CEDAR FALLS, Iowa | Sure, Hinton has enjoyed a special ride to the Class A state football title game on Thursday. But as each win led to levels of success never seen for the Blackhawks, other things never seem to change.
For a squad that finished third in its own district, the Blackhawks have played the role of underdog each week in the playoffs, and each week the team has more than risen to the occasion.
Thursday will be no different against second-ranked Wapsie Valley.
"The big thing is our kids play together," Hinton co-head coach Steve Diediker said. "They believe in each other, and we have really played team offense and team defense all year long. Every game there is a different star ... kids just know they can count on each other.
"You don't have to be better than the other team individually if you can really put it together as a team."
Team, community and history has all played a role in getting the Blackhawks (10-3) to their first title game in their initial trip to the UNI-Dome. Even the coaches -- Diediker and fellow co-head coach Bruce Held -- are enjoying this level of success for their first time in their 30 years leading the team.
"There have been other years where we thought we had kids that were ready to take the next step, but the ball did not bounce our way or something," Diediker said. "This year it has and we are just along for the ride."
The Warriors (13-0) have used a combination of speed and balance to overwhelm opponents this season. Wapsie Valley's Tyler Odneal leads an impressive rushing attack with 2,044 yards on the season. Quarterback Mitchell Boevers has thrown for 1,633 yard this season and 20 touchdowns.
"They are really a quick-strike offense," Diediker said. "You watch them on film and the first thing you notice is their speed. They have a ton of speed. Whereas on Friday we had to try to slow down some big, hard-running backs, these guys we will have to try to keep penned in a little bit.
"They are very balanced throwing and running the ball, and that means you can't just get set on one. It is going to be a big challenge. The big thing that changes is the angles. You have to keep your angles."
The Warriors have scored at least 40 points in each of their four playoff wins including a 40-18 win over BGM in the semifinals. Wapsie valley scored on runs of 66, 66 and 40 yards and a pass of 69 yards against BGM.
The Blackhawks downed Logan-Magnolia 24-21 in the semifinals to advance, and will be looking to use balance in the pass and run behind quarterback Morgan Wenzel to earn another victory.
Wenzel has thrown for 1,823 this season and Dalton Becker has run for a team-leading 742 yards.
"It was huge effort and our kids played very well," Diediker said. "At the end we had a little bit of back against the wall, but the kids stepped up and made plays."
The Blackhawks were able to hold off Logan-Magnolia despite giving up 355 yards rushing with two key takeaways in the second half. Jake Hasselquist had a second-half interception, caught a 65-yard touchdown pass for one of his two scores, and finished the game with six catches for 160 yards.
"Jake was a real warrior on Friday," Diediker said. "He came out of the game with a bloody nose, he had a stinger in his shoulder and he was just all beat up ... but he just keeps answering the bell.
"We have to give Morgan time to throw the ball in the pocket and yet we have to be able to run block well enough to give them some lanes."
Thursday's championship game at 1:36 p.m. -- which is the first in football for the school -- will be the latest big game for Blackhawk teams during the fall sports season.
"There is a lot of excitement here throughout the whole community, and it has been a great football season," Diediker said. "We had great volleyball, great cross country and we are having a great football season."
One more win would push it into the argument for the best ever.