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Special teams living up to name as Marshalltown hosts No. 3 Valley

September 8, 2011
By MARK PAWLAK - Assistant Sports Editor (mpawlak@timesrepublican.com) , Times-Republican

The special teams play has been, for a lack of a better word, special.

Marshalltown will look for more of the same from its kicking units as CIML Iowa Conference football play begins Friday night against Class 4A No. 3 West Des Moines Valley at Leonard Cole Field.

"Our special teams have been very good," said Marshalltown head coach Dave Holdiman. "If you look at our PAT field goal unit is perfect, our kick return group has returned two for touchdowns and set up a couple more, and our punt block has blocked three punts and pressured several."

The Bobcats have used the boost provided by the special teams units to stand 3-0 for the season. Marshalltown has outscored its opponents (Des Moines Roosevelt, Des Moines North and Johnston) 147-34 to match its win total from last fall. Valley also is 3-0 with wins over Dowling Catholic, Ottumwa and Indianola by a combined 119-38.

"The kicking game creates a surge of momentum," Holdiman said. "We've been fortunate enough and kids have played well enough that they've given us key bursts of momentum when we needed it, a lot of it comes out of the kicking game success."

Place kicker Blake Gimbel is 20-for-20 in extra points and 1-for-1 on field goals (32 yards). As a team the Bobcats are averaging 37 yards per punt with starting punter Brock Pappas standing at 35.9 yards per kick on eight attempts. On kickoffs, Gimbel has two touchbacks and is averaging 50.2 yards per attempt.

Fact Box

Valley (3-0) at Marshalltown (3-0)

Friday, 7:30 p.m.

At Leonard Cole Field

Marshalltown is second in Class 4A, according to quikstatsiowa.com, in kickoff returns at 36.3 yards per return and has a 4A-best two touchdowns.

Junior Tad Steffensen has proved to be a threat to score each time the ball is kicked with a pair of touchdowns (94 yards against Johnston last week and 93 yards against Des Moines Roosevelt) and an average of 42.7 yards per return.

The punt team has blocked three kicks and pressured several others to help set up the MHS offense in prime real estate.

Both the Bobcats and Tigers have sights on returning to the front of the conference standings, both were looking up at champion Fort Dodge in last fall's race. Valley was 3-2, while Marshalltown was 0-5. Prior to last season, the Bobcats won the conference in 2009, while the Tigers were the CIML Iowa champions from 2003-08.

Special teams were a key in Marshalltown's last win over Valley, 16-13, in 2009. The Bobcats recorded the program's only win over Valley (this Friday marks the 21st game in the series) behind a field goal with no time remaining and a touchdown off a blocked punt.

The momentum built from last week's 35-21 win at Johnston will be another thing in Marshalltown's corner on Friday night.

"We hold (Johnston) in very high regard. I thought we played well, but obviously we still have a lot of things that we can improve on and that's our goal, keep improving," Holdiman said. "We want to peak when the time is right, you don't what to plateau in this game, you want to keep improving. This week we're going to have our hands full, it's a 'must week' in terms of improvement for us."