CEDAR FALLS, Iowa — Eddie Ogamba was surprised when the Iowa Western coaches looked his way.
The former starting kicker had lost his job in the middle of the season after struggling with his accuracy.
But with Hunter Pinegar having an off day in which he missed two short field-goal attempts and botched an extra-point try, the Reivers turned to Ogamba with the Graphic Edge Bowl Feature Game on the line.
The sophomore form Robbinsdale, Minnesota, delivered by drilling a 37-yard field goal with 6:51 to play to give No. 3 Iowa Western a 19-17 victory over No. 9 Snow at the UNI-Dome.
Ogamba, tears in his eyes, stood behind his teammates as they received their championship trophy.
"This season has been rough for me. It didn't start off so good," he said. "I just kept believing in myself and believing in my teammates. That kick? I don't know. I just said my last prayers, and I just kicked it."
Ogamba said he kept his faith throughout the fall, and the Reiver staff showed its faith in him also.
"Eddie hasn't kicked in a long time," IWCC coach Scott Strohmeier said. "We make a decision that we may have to go to him and give him a shot. There he was, and he kicked that one through. Guys can quit and guys can leave. He didn't do it. He just went out there and kept kicking every single day in practice."
Iowa Western (10-1) still had to endure a late field-goal try by Snow's James Baird before celebrating their sixth 10-win season. The Badger kicker missed wide to the right with 1:42 remaining in the game.
The Reivers limited the Snow offense, which came into the bowl averaging 53.3 points, to only three scores. The two Badger touchdowns came after IWCC turnovers. And one of those was a 1-yard drive.
"I never questioned that we were going to be able to this defensively," Strohmeier said. "We've played so good all year long. I just didn't want us to put them in a bad position like we did a couple of times. And they responded. Credit to those kids."
Willie O'Hara, as he has all season, led the defensive effort with 16 total tackles. The linebacker from West Des Moines Dowling broke the Iowa Western mark for career stops during the win. O'Hara, who had already eclipsed the single-season mark earlier this fall, finished his two years with 164 tackles.
"There's not that many people that believed in me coming in here," the 6-foot-2, 238-pound sophomore said. "I was told I was an NAIA player. I came here with a chip on my shoulder to prove people wrong."
O'Hara now has a number of FCS scholarship offers on the table. He's waiting for one from an FBS team.
The IWCC defensive star had plenty of help on Saturday. The Reivers had held Snow's Jaylen Warren, the nation's leading rusher, to only 105 yards on 29 carries before he rumbled for 35 yards on his final rush.
"It all starts with the defensive line," O'Hara said. "They worked their butts off all week. They get the pressure we need. They play tight, and the linebackers fill the holes. We just prepare. The coaches get us ready for the game and it all pans out. Just leave it all out on the field, and that's what we did."
The Reiver offense burned the Snow defense for a number of big plays. Quarterback T.J. Starks, who racked up 386 yards of total offense, dashed for a 44-yard gain on the game's first series. He hit Marcell Barbee for touchdowns of 25 and 62 yards. The duo connect for another gain of 42 during the first half.
Starks threw for 295 yards and ran for 91 more as Iowa Western overcame three turnovers to win.
"We knew coming into this game we've got the one-on-one matchups because our receivers are really good at attacking the ball in the air," he said. "We're a very resilient team. We showed a lot of perseverance today. We just fought a lot of obstacles in our way. And we got the job done."
The victory all but secured IWCC its sixth top-three finish in the NJCAA poll in the last seven years.
Saturday's game capped the 10th season of the Reiver football program. During that decade, Iowa Western went 94-20, won six of its nine postseason bowl games and claimed a national championship.
"So many great coaches and players have bought into this program. And the administration understands the importance of football and what it can do for some of these kids," Strohmeier said. "It's been an unbelievable 10 years. Hopefully, we can duplicate 10 more like that. But it's a battle week in and week out. And we were fortunate to be on the good side more times than not."
Snow (8-3)........................0 7 7 3 — 17
Iowa Western (10-1)........6 7 3 3 — 19
IW: Marcell Barbee 25 pass from TJ Starks (kick failed)
SC: Braxton Kerr 1 run (James Baird kick)
IW: Barbee 62 pass from Starks (Hunter Pinegar kick)
SC: Jaylen Warren 2 run (Baird kick)
IW: Pinegar 24 FG
SC: Baird 43 FG
IW: Eddie Ogamba 37 FG
RUSHING: SC, Warren 30-140, Kerr 7-24, Barlow 6-11, Wimer 1-16, Notoa 1-1. IW, Starks 16-91, West 11-21, Sargbah 5-5, Zachary 2-9, Wilwerding 1-(-5).
PASSING: SC, Kerr 22-41-1 168. IW, Starks 17-37-1 295, Wilwerding 2-4-1 10.
RECEIVING: SC, Hess 5-64, Powell 5-26, Wright 4-28, Warren 4-15, Barlow 2-22, McCoy 1-7, Tiavaasue 1-6. IW, Singleton 6-61, Richardson 5-64, Barbee 4-145, Spry 1-4, Zachary 1-2.