CEDAR FALLS, Iowa | The Boyden-Hull/Rock Valley defense provided the spark, but Waukon was there to douse any flames in the end.
After being shutout in the first half, the top-ranked Nighthawks defense recorded strip sacks on back-to-back possessions early in the second half to pull within 15-13, but the fifth-ranked Indians and senior running back Mitchell Snitker proved too much in a 36-19 Class 2A state semifinal victory at the UNI-Dome on Saturday.
"These kids battled back to this point and I am proud of each and every one of them," Nighthawks Coach Cory Brandt said. "We don't take any of this for granted, I can tell you that for sure because it is not easy to get here."
The loss ends the defending champions season at 10-2 while Waukon (11-1) is back in the title game for the first time since 2013 where it will face the winner of Union La Porte City and Williamsburg on Friday.
Before the defense did it's thing it was the BHRV offense that came firing out of the gate in the second half. Quarterback J.T. Van't Hul found Cade Moser on a 71-yard scoring pass on the first play after halftime to make it 15-7.
Waukon had the ball near midfield on its first possession when Brayton Van Kekerix hit Indians QB Abe Schwart forcing a fumble that was recovered by the Nighthawks. A slip on a run on the first play and a dropped pass on the second led to a fourth-and-3 BHRV was unable to convert turning the ball over on downs.
"I told them we were close," Brandt said. "We were missing a few plays here and there offensively, and defensively we were right there too and just missed some tackles."
Nighthawks linebacker Austin Rozeboom would strip Schwartz on the very next play as he looked to pass and Cade Van Zee recovered the ball. This time Carter Olson hauled in a 12-yard TD pass from Van't Hul to close within 15-13.
"Our defense came and made a couple of turnovers and that really sparked our offense," said Rozeboom, who made several tackles behind the line in the game. "Our coaches said our playmakers had to go make plays and we just had to fly around and make plays. Whatever happens happens."
"He always plays like a man possessed," Brandt said. "There is no other guy that goes as hard as he does or wants to do what he can do. He gave everything he had and he did it all season long."
That is when Waukon went back to the running game and Snitker. He finished his night with four rushing touchdowns, three in the second half, and an interception. The senior ran 30 times for 164 yards.
"I like to run the ball but I will go wherever they want me, I just want to win," Snitker said. "It is amazing (to be in title game). Back in '13 I was the ball boy so I got to experience it in eighth-grade.
"It was huge (to put together drives) and it was the difference in the game."
Waukon scored two straight touchdowns, both on Snitker runs, before Van't Hul found Beau De Jongh on a 25-yard TD pass where the receiver high-pointed the ball over a defender in the back of the end zone to cut the lead to 29-19. That is as close as BHRV got as Snitker closed the door with his third score of the second half.
Waukon jumped on the Nighthawks early scoring on its first two possessions.
The Indians opened the game with 11-play drive that relied almost entirely on the run until Schwartz found Isaiah Welch on a 21-yard touchdown strike after running back and forth to avoid BHRV defenders.
Van't Hul was then intercepted on his second pass of the game and Snitker raced 23 yards on Waukon's first play to make it 12-0 just over halfway through the first quarter.
The Nighthawks would drive all the way down to the 12 as they looked to get back into the game, but Van't Hul was picked off by Snitker to end the threat.
The BHRV defense would stiffen from there led by the big plays of Rozeboom. Waukon was only able to get a 34-yard field goal from Snitker the rest of the half.
However, the Nighthawks continued to struggle offensively managing just 124 total yards in the first 24 minutes. The Indians defense held BHRV to 64 yards rushing.
Van't Hul found his rhythm in the second half and finished 20 of 34 for 253 yards and three touchdowns to go with the two picks. He enjoyed an impressive junior season with over 1,900 yards passing and 42 total touchdowns.