CEDAR FALLS, Iowa | The T-shirt can come back out.
Tied at 14-14 at halftime the Western Christian defense pitched a second-half shutout and the Wolfpack offense came to life to earn a 35-14 Class 1A state semifinal victory over No. 4 Van Meter at the UNI-Dome on Saturday.
The 1A title game will be a rematch of last year as the fifth-ranked Wolfpack will face top-ranked Iowa City Regina on Friday at 11:06 a.m. The Regals won last year's title, their sixth straight championship, 35-28. Regina advanced to the championship game with a 42-6 win over Denver earlier Saturday.
A Western Christian player picked up a Regina T-shirt that had been left after last year's title game and it made its way back to Hull where it stayed in the Wolfpack weight room for summer workouts.
"That is what we worked all year for," said Western Christian wide receiver Jesse Jansma. "We put a Regina shirt in our weight room and that is what we worked for. We wanted to get back and have a chance to beat those guys.
"We figured (Regina would get back to title game) they are a heck of a team. It is right in front of us. We just have to play our best."
A team that has prided itself on taking it one game at a time this season can now pull that shirt back out.
"It was there, the guys saw it for the weight workouts," Western Christian Coach Travis Kooima said. "Every team does things for the weight workouts to figure out ways to motivate themselves. That is something we used for a while but I haven't seen it for about three months. ... We can maybe pull it out now."
After a scoreless third quarter, the game turned on the arm of Western Christian senior quarterback Tyson Kooima and legs of Ben Granstra in the fourth. After not completing a pass in the third the QB hit Micah VanOtterloo with a 28-yard pass on third down, and then threaded a pass to Ben Gesink for 21 yards and the touchdown.
"We started throwing more to the middle of the field, that is where it was open," Gesink said. "Tyson just threw some good balls."
The Bulldogs (11-1) would fumble the ball away on the first play of their next drive and it was recovered by Micah Uittenboggard. After four runs it was Kooima to Gesink again, this time from 20 yards away.
"They started putting more guys in the box because we were running the ball well and that opened up our passing game and got our receivers open," said Tyson Kooima, who went 13 of 20 for 171 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.
While the offense was coming alive the Wolfpack defense shut down Van Meter, which lost in the semifinals for the third time in four years. Bulldogs running back Carson Rhodes ran for 115 yards in the first half but was limited to just 23 the rest of the way.
"Our defensive ends made a ton of plays," Jansma said. "We pressed so our ends could come free and that worked great because they got free and we could all rally to the ball, flow to the ball."
The Wolfpack finished the game with 447 yards of total offense while the Bulldogs had just 221. Granstra broke several long runs in the fourth quarter to finish with 204.
"We knew we could run the ball up the gut and that set up the big pass plays," Tyson Kooima said.
Western Christian (11-1) began the game with an impressive 11-play, 70-yard drive as Tyson Kooima hit on all five of his passes that covered 41 yards. The key play on the drive was a 6-yard run by Granstra on fourth-and-2 and Kooima capped the drive with a 6-yard pass to Daniel Donovan, his first reception this season, to make it 7-0.
The Bulldogs' first score was set up when Tyson Kooima's pass to Granstra glanced off his hands and was picked off by Sam Thompson. One play later Van Meter used some trickery as quarterback Blake Fryar pitched the ball to Anthony Lowman behind the line of scrimmage. Lowman hit a wide open Tyler Kubiak who went in for the 37-yard touchdown to tie the game.
As they have all season, the Wolfpack was undaunted by the score and responded behind the running of Granstra and Kooima. Western Christian faced a fourth-and-6 from the 23 when Kooima hit Jansma on a bullet right up the hash marks for the score to make it 14-7 with 9:11 to play in the first half.
"Sometimes defenses throw different things at us and we just had to figure out what they were trying to do," Travis Kooima said. "We figured out what they were doing and made some plays, made some catches."
Van Meter would tie the game with an epic 17-play drive that was aided by a pass interference call on the Wolfpack on third-and-14. Van Meter scored on a Rhodes 1-yard plunge into the end zone.