CEDAR FALLS, Iowa -- For a school with no playoff football wins before this season, the Indians of Spirit Lake are truly getting the hang of things.
Luke Kabele carried 21 times for 250 yards and three touchdowns Monday as third-ranked Spirit Lake dominated No. 2-rated West Marshall 35-14 in a Class 2A state semifinal battle of unbeatens.
And, while Coach Josh Bolluyt's newcomers to the UNI-Dome were piling up 457 yards in total offense, they put the clamps on one of the state's top running backs, limiting South Dakota State recruit Dalton Ferch to 31 net yards on 17 carries.
Winless in three previous first-round playoff chances -- in 1984, 1988 and last season -- who are now 4-for-4 on this year's post-season trailing, sending their best-ever season record to 13-0.
All that remains is Saturday's 1:05 p.m. title game here against defending champion Iowa City Regina, 13-0 this season after a perfect 14-0 campaign last season under Coach Marv Cook, a former University of Iowa star who played tight end for seven seasons in the NFL.
"If Spirit Lake plays as physical as they played today, that'll be a ball game,'' predicted Ken Winkler, denied his 200th win in 27 seasons at State Center-based West Marshall, where he is now 199-73.
The Indians sent Winkler's team an early message when junior cornerback Bryson McCabe delivered a jarring tackle to Ferch. The 5-11, 180-pound senior came into the game with 2,186 rushing yards on the season and ranks fifth in Iowa prep football history with the 98th career touchdown he scored early in Monday's second quarter.
"They had a really good running back and our game plan was to shut him down,'' said the 5-11, 175-pound McCabe, whose father, Bryan, is one of four McCabe brothers from Milford who played football at Morningside College.
"I thought it would be a close game coming in, but we played our hardest and it turned out the way we wanted it to,'' said the hard-running Kabele, a 5-11, 200-pound senior who sent his season rushing total to 1,328 yards. "It's all about our mindset. We haven't been here before and we really wanted to make this season matter.''
Junior kicker Brett Cochran-Bray, who hit all three of his PAT tries and both of his field goal attempts, salvaged a 21-yarder after Kabele was caught from behind on the third play of the game, a 50-yard gallop. Three plays after the tackle at West Marshall's 11, the Indians had to settle for the chip-shot three-pointer after being stopped at the 4.
It was not their only frustrating moment on the day, as two more deep drives were stopped on downs, one of them on a fourth-down pass play where the Indians got an unfavorable spot.
However, it was more about success than the rare mishaps as the running game churned out 357 yards to just 74 for a West Marshall team that had relied heavily on the run to get here with a 12-0 mark of its own.
"If you can't run the ball and you can't stop the run, it's a hard game,'' said Winkler, who had a state championship team at Treynor in 1979 and gave Class 4A coaching a try with two seasons (1983-84) at West High. He has been at West Marshall ever since, winning a Class 1A championship in 1999.
"I think we played great as a team,'' said Spirit Lake native Bolluyt, a 1999 Northwestern College grad who was the defensive coordinator the last four years of a seven-year coaching stint before moving from one alma mater to the other. "Our offensive line had one of their best games of the year. We ran hard, we played physical. I thought defensively we played great team defense. We were able to fit well, push the ball to the perimeter, we tackled well in space and we were able to slow down one of the best running backs in the state.''
After a 76-yard scoring drive gave West Marshall a 7-3 lead two plays into the second quarter, Spirit Lake used a short field to drive 47 yards and move in front to stay after Kabele's five-yard run with 6:56 remaining in the second quarter.
The state leaders in pass interceptions with a whopping 30 picks by 12 different players, Spirit Lake used one of three thefts on the day, the sixth of the year by Kevin Martinson, to add Cochran-Bray's 37-yard field goal as the first half ended, boosting their lead to 13-7.
However, a big discrepancy in yardage had to give West Marshall hope, trailing by only six at the recess. So, it was pivotal when the Indians started the second half with a stop and then a 52-yard touchdown drive on six straight running plays, opening up a 21-7 lead when Paul Brown snuck a sidearm throw under a the arm of a defender and into the hands of Rick Maris for a two-point conversion.
Kabele's third short TD run and a 24-yard scoring jaunt by Brown came less than three minutes apart in the fourth quarter and it was a 35-7 blowout with 7:26 to play.
"It all started with our coaching staff,'' said Brown, whose older sister, Katie, was a softball all-stater who played at Iowa and is now a graduate assistant coach at Nebraska. "We brought in a great head coach (Bolluyt) and he broughtin other coaches. We've got great discipline and great work ethic. They got us lifting and getting us going and getting us in the right mindset that we can win.''
McCabe, who commutes from Milford, where former high school, Okoboji, didn't field a football team this year, accounted for 76 of the Indians' 100 passing yards with four receptions. He's a first-cousin to former Heelan football and basketball star Zach McCabe, now playing hoops at the University of Iowa.
Like Spirit Lake, Regina had a 35-7 lead well into the fourth quarter of its semifinal Monday before stubborn Dyersville Beckman punched in three touchdowns in the final 4:02 to make it a 35-28 final, the Regals' 27th victory in a row.