CEDAR FALLS, Iowa – West Sioux showed the heart of a champion and a jaw of steel.
The defending Class A champions needed it all as third-ranked Van Meter used a 16-play drive that covered 84 yards and used more than eight minutes off the third quarter clock to grab its first lead over fifth-ranked West Sioux.
It was the kind of knockout punch of a drive that teams don’t often recover from. The Falcons not only recovered but delivered one of their own. Senior wide receiver Chase Koopmans caught a deep pass from Hunter Dekkers on third-and-15 before throwing Cody Coffman away from him as he tried to make a tackle and raced a total of 55 yards.
“It was huge call that play,” said Koopmans. “I know it is going to take three people to take me down because I am not going down on that. That is for a big gain and I wanted it more than they did.”
“That was a huge play because it was on third down,” West Sioux coach Ryan Schwiesow said. “That was a pass combo that we put in this week in a formation they had not seen and the kids just executed.
“We ran a clear-out route underneath and sent Chase over the top and Hunter saw him. It was fairly well covered, but you have a kid that has the softest hands in the world and a kid that can put it on him. It was just two great players that made a great play.”
Dekkers would race in from seven yards out to give West Sioux a 31-28 lead it would not relinquish as it went on to defeat the defending Class 1A champion 38-35 in a 1A semifinal at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls on Saturday.
Koopmans finished the game with five receptions for 103 yards and ran for 57 more.
The Falcons would increase the lead to 38-28 using another long drive that was capped by a Dekkers to Kade Lynott 6-yard scoring strike with 7:36 to play.
The Bulldogs did not go quietly as they again used their run game and a couple of big plays before quarterback Anthony Potthoff found JJ Richards on a 10-yard scoring strike to close within three.
“We knew how good of a team Van Meter is and my hat is off to them because they are well coached and they played so hard,” Schwiesow said. “There were times where our kids couldn’t make a play to get off the field, but that is just good offense on their part. They are a championship team and they showed it and we are a championship team and we showed it.”
West Sioux was unable to run out the remaining time on the clock giving the Bulldogs one more chance as they converted a fourth-and-15 on the ensuing drive, but on fourth-and-7 Logan Koedam sacked Potthoff for a big loss to seal the victory and send West Sioux back to the title game.
“It is a huge moment for our team because still being here and being up a class is a huge deal for us,” Dekkers said.
The Falcons (11-1) will face top-ranked Dike-New Hartford (12-0) Friday for the 1A title.
The two teams traded scores throughout the first half as the Falcons struck first with Koopmans racing 56 yards on the first play of West Sioux’s second drive to go up 7-0.
“We work on (the run play) in practice and knowing our line and how good we can be we know we can do that,” Koopmans said. “The O-line did amazing and we pushed through and got it.”
The lead would double quickly as Victor Hernandez had a strip sack of Van Meter quarterback Potthoff and he was able to recover the ball on the Bulldog 10.
Koopmans was in the end zone for the second time on the day in short order as he hauled in a 5-yard pass from Hunter Dekkers to make it 14-0 with 3:17 to go in the first quarter.
Van Meter would put together an eight-play drive, all runs, highlighted by Potthoff’s 40-yard dash. The quarterback would score two plays later as he pushed his way into the end zone from a yard out as the first quarter expired.
Van Meter would pooch kick the ball on the ensuing kickoff and recover the ball, but the West Sioux would record a pair of sacks to get the ball back. West Sioux would turn that possession into three points as Jason Topete connected on a 31-yard field goal.
Van Meter followed with a quick-strike 70-yard TD pass from Potthoff to Zach Drummond before West Sioux responded with another TD as Dekkers completed a nine-play drive with a 1-yard touchdown run to make it 24-14.
“It is exhausting going in each time knowing that you have to execute otherwise they are going to go down and score and take the lead and that is what we did,” said Dekkers, who threw for 223 yards, two passing touchdowns and two rushing touchdowns. “We just kept battling and scoring.”
The Bulldogs ended the half with the fourth straight drive between the two teams to culminate in a score when Potthoff hit Spencer Lamb from 27 yards out to make it 24-21.
The Bulldogs used their running game to start to wear on the Falcons in the first half as Ian Aberhamson, who came into the game having rushed for nearly 1,900 yards, ran the ball 17 times for 67 yards in the first half and Potthoff added 52 on eight totes.
“Their line is just outstanding and is probably the best line we have seen all year,” said Koopmans as Abrahamson finished with 111 yards on the ground and Potthoff added 84. “Their running back runs like a horse so it was either tackle or get run over. We knew their line was big and we had to stop them.”
Van Meter (11-1) was making its 11th straight trip to the playoffs and it was impressive last season taking out West Lyon and Iowa City Regina to claim its first title. The Bulldogs had not lost a game since a 2016 state semifinal to eventual champion Western Christian 35-14.
West Sioux reached the UNI-Dome last season after falling in the state quarterfinals in both 2015 and 2016.
“It was survive and advance because we didn’t care if we won by one or 50,” Schwiesow said. “We just wanted to move on to the championship game.”