EXIRA, Iowa — Exira-EHK junior quarterback Drew Peppers and his senior brother, Nick, have always shared a special bond in athletics.
“He’s my go-to guy,” Drew Peppers said. “We’ve played little league together. Recess, he was always my go-to guy. If he wasn’t on my team, I knew we were going to lose.”
Nick Peppers was on his brother’s team Friday night, but he wasn’t with him on the field, sitting out with a shoulder injury. Drew Peppers picked up the slack, carrying 34 times for 207 yards and four touchdowns, and throwing for another 90 and two more scores in the Spartans’ 51-26 Eight-Man, District 7 win over West Harrison.
Exira-EHK, rated second in the state and first in western Iowa by The World-Herald, improved to 3-0 overall and 3-0 in district play. West Harrison, rated ninth in the state and second in WI, dropped to 3-1 and 2-1.
Nick Peppers hopes to be back in action in the next week or two. His younger brother said it won’t be soon enough. Drew Peppers said that during pregame festivities, “I got choked up. I just really miss him when he’s not on the field with me.”
The younger Peppers, a 5-foot-11, 180-pounder, possesses good speed and is a relentless runner. He scored on touchdown runs of 27, 15, 2 and 3 yards. He also threw touchdown passes of 10 and 26 yards to Tate Simpson.
“He sent me a text message last night, saying that he was nervous,” Exira-EHK coach Tom Petersen said. “I gave him the Michael Jordan quote about never fearing failure. Good athletes — and he is — rise to the occasion. You can see it in his eyes. He wanted the ball and he just looks at me and says, ‘I’m good’ after every run. It’s a special, special player.”
West Harrison, seeking its first-ever playoff appearance this year, lost contact midway through the game. The Hawkeyes got within 21-14 with 5:05 left in the second quarter on Tyler Birdsall’s 15-yard touchdown run. But Zach Kliefoth’s 32-yard field goal sent the Spartans to the intermission with a 24-14 lead, and then senior Trey Sander broke multiple tackles on a spectacular, bruising 48-yard touchdown run to make it 30-14 with 11:07 left in the third. The Hawkeyes never got within one score the rest of the way.
It was Sander’s first action of the season. He had to sit out the first two games due to a violation of the school’s good-conduct policy. He finished with 17 carries for 135 yards.
“I was following with him (on the long run), because I couldn’t believe what he was doing,” Petersen said. “That’s power, and that’s something that we’ve missed.”
Jake Roden, the Hawkeyes’ leading rusher and solo tackler entering the game, was hobbled greatly by an ankle injury in the second quarter. He played sparingly in the second half.
“There’s a lot of season left, and we didn’t want to force the issue,” West Harrison coach Craig Birdsall said.
Tyler Birdsall, the coach’s son, carried 17 times for 147 yards, scoring on a 65-yard run and 73-yard kickoff return. Craig Birdsall said he saw some things his team can build on, with key games coming in the next two weeks against Glidden-Ralston and Coon Rapids-Bayard.
“There was some good things,” he said. “We’ve got to tackle better and be better in both the offensive and defensive lines.
“I told them yesterday before we left practice, ‘Don’t ride everything on this game. Because there’s a lot of season left, and there’s still wins out there.’ ”
West Harrison (3-1, 2-1) ............. 8 6 12 0—26
At Exira-EHK (3-0, 3-0) ............... 8 16 13 14—51
E: Tate Simpson 10 pass from Drew Peppers (Peppers run)
WH: Jake Roden 31 run (Roden run)
E: Peppers 27 run (pass failed)
E: Peppers 15 run (Zach Kliefoth kick)
WH: Tyler Birdsall 65 run (run failed)
E: FG Kliefoth 32
E: Trey Sander 48 run (kick failed)
WH: Dalton Pospisil 4 run (run failed)
E: Peppers 2 run (Kliefoth kick)
WH: Birdsall 73 kickoff return (run failed)
E: Peppers 3 run (Kliefoth kick)
E: Simpson 26 pass from Peppers (Kliefoth kick)
RUSHING: WH, Tyler Birdsall 17-147, Jake Roden 13-69, Trey Kirlin 6-25, Dalton Pospisil 1-4. E, Drew Peppers 34-207, Trey Sander 17-135, Martin Olson 1-19.
PASSING: WH, Trey Kirlin 5-12-0, 59 yards; Tyler Birdsall 1-1-0, 1 yard. E, Drew Peppers 5-7-0, 90 yards, 2 TDs.
RECEIVING: WH, Tyler Birdsall 4-41, Adriel King 1-18, Trey Kirlin 1-1. E, Tate Simpson 4-87, Trey Sander 1-3.