CEDAR FALLS – The first started the quest. The second accomplished it.
Union Community closed the season with bookend wins over Decorah, and made school history.
The Knights won their first state football champion, beating the Vikings, 21-14, in the Iowa High School Athletic Association Class 3A state championship game Saturday at the UNI-Dome.
It was a larger margin than the 20-17 win over Decorah in week 1, and has earned notoriety in the prep ranks.
“It’s huge for our program. It’s huge for our school,” said Union Coach Joe Hadachek. “Union Community is on the map.”
Both Decorah (11-3) and Union (12-2) had avenged regular season losses to reach the semifinals. Union defeated Maquoketa, while Decorah dropped West Delaware. The Knights knew a second win would be challenging, but were determined to get the sweep.
“When you play a good football team it’s tough to beat them twice in a season,” Hadachek said. “We talked about breaking that mold of being the team that does beat a good team twice.”
Like the first game, Union seemed to have a couple answers that Decorah didn’t. The Knights struggled in the second half, but had a final answer about midway through the fourth quarter.
Union quarterback Jay Scheel hit Brad Gallup for a 36-yard TD, and then ran in a two-point conversion with 6:12 remaining for a 21-14 lead.
The Knights missed connecting on that play earlier in the game. Needing a score to regain control of the game, they went back to it, advising Gallup to run the post pattern a little more vertical.
“I just wanted to not drop it and get it in that end zone,” Gallup said, “and give my team the lead.”
Decorah keyed on all-state running back Wes Burnside, which attracted defenders on Scheel’s play fake and allowed Gallup to get open down field. It was one of the few big plays for a potent Knights offense.
“It’s just a numbers game and you’re not going to have a lot of big plays unless someone misses a tackle,” Hadachek said. “The play-action pass opened up and that’s why you saw the touchdown there.”
Decorah mounted one last come back with 1:45 left, marching 47 yards to the Union 33. Blake Moen’s pass sailed high and into the arms of Brenden Kuhn, who dashed 57 yards to the Vikings 19. When he was down, so were the Vikings title hopes.
It was Kuhn’s team-leading fifth interception of the season.
“He’s always in the right place at the right time,” Hadachek said about Kuhn. “Being a teachable young man, he is just in the right spot.”
Kuhn said he read his keys learned from coaches and game film, but also said luck and instinct are factors. He was in survival mode after the interception.
“I was running for my life,” Kuhn said. “I was looking up at the Jumbotron and saw them chasing me. I was just trying to run as fast as I can. Afterward it kind of hit me, we just won. It was a great feeling.”
Burnside powered Union’s offense, tallying 127 rushing yards with 80 coming in the first half. A big chunk of that first-half total came on a 33-yard TD run with 15 seconds left in the first quarter. The 5-foot-10, 193-pound senior ran left, bumping into a wall of his own blockers and bounced to the outside, rambling down the sideline and out-running a Decorah defender to the end zone. It helped Union to a 13-7 halftime lead.
“If you cut off your linemen, it can suck people up and you can shoot around them,” Burnside said. “That’s what I did.”
Scheel added 110 passing yards and 55 on the ground. Scheel and Burnside provided a tough matchup for the Vikings.
“They have two talented skill athletes,” Decorah Coach Bill Post said. “My gosh, what do you say when you have a quarterback that can run faster than my car runs and a running back you can’t tackle with a bulldozer, so what are you going to do.”
Josey Jewel led Decorah, tallying 67 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Jewell’s physical running style was effective near the goal, scoring on a seven-yard run from seven yards out in the second cutting the Union lead to 10-7.
Jewell gave the Vikings a 14-13 lead in the third quarter, plowing his way into the end zone from 10 yards out.
“He just got better and better as the year went on,” Post said about Jewell. “He’s a physical player.”
Post credited Union’s defense. He said they played tougher and more physical than expected and the offense couldn’t move the ball the way he would have liked. Decorah made its eighth appearance in the state championship game, earning its fourth runner-up trophy. The Vikings were runners-up in 2008 and haven’t won a title since the last of three straight crowns in 1989.
Post couldn’t fault the Vikings effort.
“They tried hard,” Post said. “They played their hearts out. They put it on the line.”
When the final seconds ticked off the clock, Union had claimed its first title. It was an emotional and special experience for the Knights.
“Everything in my body was just shaking,” Gallup said. “I’m just so happy we came out here and got the victory. We won state!”
Union 21, Decorah 14
|Rushes-yards||41 - 176||40 - 168|
|Comp-Att-Int||6 - 13 - 1||4 - 11 - 2|
|Fumbles-lost||0 - 0||0 - 0|
|Punts-average||4 - 44.0||4 - 35.0|
|Penalties-yards||8 - 60||3 - 11|
Rushing: Union –Wes Burnside 25-127 ,Jay Scheel 13-55 ,Kyle Ansley 1-3 ,Team 1--2 Decorah –Josey Jewell 17-67 ,Kyle Hove 14-48 ,Blake Moen 5-24 ,Drew Schwartz 2-23
Passing: Union –Scheel 6-13-1-110 Decorah –Moen 4-11-2-56
Receiving: Union –Brad Gallup 3-79 ,Trev Hadachek 3-31 Decorah –Jacob Humpal 1-33 ,Michael Peter 1-18 ,Kyle Kregel 1-9 ,Jewell 1--4
SCORE BY QUARTERS
UC - FG Brad Peterson 21
UC - Burnside 33 run (Peterson kick)
DEC - Jewell 7 run (Josh Lee kick)
UC - FG Peterson 36
DEC - Jewell 10 run (Lee kick)
UC - Gallup 36 pass from Scheel (Scheel rush)