CEDAR FALLS, Iowa | A year ago at this time it was fairly easy to list the major reasons Boyden-Hull/Rock Valley was in the UNI-Dome and on its way to claiming the Class 2A state title. It started with quarterback Brett Moser and was followed closely by receiver Shane Solberg and running back Jacob Schafer.
This year that list begins with junior quarterback J.T. Van’t Hul and then it is not quite so easy.
Don’t for a second think it is for a lack of talent, it just so happens this edition of BHRV is as deep as ever, but the No. 1 team in the state goes about winning games a little differently in 2017.
“Every year we have to play team football,” Nighthawks Coach Cory Brandt said. “There are some games some guys play more than others, but we play a lot of kids, there are a lot of kids on the field making plays.
“To be honest with you, on offense, we don’t have single player outside of our quarterback I would call a complete star. We just have a bunch of solid players.”
Brandt said his teams have played hard and played for each other like this group and it is a group of communities that get behind its football program. It is seen in the numbers on the BHRV sideline that routinely top 100 players.
Van’t Hul’s season has been an impressive one replacing Moser, who threw for nearly 2,500 yards and 31 touchdowns, as a different kind of quarterback in the Nighthawk system. Van’t Hul leads the team in passing with 1,684 yards and 19 touchdowns and rushing with 1,022 yards and 20 more scores.
“He worked really hard this offseason,” Brandt said. “Coach (Jayme) Rozeboom took him under his wing and they lived in the weight room together ever since football got over last year. (Van’t Hul) made a great commitment to that point and he gained an incredible amount of strength in his body from doing that.
“Mentally that is where he has grown up a ton because when you are a first-year starter to come in and do it for the first time that is the mistakes you will see him make from time to time. That is just experience and J.T. is a very fast learner. Once he sees it, he has got it and he usually doesn’t make that mistake again.”
Senior Cade Moser has been the biggest threat in the pass game with 41 receptions for 781 yards while Elliot Van Kekerix is second in rushing (597) and receiving (226).
The next step in the Nighthawks’ quest to repeat takes them to the UNI-Dome where they face fifth-ranked Waukon (10-1) in a 2A state semifinal at 4 p.m.
Brandt was effusive with his praise for the Indians whose lone loss this season was to second-ranked Western Dubuque of Cascade 25-20.
“They are an outstanding football team and impressive in every aspect of the game,” he said. “The preparation level we are going to have to go in with this one is amped up and really heightened.”
Brandt said the Indians use a multitude of formations on offense for a team that can run and pass the ball with plenty of playmakers ready to go. Quarterback Abe Schwartz has thrown for 2,044 yards, 21 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Evan Armstead and Isaiah Welch have 35 and 24 receptions, respectively, for 1,183 combined yards and 12 touchdowns.
Running back Mitchell Snitker has run for 1,680 yards and 22 touchdowns. He ranks second in Class 2A with that rush total while Schwartz is third in passing.
“They give you a ton of looks and they have a great backfield, a great set of skill athletes to say the least, and they are very physical and solid up front,” Brandt said.
The challenge is big but the Nighthawks have relied on their defense all season for good reason.
“This is a physical group that hits ya,” Brandt said. “They really get after people … and we have a great group of core people playing defense, and they play it very well and prepare very well.”
Senior linebacker Austin Rozeboom leads the team with 59 tackles, but he has plenty of company with Brayton Van Kekerix adding 56 and Billy Rankin 47.
BHRV leads 2A in fumble recoveries with 21 while Waukon is second in interceptions with 19.
The Nighthawks have found success despite losing six players to season-ending injuries. However, it may have been the team’s lone loss to Class 1A top-ranked West Lyon that proved just how capable the team was.
“It was a grow up game for us because we were down 35-7 early in the third quarter,” Brandt said. “We fought back against an outstanding football team … and they made things really difficult on us. It came down to the last possession and them stopping us and getting a first down to end the game.
“We knew there we weren’t going to roll over and had a bunch of kids that were going to fight and continue through it."