Friday Night Lights 2014: Second Round

Last night my dad and I headed back to West Branch for the second round of the 2014 IHSAA football playoff. (Yes, last night. I needed to polish a piece for the LV when I returned home and did not get a chance to write about the game afterward.) The Bears (10-0) hosted the Dike-New Hartford Wolverines (8-2).

Where is Dike-New Hartford? you ask. The school is located in Dike, which is west of Cedar Falls on US Highway 20. The town of New Hartford is about eight miles north of Dike on Iowa Highway 57.

Yesterday was about ten degrees warmer than normal, and that warmth lingered after sundown to make for near perfect conditions for kickoff. It was breezy, but it reminded me of a late-September evening. However, there was a threat of showers as colder air moved in. Before the game, the announcer said, “If the weather becomes inclement, don’t join us in the press box. There is no more room.” I thought it was an amusing comment. Also interesting was his use of the term “inclement.” Before last night, I think I had only heard it used by Brits. Anyway, my dad and I both felt a drop every now and then, an ominous sign of things to come…

West Branch received the opening kickoff and it was evident from the first play from scrimmage that the Wolverines were no push over. The DNH defense stymied the usually dominant West Branch running game. The Bears moved the ball through the air, but fumbled on their on 47. The Wolverines then pounded the ground with their 5-foot-5, 160-pound wrecking ball of a running back. A 22-yard run into the end zone and PAT gave the Wolverines the lead, 7–0.

West Branch was held to a three-and-out on their next possession, but the Bears’ defense snatched an interception and returned the ball to the DNH 24. However, the Wolverines responded with an interception of their own. Aided by a personal foul penalty against the Bears, the DNH offense setup on their own 49. A three-yard touchdown from Mr. Bowling Ball capped a 51-yard drive, and a PAT increased the Wolverines’ lead to 14–0.

The West Branch fans around us seemed stunned. The Bears had had their way with opponents all year, and this was the first time they were getting pushed around. DNH was giving West Branch a taste of their own medicine. However, that did not silence the Bears’ faithful. Both sets of supporters were energized and very vocal. A large contingent of fans from DNH were in attendance; they filled the opposing stand and many were seated on the hill in front of us. (We sat in the northeast corner again.) It had been a long time since I attended a game with an equal number of supporters on both sides of the field.

After another West Branch three-and-out, the Wolverines’ next drive ended with an unsuccessful 29-yard field goal attempt. The Bears’ QB scampered 45 yards to the DNH 29, but the drive ended on 4th-and-11 with a turnover on downs.

Right about then was when it started raining. A light drizzle began to fall first. Silhouetted against the floodlights, the droplets fell slowly and were blown sideways by the wind. The drizzle gradually turned into a steady, light rain. After DNH was forced to punt, the Bears turned the ball over on downs again to end the first half.

Fans headed to their cars and trucks at halftime to warm up and dry off. As the game progressed and the rain moved in, the air had turned cold. I should have worn my Triclimate, but had been unsure how to dress since the day had been so nice. I expected it to be crisp, but not cold. Thankfully, I was wearing a sweatshirt beneath my Carhartt rain jacket. Despite vowing to buy rain pants after last year’s rain-soaked first round playoff game, I still have not done it. Grr. Thankfully, the rain let-up at halftime and only a few droplets of drizzle could be felt when the third quarter started.

The Bears’ defense held the Wolverines to a three-and-out and forced a punt to begin the second half. West Branch than broke through with a 69-yard TD drive. The PAT was blocked, making the score 14–6. DNH responded with a 75-yard drive, punctuated by an end zone scamper of 56-yards by none other than Mr. Bowling Ball (the kid had wheels, too).

Down 21–6, the Bears needed to score to keep the game within reach — which they did. With the help of a 43-yard pass play, West Branch completed an 81-yard drive with a six-yard TD run. The Bears lined up for a two-point conversion, but an illegal procedure penalty pushed them back five yards. From the shotgun, the QB threw a pass toward the left corner of the end zone and overthrew his receiver, keeping the score 21–12.

The Wolverines continued to keep their distance, scoring another touchdown at the end of a 72-yard drive to increase their lead to 16, 28–12. And that is when I stopped taking notes. The rain had returned and it looked like West Branch’s season would end. The Bears did score again, but failed to convert a two-point conversion; a pass into the back of the end zone bounced off the wide receiver’s chest.

Just before we left, the Bears were trying to get a stop on defense. However, Mr. Bowling Ball, who ran for a whopping 325 yards, busted a 55-yard TD run. After he had broken away and was running free toward the end zone, he raised his finger into the air at the 10-yard line and strutted the last five yards. Not cool, and the back judge thought so too, throwing a flag for unsportsmanlike conduct. That negated the TD since it was a scoring play. Since the foul occurred on the 10-yard line, the refs placed the ball on the West Branch 25.

That was when we decided to leave. We packed up our stuff and headed back to IC. The Wolverines won, 35–18.

Only eight teams remain in each division and the third round will be played Friday. That means each team will have played four games in two weeks. Much as there was talk about dissolving the MVC and MAC last year, coaches and the IHSAA are talking about changing the playoff schedule in the future. Playing four games in two weeks, with only four days between games, is grueling for the players and could lead to injuries. It has been that way for as long as I can remember, but playing one game per week would be much smarter. However, that would extend the playoff schedule. To crown champions before Thanksgiving, the season would need to start at least one week earlier. It will be interesting to see what is decided during the off-season.

But let’s not talk about the off-season yet. Both Regina and IC West are still alive. Regina plays Central Decatur at home and West plays against Cedar Rapids Washington at Kingston Stadium. I have never been to Kingston Stadium and would like to see a game there sometime. Will Friday night be that time? Probably not. I doubt I will be able to convince my dad that we should drive all the way to Cedar Rapids to see a game, especially since Regina is within walking distance. Needless to say, I hope to squeeze in one last high school football game this fall, even if it will be a total blowout. A little rain is forecast for Friday night, so I will at least have an excuse to get rain pants.

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