CEDAR FALLS, Iowa — When the West Hancock High School football team finds its groove, it seems like no one can keep it from a win. And after being eliminated last season in the state semifinal game, this time, the Eagles were not going to be denied.
Going up against Woodbury Central in the Class A state semifinal on Friday, the No. 1 Eagles scored quick, and scored often. In the end, West Hancock came away with a 49-20 win, and a chance to bring home the school’s third state title.
“It’s relief right now,” coach Mark Sanger said. “After a game, it feels good to know you’ve got another week. We’re going to enjoy this one for the weekend, and then get back to work.”
The Eagles got on the board early in the first quarter on a six-yard touchdown run from senior Josef Smith. A few minutes later, the normally run-focused Eagles scored on a trick-play touchdown pass from Smith to tight end Tanner Hagen, to put West Hancock up 14-0.
Smith intercepted a pass on the Wildcats' next drive, and ran it all the way near the Eagles’ 20. A few plays after that, Smith ran the ball in from the six-yard line, and the Eagles led by 21.
While the Eagles are a suffocating team, the Wildcats finally got on the board with five minutes left in the half, on a 59-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Jase Manker to Ethan Copeland. The touchdown made the score West Hancock 21, Woodbury Central 7.
On the ensuing West Hancock possession, Tate Hagen broke off a big run to put the Eagles within scoring position on first down. Hagen ran the ball 11 yards for another first down at the nine yard line, after which Smith ran the ball in for yet another touchdown.
“We had a lot of big blocks from the start,” Smith said. “I got outside on the corners, and beat them to the end-zone. It felt good.”
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After halftime, the Eagles immediately came out swinging. On the first play from scrimmage in the third quarter, Tate Hagen ran the ball 69 yards for a touchdown, to boost the West Hancock lead to 35-7.
The Eagles then recovered a fumble at the 16 yard line and Woodbury Central’s next drive, and then scored on a six-yard touchdown run from Hagen to take a 42-7 lead.
The Wildcats recovered a fumble at their own 22 yard line a few drives later, when the ball popped out of Tate Hagen’s arms on a tackle. On the next play, Beau Klingensmith caught an 86-yard pass that looked destined to be a score, but he was tripped up by an Eagles’ defender at the two yard line. On fourth-and-1, the Wildcats punched the ball in for a touchdown for their second score of the day.
The Eagles’ final score came with 4:37 left in the game, when freshman Rylan Barnes took the ball on an outside run for a touchdown. That score gave West Hancock a 49-14 lead. The Wildcats scored one last time in the game on a 13 yard touchdown pass to Beau Klingensmith.
"I'm proud of my boys, and the way they played each and every week," Woodbury Central head coach Kurt Bremer said. "I can't say anything different about my kids."
But when the Eagles got the ball with 37 seconds left on the clock, all they had to do was kneel. With longtime head coach Bob Sanger watching from the stands, the Eagles took home a dominant win.
Woodbury Central finishes its season with a 10-2 overall record. The Wildcats were without leading rusher Wade Mitchell, who missed the game because of an injury. Mitchell also was one of the top defensive players for the Wildcats.
With the victory, West Hancock advances to the Class A state title game. The Eagles will play Grundy Center on Thursday at 1:30 p.m. at the UNI-Dome for the championship.
"It was the same thing we've seen on film," Bremer said. "Hats off to them."