Please fasten your seat belts and put your seat backs and tray tables in the upright and locked position. Bobcat Air is ready to take off.
The shotgun spread came to the Marshalltown High School football as the team's base offense in 2005 and the success of the attack has piles of evidence in playoff appearances and state records.
The Bobcats (7-2) take part in the postseason for a third consecutive year with a Class 4A first-round matchup with Council Bluffs Abraham Lincoln (5-4) tonight at Leonard Cole Field. No MHS team had been in back-to-back playoffs in what is currently the 40th year of postseason play before the streak that started in 2009. Marshalltown was also a playoff-qualifier in 2007.
T-R GRAPHIC BY MARK PAWLAK
Marshalltown's 2011 team is having one of the top passing seasons in Iowa history. The Bobcats also are scoring at a clip of 42.7 points per game - the highest average in school history over the last 100 years. Three of the top five averages over that span - 42.7 in 2011 (first), 39.1 in 2007 (second) and 31.1 in 2009 (fifth) are over the last five seasons. MHS has won seven regular games this season, went 7-3 in 2007 and had its only state championship game appearance during its 13-1 run of 2009.
Through nine regular season games, the 2011 Bobcats have 3,443 passing yards for an average of 382.6 per game.
"When they are clicking on all cylinders, they are really good," Marshalltown senior safety Kyle Carnahan said of the offense. "It's just fun to watch."
Single season team passing leaders in Iowa history
Marshalltown, 2011 3,443 9 382.6
Cherokee, 2003 3,327 9 369.7
Olin, 2005 2,996 9 334
Cherokee, 2006 3,287 10 328.7
Cherokee, 2004 2,922 9 324.7
CR Kennedy, 2007 3,221 10 322.1
Olin, 2004 2,878 9 319.7
Marshalltown, 2007 3,117 10 311.7
- from Iowa High School Athletic
Association football recordbooks
The record for highest per-game passing yardage average in state history is the 369.7 achieved by Cherokee in 2003.
"They have found their niche. We all want to be unique," Mason City head coach Justin Penner said to the press after the Bobcats' 42-7 win over the Mohawks last Friday.
"We want to fit in and have an offense like theirs in a sense that it's a lot to prepare for. They've certainly found their niche."
A group on the offensive side of the ball that gained some valuable experience in the 2010 season, in which the Bobcats went 3-7 after losing their final seven games, hit the ground running this fall.
"The experience is pretty important," said senior offensive lineman Ben Turner. "We've got a lot of returning starters on offense and we're jelling together and know where all the other people are going to be."
Six-foot-4 junior quarterback Blake Gimbel made his first career varsity start in the season opener and has been racking up passing yards ever since.
Gimbel has completed over 52 percent of his passes, thrown for 296 or more yards and has two or more touchdowns in each game.
For the season, Gimbel is 223-for-359 for 3,396 yards with 32 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
"It might be the hair. I don't know," MHS junior defensive lineman Pedro Gomez said with a laugh. "He stays focused out there. He does everything he's supposed to do and he executes it all."
Gimbel joins former Bobcats Tyler Peschong and Chanse Creekmur in the 3,000-yard/30-touchdown club.
"Blake's worked hard on reading defenses and we've put really I think a talented group of receivers around him," said MHS head coach Dave Holdiman. "He would be the first to tell you that's really a big factor in his success and you can't overlook the job the offensive line has done in protection as well.
"He's had a lot of time in a lot of games and when that happens he's really deadly as a quarterback."
Gimbel's 567-yard performance at Sioux City East set the Iowa all-time single-game mark.
Single season passing leaders in Iowa history
J. Vandenberg, Keokuk '07 3,729
C. Creekmur, MHS '09 3,589
B. Gimbel, MHS '11 3,396
Tyler Jones, Cherokee '06 3,287
Joel Osborn, Harlan '03 3,261
Coming into the year Holdiman knew the speed that the MHS receivers possessed. Opposing defenses have gotten first-hand knowledge as well.
"It means everything," Gimbel said of the group's running ability, "because it seems like no one can keep up with them. It's just off to the races every day."
Senior Ty Steffensen is the ringleader of the group. Steffensen has 85 catches for 1,158 yards and 11 touchdowns. The third-year starter has five games of double-digit catches this season and had 100 or more yards in each of the first eight games of the season.
"He's caught a lot of footballs for us and of course the exciting thing is what happens after he catches the ball," Holdiman said. "He's racked up a lot of yards and had a great senior year."
Steffensen took over the school's all-time reception lead from Jarred Carlson (134 catches in 2008-09) during Friday's win over Mason City and also matched Carlson's single-season record. Steffensen has 140 career receptions and sits just outside Iowa's all-time top 10.
"It's a tribute to our whole offense," Steffensen said of the school record. "The offensive line blocking for Blake and Blake getting me the ball.
"All the hard work I put in during the offseason is paying off."
Steffensen had a run of touchdowns in six consecutive games to start the year.
"It's just catch, catch, catch, you can just count on it," Gimbel said.
Tad Steffensen, Ty's younger brother, has 55 catches for 913 yards and eight touchdowns. He set a 4A single-game record with 305 receiving yards at Ames. Austin Hauser has 477 receiving yards and six scores, Brandon Pettigrew 363 and three, Dominick Osborne 335 and two and De'Quan McDowell 139 and one.
Single season reception leaders in Iowa history
J. Rohret, CCreek-Amana '10 100
B. Campbell, Cherokee '03 95
C. Campbell, Cherokee '06 94
M. Harper, Oelwein '05 88
J. Luse, SE Warren '71 87
J. Carlson, Marshalltown, '09 85
Ty Steffensen, Marshalltown, '11 85
Liftoff for Bobcat Air is built upon the snap getting successfully back to Gimbel in the shotgun and the blocking being there to give him time. The job for a group that features seniors in Turner, Paul Fienup and Jon VanHorn becomes even harder since it's no secret to the defense a pass is probably coming.
"In practice (the offensive line) seem to always be the most mad when something goes wrong," Gimbel said, "and it's because they care so much about their job. That's what really makes them who they are and how good a job they do."
The season stats put Marshalltown at a 65/35 pass/run split.
"Everybody knows we're going to throw the ball so people are going to tee off and you are going to get the best rush they've got," Holdiman said. "We probably should run the ball a little more often but that's on me, the guy that calls the plays. They've (the offensive line) done an outstanding job."
Senior running back Dominick Osborne leads the ground game with 605 yards and 10 scores. He gains an average of 6.9 yards per carry.
THE BEGINNING & 7-ON-7 GROWTH
The spread started as a 2-minute attack used by Holdiman in 2004 with Andrew Peschong the team's senior quarterback.
Tyler Peschong, his younger brother, was coming up the ranks and took over as the starter in 2005 when the Bobcats went exclusively to the spread.
"We graduated a very good offensive line with that group with Andrew as well," Holdiman said. "We thought to give Tyler, a young guy, a chance and to help our O-line protect him, we would back him up 5 yards and go from there.
"We made a decision as a staff to go into it whole hog, lock, stock and barrel, not just as only a 2-minute offense, but develop it as our primary offense. As they say the rest is history."
Tyler Peschong became the first to have three straight 2,000-yard passing seasons in state history and was the state's all-time leader in passing yards (since been passed) at the end of his final game. Chanse Creekmur joined Tyler Peschong as a first team all-stater as he was at the helm of Marshalltown's 2009 state runner-up team.
Urban Meyer, the former national championship coach at Florida, has been a big influence on the running game for the offense, Holdiman said, while passing routes have been added to what the Bobcats do from all over the country, Oklahoma, North Carolina and Tulsa to name a few.
"We have a certain set we like to run," Holdiman said. "We hang our hat on six to eight of them and we've got some specials we pull out of the closet every week."
"That half a dozen or so we hang our hat on, the kids can run them blindfolded," he added. "That's why the execution can get so good, they have so many repetitions with it."
The repetitions come year-round with the growth of 7-on-7 passing leagues. Marshalltown has had its share of 7-on-7 success, which includes third in the Iowa Midwest Shootout and second at Iowa State University's tournament this past summer and winning tournaments at Iowa State (2009) and the University of Iowa (2007).
The 7-on-7 work helps bring precision and timing to the passing game.
"It pays big dividends," Ty Steffensen said. "It's a way for the receivers and quarterback to start getting together and learning everybody's timing."
The time for liftoff tonight is set for 7 p.m.