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Bulldogs to face Lincoln, but not Bernstine

October 7, 2011
Ottumwa High School

Bulldogs to face Lincoln, but not Bernstine

Speedy back out after being charged with felony assault

OTTUMWA — The second-best rushing team in the state and a school-record 86 points blasted onto the scoreboard in its last contest.

Des Moines Lincoln can flat out pound the rock. The 5-1 Railsplitters feature an electric backfield — filled with three Division I prospects.

The south side Des Moines squad from Polk County will have to matriculate the pigskin down the field tonight without one of those burners.

When Lincoln and head coach Tom Mihalovich enter Schafer Stadium tonight in a key CIML Metro showdown with the Ottumwa Bulldogs — two questions rise above all others.

First and foremost, who will win the game?

Answer? It’s up for grabs.

Second, will star Lincoln back Kee’Von Bernstine play against the Bulldogs?

Answer? No.

Bernstine — Lincoln’s leading rusher and second-best scoring back in Class 4A – was recently charged with felony assault in an alleged incident that took place last July.

Mihalovich stated the star Lincoln speedster has been withheld from competing because of a code violation handed down from the Lincoln School Administration. His absence will be felt by both teams.

Lincoln has played to a 5-1 league mark and won five-straight after an season-opening 48-13 loss to fourth-ranked Southeast Polk.

Bernstine has led the charge in that win streak and piled up 18 touchdowns. The explosive Metro back has gained almost 950 yards on the ground and averages a gaudy 12.4 rushing yards a crack every time he touches the ball. The D-I prospect is the younger brother of the University of Iowa’s starting safety and former Lincoln alum Jordan Bernstine.

Mihalovich talked about the void Bernstine will create.

“This kind of blindsided us. We have to do the right thing and you have to go from there,” said Mihalovich. “We were never a one-man team anyway.”

Bernstine’s replacement at his starting tailback position is junior Jordan Cheatem, who has gained 190 yards on just 10 carries this fall.

The forecast for critical league game tonight calls for possible wind gusts of up to 40 miles-per-hour.

“Hopefully there’s a tailwind at Cheatem’s back,” said Mihalovich.

In order to gain a Class 4A leading 2,499 yards of rushing through six games, Lincoln gets it done with a host of athletes. The Railsplitters also feature a game-breaker in Kippie Ward (609 yards rushing), who will receive a fair share of carries in Lincoln’s third league game. Lincoln also sports a bruising back in Rashid March, a transfer from Louisiana who moved to Iowa after Hurricane Katrina devastated the region six years ago. March has gained 410 yards this fall and led Lincoln with 172 yards against Ottumwa last year.

Those seniors — Bernstine, Ward and March — formed an imposing trio, only surpassed in total rushing yards in the Hawkeye state by Bob Howard’s Webster City squad. Howard — who guided area squad Sigourney-Keota to three state titles — has orchestrated his famed single-wing attack to 2,627 yards in Class 3A.

Ottumwa and Lincoln treated fans to a classic last year at Hutchens Stadium. In what was one of the most exciting finishes in Bulldog history, Ottumwa prevailed with a thrilling 37-34 on Lincoln’s Homecoming. The game was back-and-forth and saw five different lead changes — three in the final quarter. That memorable contest propelled Ottumwa to the outright conference championship.

“Last year, the biggest thing was we expected to win. It didn’t matter when we were down with a minute-and-a-half left,” said Ottumwa head coach Zach Wigle. “The faces of the guys wasn’t, ‘oh, no.’ It was, ‘let’s go win this sucker.’”

Ottumwa has struggled this fall and limps into this huge Metro tilt with a 2-5 mark and 2-1 league record. The Bulldogs are guaranteed their first losing regular season since 1990. That sub-.500 mark came in Hall of Fame coach Tom Kopatich’s second year at the helm of the Bulldogs — 21 years ago. Kopatich would go on to lead Ottumwa to 10 playoff appearances thereafter.

Ottumwa lost to Des Moines East (2-4, 2-0) last Friday night on the Scarlets homecoming, 10-3.

“We broke down the game at East. Ottumwa looked uncharacteristic and looked sluggish. It just didn’t look like the real Ottumwa team. I’m pretty sure we’ll see the real one Friday,” said Mihalovich.

Even with that East loss and just two games remaining in the regular season, the Bulldogs still have a chance to salvage a season that still holds promise and possibility. A league title is still within grasp and a possible playoff berth that might come with it.

“Our guys aren’t down. They’re fully expecting to play well and bring home a win,” said Wigle.

Ottumwa played one of the most challenging non-league slates in the state in losses to Johnston, third-rated West Des Moines Valley, Ames and Waukee. Those teams are a combined 18-7.

Lincoln’s five straight wins have come against Mason City, Sioux City East, Indianola, Des Moines Roosevelt and Des Moines North. The Railsplitters, who just missed being ranked in the top 10 of the latest Associated Prep poll, rolled those teams by a combined score of 280-113. Lincoln piled up a school-record 86 points in last week’s win over North. The Railsplitters gained a school-best 630 yards on the ground in that laugher. Lincoln also pushed up 60 points up on the scoreboard versus Sioux City East — the most points the Black Raiders have ever allowed in a single contest.

The record of those aforementioned five teams? — 6-26.

Michael Downing is Lincoln’s quarterback. Ward started game one at quarterback for the ‘Rails. Downing has started since and amassed 335 yards through the air and five touchdowns.

East was able to shut down Ottumwa’s main scoring threat last week in Ben Kramer. The Scarlets limited Kramer, Ottumwa’s starting quarterback, to just seven yards rushing on five carries. Kramer entered that contest as the Metro’s third-best yardage gainer. Kramer gained 176 yards on the ground last year versus Lincoln and passed for 147.

Ottumwa junior tailback Seth Griffiths had an outstanding game versus East last week. He almost gained 100 yards on the ground and returned another kickoff for a big gain. Ottumwa junior Alec Maas has provided a consistent and steady run threat up the middle at fullback. Maas gained 70 yards against East.

Ottumwa Probable Starting Lineup


QB — Ben Kramer (7) Sr.

TB — Seth Griffiths (34) (Jr.)

FB — Alec Maas (19) Jr.

SE — Kyle Keck (11) Jr.

LG — R.J. Bailey (72) Sr.

RG — John Torres (52) Jr.

C  — Jonah Wright (62) Jr.

LT — Josh Hudnut (65) Soph.

RT — Nick Duree (75) Sr.

TE — Kurtis Miller (17) Sr.

WB — Titus Weller (35) Soph.

 K — Guillermo Rodriguez (43) Soph.


DE — R.J. Bailey (72) Sr.

DE — Ron Forney (44) Sr.

DT — Dedrick Grimes (79) Sr.

DT — Michael Collins (76) Sr.

LB — Kurtis Miller (17) Sr.

LB — Alec Maas (19) Jr.

LB — Tyler Bramschreiber (24) Jr.

CB — Adam VanFleet (18) Sr.

CB — Zach Messer (16) Sr.

 S — Ben Kramer (7) Sr.

 S — Spencer Hammack (5) Sr.

 P — Ben Kramer (7) Sr.

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