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Iowa Western’s Marcell Barbee runs after the catch for a 53-yard gain with Dodge City Defenders David Britten and Burnicio Perofeta chasing him.

Last Saturday’s bus ride home from Dodge City, Kansas, featured an atmosphere Iowa Western coach Scott Strohmeier was happy to see.

Smiling faces. Laughter. Those were the responses to putting together a strong performance on the field. Iowa Western’s convincing 37-7 road win provided the Reivers’ coaches and players with a sense of optimism they hadn’t experienced since late August.

“Guys were happy. They played well and were successful. The drive home was good. Sunday’s meeting was a totally different atmosphere,” Strohmeier said.

“It was good for those guys. You go four weeks with the bye with that sour taste in your mouth, and for them to experience success again was good.”

Last week, the goal was to put an end to a three-game losing streak.

Now, it’s about sustaining the momentum the Reivers have created. Their first chance comes with this week’s 2:30 p.m. homecoming game against Ellsworth at Titan Stadium on the Lewis Central High School campus.

The biggest source of renewed confidence is under center for the Reivers. Quarterback Cam Thomas hopes to capitalize on his best game of the season against Dodge City where he completed 21 of 34 passes for 353 yards and three touchdowns.

Strohmeier has been impressed with how his sophomore signal caller has carried himself the last two weeks.

“He was different,” Strohmeier said “I thought he had a different approach in practice. I thought he had a different approach in pregame. When a guy makes a big-time catch for him and to see the excitement of him sprinting down the field into the end zone to celebrate, I thought it was really big.

“In that position, you can say what you want. It’s like baseball. If you’re in a slump, you need a break to get you out. I thought he played his best game, but I also thought the guys around him made some plays to get him some of that confidence.”

The Reivers will also get some starters back this week. Defensive linemen Devin Drew and Almosse Titi are expected to play. So, too, is running back ZaQuandre White after missing last week with an illness.

Defensive lineman Perrion Winfrey, running back Brian Snead, tight end Lou Dorsey, linebacker Tucker Kroeze aren’t expected to play, and offensive lineman Jacob Gamble is questionable with a shoulder issue.

Regardless of who’s on the field, the Reivers must be disciplined Saturday, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Ellsworth (1-4) has struggled to get its offense going, averaging just 13.2 points and 164 yards of total offense per game. Participation numbers factor into those stats. They don’t have the depth that most teams have.

Still, Strohmeier has emphasized discipline as the team prepares for the week. Ellsworth runs a triple-option offense, meaning staying on task and on assignment will be critical for the Reiver defense.

“Their kids are playing hard, but they’re limited with the amount of numbers they have,” Strohmeier said. “They run a unique offense, so you’ve got to play disciplined. They’ll take advantage if you don’t. That’s our biggest thing, making sure we’re playing disciplined, assignment-sound football.

“We’ve got to be able to control the line of scrimmage.”

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