DUNLAP, Iowa — Cody Thoreson and his Boyer Valley teammates didn’t forget how last season ended.
Needing a win to qualify for the playoffs, the Bulldogs’ season ended with a thud, a 64-42 loss to West Harrison.
“They kind of punched us in the face last year,” Thoreson said.
When it mattered on Friday, Boyer Valley punched back. Again needing a win to reach postseason play, the Bulldogs regained the lead on Thoreson’s 4-yard touchdown run with 3:51 remaining, and then held West Harrison on downs for a dramatic 32-26 Eight-Man, District 7 victory.
The win moves Boyer Valley (6-3, 4-3) into the playoffs for the fourth time, all in the last six years. The Bulldogs earned the fourth seed and will play at the District 8 top seed on Wednesday. That likely will be Southwest Valley (7-2), although the pairings hadn’t been released by the Iowa High School Athletic Association at press time.
Regardless of where the Bulldogs are playing, they’re just thrilled to be in after starting the season 1-3 overall and 0-3 in district play. They’ll carry a five-game win streak into the playoffs.
“We played the murderer’s row,” Boyer Valley coach Jay Petersen said. “We stayed healthy through it, our kids played hard, we learned how to get better. I’m proud of our kids not giving up, not feeling like we’re a bad team because we got beat by some better teams. Believing in themselves.”
The Bulldogs were also playing without leading rusher and starting linebacker Nathan Rudd, a senior who missed the game due to a violation of the school’s good-conduct policy. That left the Bulldogs with just four seniors on the field: twin linemen Scott and Pat Garrett, defensive end James Cogdill and running back/linebacker Nick Klein.
Thoreson, a 5-foot-9, 171-pound junior quarterback, also picked up the slack with 31 carries for 108 yards. He also threw for 102 yards and two touchdowns.
“We wanted it really bad,” Thoreson said. “We had a lot of stuff motivating us and we came through tonight.”
West Harrison (5-4, 3-4), which was eliminated from the postseason, also had enormous motivation. In about 35 years of having its own program within a playoff system, the Hawkeyes were one of the few programs in the state never to have reached the postseason.
It looked promising with 1:21 left in the third quarter, when Trey Kirlin hit Tyler Birdsall for a 40-yard touchdown pass to erase a 24-12 halftime deficit and put the Hawkeyes up 26-24.
West Harrison, which listed 10 seniors, then had a golden opportunity to perhaps go up two scores early in the fourth. A face-guarding penalty nullified a Reed Block interception, giving the Hawkeyes a first-and-10 at the Bulldog 13. Birdsall’s 10-yard run made it first-and-goal at the 3. But then came a 12-yard holding penalty and Calvan Wood’s interception.
The Hawkeyes held, but another Kirlin interception, this one by Block, put the hosts in business at the West Harrison 31. Five plays later, Thoreson ran in from the 4 to put his team on top for good. On fourth-and-15 at his own 20, Kirlin scrambled but was stopped four yards short of the first down, and Boyer Valley ran out the clock after a key face mask penalty.
“It boiled down to, they wanted it a little more than us the first half,” West Harrison coach Craig Birdsall said. “They just got us back on our heels.”
The Hawkeyes started the year with a 62-12 win over Fremont-Mills, which finished 7-2. But ankle injuries to standouts Tyler Birdsall and Jake Roden severely limited the Hawkeyes. Roden returned Friday after missing three games, but neither was full speed.
“Injuries did hurt us a little bit, but I just thought if we could win the line of scrimmage ... I don’t think we did tonight,” Craig Birdsall said. “That hurt us.”
West Harrison (5-4, 3-4) .......... 12 0 14 0—26
At Boyer Valley (6-3, 4-3) ........ 8 16 0 8—32
BV: Nick Klein 5 run (Cody Thoreson run)
WH: Jake Roden 12 run (run failed)
WH: Tyler Birdsall 10 pass from Trey Kirlin (kick failed)
BV: Klein 2 run (Klein pass from Thoreson)
BV: Reed Block 29 pass from Thoreson (Thoreson run)
WH: Roden 4 run (Roden pass from Kirlin)
WH: Birdsall 40 pass from Kirlin (run failed)
BV: Thoreson 4 run (Thoreson run)
RUSHING: WH, Jake Roden 21-112, Tyler Birdsall 11-11, Trey Kirlin 4-7, Dalton Pospisil 6-23. BV, Cody Thoreson 31-108, Nick Klein 12-33, team 2-(-2).
PASSING: WH, Trey Kirlin 7-14-2, 102 yards, 2 TDs; Jake Roden 0-1-1. BV, Cody Thoreson 11-20-0, 117 yards, 1 TD.
RECEIVING: WH, Tyler Birdsall 4-63, Brandon Barnett 2-25, Adriel King 1-14. BV, Calvan Wood 6-62, Reed Block 4-47, Nick Klein 1-8.