CEDAR FALLS, Iowa — A year ago, Exira-EHK and Marcus-Meriden-Cleghorn were playing 11-man football.
Now, they make up half of the unbeaten field in the Eight-Man semifinals.
Both are 12-0. Both average 54 points per game. And both rallied from double-digit deficits in the second half of quarterfinal games last Friday to pull off stunning victories in the final seconds.
The No. 7 Eagles were down 32-20 before upsetting top-ranked Newell-Fonda on a Tanner Utesch touchdown pass with 15 seconds left. The No. 4 Spartans trailed unrated Glidden-Ralston 30-7 midway through the third quarter before advancing on a Zach Kliefoth field goal.
“We didn’t play very well, obviously, for 212 quarters,” Exira-EHK coach Tom Petersen said. “For us to have a chance on Thursday, we’re going to have to play a lot better.”
The Spartans and Eagles meet at noon Thursday at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls. And when they do, Petersen expects Exira-EHK to have its hands full with the dangerous MMC offense.
Utesch has thrown for 1,763 yards, 33 touchdowns and three interceptions. Running back Andrew Hoefling has 1,384 rushing yards and 24 scores.
“We’ve just got to do a lot better job of assignment football,” Petersen said. “We had a lot of defensive breakdowns the other night so we were fortunate to come out on top. We can’t do that on Thursday.”
The Spartans certainly have the offense to match MMC. Drew Peppers, Trey Sander and Nick Peppers have combined to score 78 total touchdowns.
Petersen said his team was dominated up front by a physical Glidden-Ralston team for more than half of its quarterfinal. He said Exira-EHK has to match the Eagles in the trenches to have a chance to advance.
“If we can do that, we’ll have a chance to be there in the fourth quarter,” Petersen said.