CEDAR FALLS, Iowa – It is déjà vu all over again.
A year ago at this time it was defending state champion Boyden-Hull/Rock Valley going up against Waukon in the Class 2A state semifinals looking to repeat. Fast forward a year and the roles are reversed for the two teams who will meet Saturday in the UNI-Dome for Round 2.
“It is a good thing and I am very proud of our kids and coaches for getting back to this point,” BHRV coach Cory Brandt said. “It is an opportunity that doesn’t come along very often and we have been fortunate the last few years and the kids have made the most of it.”
This is the Nighthawks’ 12th straight trip to the playoffs and third in a row making at least the semifinals. Last season it was a fast start that helped Waukon to a 36-19 victory in Cedar Falls en route to the state title by downing Williamsburg 29-0.
“(We) are excited for the opportunity … but we are playing a very good football team that is outstanding in every aspect and really took it to us last year there is no doubt about it,” Brandt said. “They have a lot of new guys but we definitely look at last year’s tape and look at what we did and things what we have to differently.”
The Nighthawks (10-1) are led by senior quarterback J.T. Van’t Hul who leads the team in both passing and rushing. He has thrown for 1,889 yards and run for 826 with a combined 35 touchdowns. He was the engine of the team a year ago and has only improved according to his coach.
“His knowledge of the game and his leadership has taken the next step,” Brandt said. “He is more comfortable. He is more comfortable back there, he knows what he is looking at and he knows what he is looking for.”
Second-ranked BHRV (10-1) suffered its lone loss to Class 3A state semifinalist Sergeant Bluff-Luton, 35-21, in a game it led until Van’t Hul suffered an injury and did not return. It forced the Nighthawks to adapt and may have made them a more complete team.
“We really couldn’t run the quarterback in those games and he wanted to play yet,” Brandt said. “We played him but didn’t run him so that meant we had to work on other parts of the running game. Also we learned a little bit about our passing game and he could throw it. Our passing game took a step during that period to say the least No. 1, and No. 2 our running game took a step forward as well.”
Brandt praised the development of his offensive line as Elliott Van Kikerix stepped up and rushed for 725 yards and 10 touchdowns this season and four other backs combined to rush for a combined 800 more yards.
Beau De Jongh leads the Nighthawks with 39 receptions while Cody Post and Spencer Te Slaa have eight touchdown receptions each.
No. 3 Waukon (10-1), which has won 10 straight since a season-opening loss to Decorah, is led by quarterback Creed Welch who has thrown for 2,193 yards, 27 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Michael Sweeney and Dawson Baures have 941 and 933 receiving yards, respectively, while Baures also leads the team in rushing with 1,255 yards and 20 TDs.
Brayton Van Kekerix leads the Nighthawk defense with 75 tackles and 19 tackles for loss, but it is a defense that has 11 players going to the ball while collecting 11 interceptions and 15 fumble recoveries.
A schedule that included three playoff teams and two state semifinalists forced the Nighthawks to play at a high level all season. Now they hope all that hard work pays off with a chance to play for a second state title in a three-year span.
“It was definitely challenging,” Brandt said. “I think it will pay off for us without a doubt. It is another tough team and our kids have been preparing for a lot of them throughout the course of the year, so hopefully that is what the mindset is.”