By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Iowa freshman receiver Arland Bruce was being interviewed by the media on Tuesday, along with several teammates, including Jack Koerner, John Waggoner and Gavin Williams, when it occurred to me that Bruce was surrounded by three former Dowling Maroons.
As a Dowling graduate myself from way back, I couldn’t resist highlighting the unusual circumstance.
Because it was Bruce who almost exactly one year ago helped end Dowling’s incredible streak of seven consecutive state titles by intercepting a pass in the end zone to secure a 31-24 double-overtime victory in the 2020 semifinals.
Ankeny would go on to win the Class 4A state title with Bruce leading the way as a dynamic runner, receiver and defensive back.
When reminded on Tuesday that he was standing near three Dowling graduates, Bruce said “I might have to back up a little bit,” before bursting into laughter.
It wasn’t just that Bruce played a key role in ending Dowling’s streak that makes his story unique, but also how he arrived at that point in his life.
Bruce only played in six games for Ankeny after having moved from his hometown of Olathe, Kansas in the summer of 2020.
The global pandemic had caused the 2020 high school football season to be canceled in Bruce’s hometown, so Bruce transferred to Ankeny in order to play football as a senior.
The move paid huge dividends for Bruce, and for the Ankeny football program.
Bruce knew very little about Dowling’s dominance when he arrived in Ankeny, and at first, he didn’t believe it when told that Dowling had won seven state titles in a row.
“I was like, that’s not true,” Bruce said. “I didn’t believe it. But then I looked it up and I was like, we have to snap that.”
Bruce was part of an explosive offense at Ankeny that also included receiver Brody Brecht, who is being redshirted at Iowa this season. Bruce and Brecht both made first-team all-state as seniors.
Dowling won the state title in each of the four years that Jack Koerner and John Waggoner attended the school. Koerner is now a fifth-year senior and Iowa’s starting free safety, while Waggoner is a fourth-year junior and a starter at defensive end.
Gavin Williams is a redshirt freshman running back, who helped Dowling win a state title in 2019 after having transferred from Southeast Polk where he played as a freshman, sophomore and junior.
Koerner remembers watching Dowling lose to Ankeny, and while it hurt to see the streak end, Koerner was excited to know that Bruce would be joining him at Iowa.
Bruce is now a key part of the offense as a slot receiver with 14 catches for 109 yards and one touchdown heading into Saturday’s game against Minnesota at Kinnick Stadium.
But against Dowling, he rarely left the field while playing both offense and defense.
“He was a newcomer, so he didn’t really care how many state championships Dowling had won,” Koerner said of Bruce.
Nearly a year later, Bruce still seems amazed by what happened in that game on Nov. 13, 2020, especially how it ended with him making an interception in the end zone.
“It was crazy,” he said. “It was just surreal getting the pick in double-overtime. It was like, ‘wow, did this really just happen?”
Bruce will always savor the moment when he ended Dowling’s streak, but he doesn’t dwell on it, or tease his current Iowa teammates who attended Dowling.
“I haven’t really talked to him all that much about it,” Koerner said. “I think one of his first days on campus I pulled him aside, I was like, so you’re the guy who ended our streak, a couple laughs back and forth there.”
Dowling lost in the quarterfinals of this year’s playoffs, so that now makes back-to-back seasons without winning a state title.
“People have always liked to poke fun at the Dowling guys because we’ve usually beat most of the guys on the team in their high schools, but now the roles have been kind of reversed now that we didn’t make it to the dome and we weren’t able to win last year,” Koerner said. “The streak was ended , so now everybody is trying to jump on us when were down because we haven’t been down for seven or eight years, or whatever. So there’s a lot of fun poking there.”
And by down, Koerner means not winning a state title.
“It’s state championship or bust mentality at Dowling, and when that doesn’t come true, people like to point it out,” Koerner said. “So obviously, we have a bunch of guys here whose high schools weren’t able to have as much success in Iowa as Dowling. We never, me and John and Gavin, bring it up, but if somebody is talking to us about it, we’ll make sure they understand who’s kind of really carrying the state.”