 TDs).  Banks was also a threat every time he returned a punt as he totaled 500 yards in just 17 returns while scoring 5 touchdowns.  Bettendorf’s aerial attack was merely the icing on the cake and was offset by the rushing of Brown (1,722 yards, 26 TDs) and junior fullback Tony LaMarre (618 yards, 8 TDs) who both punished opposing defenses with their speed and brawn.  Simply put, either through air or land, the offense was unstoppable.

Bettendorf’s biggest test of the regular season came five weeks into the season when a clerical error regarding a transfer student came to light and it was initially believed that because the player—a reserve who was technically ineligible because while he had switched schools, his residency had remained the same—had participated in several games, the contests would have to be forefeited.  However, then-Athletic Director Chuck Nolting presented the Bulldog’s case to the Iowa High School Athletic Assoociation who subsequently ruled with confidence that the gaffe was simply a bookkeeping mistake and no games would have to be forfeited—thus, the Second Streak continued onward.

In the 1st Round of the ‘88 playoffs the Bulldogs once again nearly stumbled to a team they had defeated previously when they pulled out a 15-13 victory over Pleasant Valley; merely five days earlier during the last game of the regular season, Bettendorf had blanked the Spartans 28-0.  Regaining their composure as well as their attitude, the Bulldogs then rolled over the Iowa City High Little Hawks, 33-0, in the Quarterfinals and then for the second straight year, beat Dubuque Wahlert in the Semifinals, 20-6, to once-again find themselves in the 4A state championship game.

The Dawgs were not only the defending state champs, but also—depending on which poll one believed—the #1-ranked team about to do battle with other #1-ranked team in the Newton Cardinals.  The 1988 title game was a rematch of the 1980 state championship—Bettendorf’s first-ever appearance in the title game in which Newton handily won, 28-14.  However, this time around after a first-half slugfest which saw three lead changes, Bettendorf eventually took control in the second half—especially after defensive back Matt Rebro literally knocked off Newton running back Chad Gutherie’s helmet—and won, 28-12, to capture their second-straight state title (which at that point in history had never before been accomplished in Class 4A).

Bettendorf’s final 13-0 record set a new school record for most victories in a season and the Bulldogs not only earned a national ranking of #18 by the L.A. Times, but also extended their winning streak to 25-straight games.  Moreover, Habenicht earned the Iowa Football Coaches Association “District Coach of the Year” award while also being named the Des Moines Register “Class 4A Coach of the Year”.  Although disputable, the 1988 team was labeled by many as “The Best Bettendorf Team Ever” and featured four 1st Team All-State players in Roberts, Brown, Reading, and Downs while linebacker Yi earned 2nd Team recognition. 

At the beginning of the 1989 season, Bettendorf was rated as the undisputed #1-ranked team by both the Coaches Poll and the Des Moines Register based on the fact that they were the two-time defending state champions who returned several key players on both offense and defense.  Leading the charge on offense was LaMarre (now playing his natural position of tailback), Ulrich, and center Wes Arensdorf while returning defensive starters included end Ken Koehler, Rebro (who was moved to linebacker), and defensive back Matt Brown.  Such that, the 1989 squad was firmly intent on winning an unprecedented third-straight 4A state title while maintaining The Streak—both tasks that were easier said than done.

The ‘89 Bulldog offense relied mainly on the legs of LaMarre who eventually rushed for a 4A-best 1,721 yards and 31 touchdowns and his path was cleared by fullback Eric Arguello and offensive linemen Mike Evans, Mike McNamara, Mike Murphy, and Arensdorf.  Ulrich, now a seasoned quarterback, made opposing defenses pay for stacking nine men in the box as he threw for a total of 753 yards and 6 touchdowns and his main target was junior tight end Rob Benson (23 receptions for 372 yards, 2 TDs).

After opening up the season with a 42-0 blasting of Pleasant Valley, Bettendorf zipped through the M.A.C. to both an 8-0 record and an Honorable Mention “Team to Watch” in USA Today; along the way, the Bulldogs litmus tests came in the form of both Davenport North and Central but both times rose to the occasion to win 17-0 and 21-14, respectively.  As always, Bettendorf’s defense played ruthlessly and was powered by ends Koehler and Eric Doerder, noseguard John Elkin, linebacker Rebro, and defensive backs Jimmy Kerker, Chad Fors, Bill Dockery, and Brown.  So hardnosed was the defense that against Clinton, Bettendorf took a 41-0 halftime lead and all starters were pulled at the beginning of the 3rd quarter while in the North contest, the Bulldogs limited the Wildcat’s offense to just 48 total offensive yards and never allowed them to cross the 50-yard line.

Nonetheless, the #1-ranked Bulldogs biggest challenge awaited them in the season finale—a game that would decide the 1989 Mississippi Athletic Conference champion.  Enter Bettendorf’s foe:  the 8-0 and #3-ranked Burlington Greyhounds who would pit their high-powered and top-rated M.A.C. offense against Bettendorf’s stingy, state-leading defense that only allowed 9.9 points per game.  Such that, the season finale was showcased as a “Clash of Titans” match-up and despite the 7,000 plus people who packed into TouVelle Stadium hoping to witness one last great games of the decade, the Bulldogs bolted to a 27-0 halftime lead.  The second half was mostly uneventful and in the end, Bettendorf’s 34-12 victory not only extended The Streak to 34-straight wins, but also propelled the Bulldogs into the 4A playoffs with momentum. 

A 28-6 victory over Davenport Assumption in the 1st Round advanced Bettendorf to the Quarterfinals where they again were matched against the Little Hawks of Iowa City High.  The game was a dogfight and at halftime Bettendorf led, 3-0.  However, midway through the 4th quarter, City High scored to take a 7-3 advantage and became the first opponent that season to ever lead the Bulldogs.  Yet, on their next possession, Bettendorf rose to the challenge and drove the length of the field only to face a 4th and 4 near the goal line; with more than just the season on the line, LaMarre took the handoff from Ulrich and ran untouched into the endzone as Bettendorf retook the lead.  The Bulldog defense stopped the Little Hawks on their next drive and another score by the offense sealed a 16-7 victory to not only advance the Bulldogs one game from the championship round, but upped The Streak to 36-straight wins.

In the Semifinal Round, Bettendorf faced an arduous opponent in the Linn-Mar Lions (10-1) whose sole loss had been a 10-8 thriller to the Iowa City Little Hawks.  Although the Lions scored on their opening drive, Bettendorf responded immediately and led 7-6 until midway through the 3rd quarter when a blocked punt inside the Dawg’s own red zone allowed Linn-Mar to retake the lead.  Several other uncharacteristic turnovers eventually doomed Bettendorf and they eventually lost, 25-7, on Saturday, November 11, 1989, ending both Bettendorf’s 36-game winning streak and a bid for a third-straight state championship.

In the post-season, Habenicht was named the “M.A.C. Coach of the Year” while LaMarre, Koehler, Rebro, and Elkin earned 1st Team All-State honors.  As well, Arensdorf and Evans were named to both the 2nd and 3rd teams, respectively.  Most certainly, over 150 players in a three-year span contributed to what is the longest winning streak in Class 4A in the last fifty years.

After the game, Habenicht said in The Quad City Times, “I just hope some day we can do again what we’ve accomplished the past three years.”  In this context, did “Humble Hab” know that “again” would be as little as two seasons later when “The Third Streak” would begin?