CEDAR FALLS, Iowa | The longest dynasty of the Iowa high school football playoffs era has run its unprecedented state championship streak to six in a row, but powerhouse Iowa City Regina had to battle to the wire here Monday to get it done.
Clinging to a 35-28 lead with Hull Western Christian just 31 yards from the end zone, the Runnin’ Regals of Coach Marv Cook needed one last defensive stop to secure the victory in a Class 1A state championship game postponed three days by a winter storm.
It was the fourth straight 1A crown for Regina since launching its streak with a pair of Class 2A titles in 2010 and ’11.
Still, for a 12-year-old Western Christian program that had never reached the UNI-Dome prior to a 21-17 semifinal thriller over Van Meter a week ago Saturday, it was definitely a performance worth savoring and a fitting finale to a breakthrough season.
“That was obviously a great high school game, a classic,’’ said Marv Cook, the former NFL tight end from the University of Iowa who has built a remarkable 113-7 record in nine seasons as the head coach at Regina. “Both teams played their hearts out. They gave it everything they had. It came down to one or two plays and we were fortunate to be on the right side of them.’’
Regina, a mind-boggling 82-2 over the last six seasons, hammered out 380 yards rushing to just 53 for Western Christian, manufacturing three extended scoring marches of 10 plays or more in the finale to a 13-1 season.
However, the difference wound up being a pair of home-run scores in the closing minutes of the first half, erasing a 14-7 Western lead and sending Regina to halftime with a 21-14 advantage.
Sophomore running back Isaac Vollstedt galloped through the middle of his line and went 72 yards to tie the game at 14-14 with 3:07 remaining in the half. Then, after a quick three-and-out for the Regina defense, quarterback Nathan Stenger found wide receiver Sam Lincoln open for a go-ahead 69-yard TD pass with 1:25 left in the period.
“It was huge because we knew were going to kick the ball to start the second half,’’ said Cook. “So, it was critical we got some points there (near the end of the half). We were very, very happy to be able to go into halftime with the lead. Their offense is great and their defense is phenomenal.’’
Western failed to capitalize on that first chance on offense in the third quarter and Regina made the Wolfpack pay with a 13-play, 60-yard drive capped by 5-10, 205-pound senior Justin Hunter’s six-yard run with 5:20 left in the third quarter.
With a 28-14 margin, the Regals looked to be in control until junior quarterback Tyson Kooima of Western caught fire, completing 14 of 26 passes for 163 yards over the last 17 minutes. That helped him get his team two scores and move them into position for another and a possible tie.
“Tyson was kind of reading their defense really well and for the most part he just leaned on it,’’ said Western Coach Travis Kooima the quarterback’s older brother. “Overall, we just needed about two more minutes – just two more minutes.’’
Trailing 35-28, Western appeared to be running out of time when the powerful Hunter surrendered a fumble at the end of a 25-yard run that would have sealed the verdict.
“I made a bad mistake there, I should have just gone down after I got the first down,’’ said Hunter, a three-year regular.
Instead, Western got the ball back at its 37-yard line with 1:13 remaining and managed to reach a first down at the Regina 34. Four more passes, however, netted only two yards as three of them fell incomplete, turning the ball over on downs with 25 ticks on the clock.
“Just the fact that our guys were sprinting on that play (Hunter’s fumble) to get that fumble and get the ball back, that was just a testament to our team,’’ said Travis Kooima, a former Northwestern College quarterback in his 10th season at the Western helm. “That’s our season there in a nutshell, us fighting and clawing until the end.’’
Tyson Kooima, who’ll be one of several veterans on another highly promising Western basketball team, finished 20 of 36 through the air for 237 yards and four touchdowns, equaling the 1A title game record. The young QB had first-half touchdown throws of 18 yards to Dustin Marra and 14 yards to Taylor Miedema, two of his basketball teammates, giving Western leads of 7-0 and 14-7.
In the second half, Kooima had a pair of 13-yard scoring strikes to Ben Gesink, yet another hoops holdover.
“We moved the ball pretty good, but at the end (Regina) played some pretty good defense,’’ said Tyson Kooima.
Western, ranked No. 8 in the final 1A poll by Associated Press, avenged one of its two regular season losses in a first-round playoff win over West Lyon. The Wolfpack, which squeezed out a 14-7 quarterfinal win over Hinton before the narrow verdict over Van Meter, also lost to Class 3A Boyden-Hull/Rock Valley in a best-ever 11-3 season.
“There’s no negatives out of this season, ‘’ said Travis Kooima. “I told our guys the greatest thing about our team was every day they woke up and tried to get better. There’s nothing different about tomorrow. You’ve got to get up and go to school and try to be a better person.
“This isn’t about trophies because those trophies in 25 years will probably have dust on ‘em and no one will care. It’s going to be about the relationships -- those relationships they made with us coaches and their teammates.’’
Regina’s Cook was no less nostalgic about this group after coaching championship teams the last four years with his son, Drew, at quarterback.
“Honestly, every (championship team) is so distinctively different and has a different feel,’’ said Cook. “I guess I’m just so happy for (his seniors). They’ve done everything we’ve asked them to do and I’m really proud of them.’’
The only blemish on a 13-1 season for Regina was a 38-35 loss to Class 3A Cedar Rapids Xavier, which rallied from a 35-0 deficit. The Regals only other setback in six seasons was an overtime setback to Class 3A Solon last season.
Hunter led the Regina running game with 20 carries for 156 yards and Vollstedt backed him up with 125 on just nine attempts.
Western’s Gesink had a 110-yard day to show for his seven pass receptions and the Wolfpack defense got a huge performance from junior defensive end Jake Uittenbogaard, making 11 solo tackles to go with six assists.
Regina 35, Western Christian 28
Western Christian 7 7 7 7 -- 28
Iowa City Regina 0 21 7 7 -- 35
WC: Dustin Marra 18 pass from Tyson Kooima (Riley Van’t Hul kick) 1:14
ICR: Justin Hunter 1 run (Emilio Tovar kick) 6:19
WC: Taylor Miedema 14 pass from Kooima (Van’t Hul kick) 3:53
ICR: Isaac Vollstedt 72 run (Tovar kick) 3:07
ICR: Sam Liincoln 69 pass from Nathan Stenger (Tovar kick) 1:25
ICR: Hunter 6 run (Tovar kick) 5:20
WC: Ben Gesink 13 pass from Kooima (Van’t Hul kick) 0:36
ICR: Stenger 1 run (Tovar kick) 5:11
WC: Gesink 13 pass from Kooima (Van’t Hul kick) 4:07
First downs 20 20
Rushes-yards 25-53 60-380
Passing yards 237 86
Passes 20-36-1 5-10-0
Total plays-yards 61-290 70-466
Punts-average 5-39.2 2-33.5
Fumbles-lost 0-0 2-2
Penalties-yards 2-11 6-65
Third-down conv. 4-13 11-16
Fourth-down conv. 2-3 2-3
Possession time 19:44 28:16
RUSHING: Western Christian – Ben Granstra 15-40, Tyson Kooima 9-11, Drake Granstra 1-2. Regina – Justin Hunter 20-156, Isaac Vollstedt 9-125, Ethan Suchomel 10-46, Nathan Stenger 17-39, Mitchell Gahan 1-7, Jake Phillips 1-4, Scott Blondin 1-4, Team 1-(-1).
PASSING: Western Christian – Tyson Kooima 20-36-1—237. Regina – Nathan Stenger 5-10-0—86.
RECEIVING; Western Christian – Ben Gesink 7-110, Joey Horstman 5-59, Ben Granstra 3-19, Taylor Miedema 3-19, Dustin Marra 2-30. Regina – Ethan Suchomel 2-6, Sam Liincoln 1-69, Michael Conlon 1-11, Isaac Vollstedt 1-(-2).