COUNCIL BLUFFS — There’s been no change in the quarterback situation for No. 3 Iowa Western.
After last week’s events, Connor Bravard is the starter for Saturday’s Midwest Football Conference home game against College of DuPage, with Tay Bender behind him.
Bravard and two other first-stringers sat out last Saturday’s 25-0 win at North Dakota State College of Science for disciplinary reasons after an on-campus alcohol violation. Bender then ran for 173 yards — the most by a Reiver quarterback and the fourth-best ever at Iowa Western — in his first start since his senior year at Lincoln Southwest.
Reiver coach Scott Strohmeier was happy to see Bender, who was slowed by an injury during fall camp, get to play a full game, though he wished it wasn’t in heavy rain. But he said he never felt Bender’s start, given Bravard’s situation, was an audition for the No. 1 spot.
“I wanted him to get that confidence back because I knew there was some frustration with his fall camp injury,” the coach said. “But at the same time, I always tell our guys that you’re not going to lose your job to an injury or something like that.
“I don’t want my quarterbacks to think they’ve always got to be looking over their shoulder. But I think it’s given a little more friendly competition. From that standpoint, it’s helped us. It’s a challenging situation for both of them. They’ve both got to play.”
Bravard, who played behind Jake Waters last year, won the starting job before the season and threw for 758 yards and nine scores in the first three weeks. Two days before his 21st birthday, he was charged as a minor in possession of alcohol by the Council Bluffs police.
In the past, discipline for all such alcohol violations within the football program has been handled internally by the coaching staff. When his starting quarterback’s name made the police report and became public, Strohmeier took a more visible stand.
Bravard said he understood and is ready to move forward.
“It was tough, but I accept responsibility for it. It was kind of unfortunate,” he said. “Coach Stroh was very understanding and helpful. He was on my side and had my back the whole way. I really appreciate that from him.”
Bender, meanwhile, made the most of his playing time. With starting running back Akise Teague out with an injury and weather restricting the downfield passing game, he carried the ball 31 times and is now the leading rusher for the Reivers with 334 yards.
He’s also completed 22 of 29 passes, but said he’s accepted his current role.
“It was great playing a full game, finally getting my chance to play,” he said. “Being the backup is never easy because you always have that urge of wanting to be out there.
“It was a great opportunity. But with Connor being back at it now, it’s about the same position I was in before. It’s about competing and always being ready to play.”
Strohmeier admits his quarterbacks are in a tough situation. Each knows he is capable of leading Iowa Western to success, yet only one can be on the field.
Meanwhile, opposing coaches now have to prepare for two looks from the Reiver offense for the first time since early in the 2010 season, when Zack Stoudt and Waters were sharing time at quarterback. Strohmeier said Iowa Western will continue to mix it up this fall.
“It’s a change of pace. It’s a change of attack. Defenses have got to prepare for both quarterbacks because they don’t know which one (will play),” he said. “Obviously, we use them a little bit differently. But we’re gradually getting Tay even more into the pass-game stuff. And we’re gradually working Connor into some of the run-game stuff.”
Strohmeier said the Reivers may unveil some new wrinkles on offense this weekend. Bender said he’s prepared to take whatever role the coaching staff needs him for.
“As any athlete, you want to play,” he said. “I respect Connor. I respect the coaches, whatever decision that they have. If they need me, they need me.”
With No. 1 Mississippi Gulf Coast losing Thursday, the top spot in next week’s NJCAA poll is up for grabs. A win by Iowa Western on Saturday sets up a possible showdown of unbeatens next week when the Reivers travel to No. 7 Georgia Military for a game that could vault the winner near the front of the title chase.