As fans left the field Friday night, many couldn’t believe what they had just witnessed.
After fighting hard all night, the undefeated Sabers found their season in serious jeopardy when Bennett Goettsch rumbled into the end zone for his third touchdown of the night. With just 29.4 seconds left on the clock and Twin Cedars trailing by six, it appeared as if the Tigers had delivered the knockout punch to the Sabers’ magical season. However, Coach Aaron Allspach and company had other ideas.
Jake Knox returned the ensuing kickoff to the Tigers’ 34 yard line to give the offense great field position. With the clock showing only 22.5 seconds, quarterback Nick Haselhuhn and the offense trotted out desperately needing a touchdown to keep their season alive.
Haselhuhn dropped back to pass and fired a dart across the middle to Jake Knox. Knox then lateraled the ball to Dakota Pinegar, who caught the ball in full stride. Pinegar outran the entire Tiger defense, tying the game at 22-22. On the 2-point conversion, Haselhuhn dove into the end zone on a QB sneak to put the Sabers up 24-22. The defense would hold off Iowa Valley in the final 13 seconds to give the Sabers their first playoff victory since 2013.
Entering this season, the Iowa Valley Tigers had not produced a winning season since 2012. Moving down from Class A to the 8-Man class has proved beneficial this year, as the Tigers finished the regular season 7-2 and second in one of the toughest districts in all of 8-Man.
The first half of Friday’s playoff matchup was dominated by both defenses. With the Tigers forced to punt on their first drive, senior Jake Crozier wrapped up the punter and forced a fumble. The ball rolled through the back of the end zone, giving Twin Cedars the early 2-0 lead.
Neither team would score again before halftime. Iowa Valley’s offense moved the ball effectively on the ground, but could not finish drives. The Tiger’s offense was led by Goettsch, who entered the night with over 1,500 rushing yards and 33 rushing touchdowns on the season. The senior running back made his presence known, as he gashed the Saber’s defense for several big runs and broke numerous tackles throughout the night. However, the Tigers could not finish drives as the Saber defense stopped them three times inside the red zone in the first half.
Struggling equally as much was the Sabers’ offense, as they also failed to reach the end zone in the first half. A penalty against the Sabers negated a 71 yard Jake Knox touchdown. Besides that play, the Iowa Valley defense did a great job containing the offensive unit for the Sabers. Entering the night, the Sabers averaged over 57 points per game. Iowa Valley held them to just two first half points.
Twin Cedars received the second half kickoff, looking to build upon their 2-0 lead. However, the Iowa Valley defense forced their second turnover of the night as Pinegar coughed up the football. That set up Goettsch for his first touchdown of the night, breaking multiple tackles on his way to a 25 yard score to put the Tigers up 8-2.
Late in the third quarter, Iowa Valley had a chance to go up by two touchdowns with the ball in the red zone. However, senior Trace Embray picked off his eighth pass of the season and kept the deficit at just six points. That red zone stop would prove to be crucial later on.
The Sabers found themselves trailing in the fourth quarter for the first time all season. A promising drive by the Twin Cedars offense to start the quarter ended with a rare Haselhuhn interception, only his third of the season. However, on the offense’s next drive they would finally break through as Knox scored on a 49 yard touchdown pass from Haselhuhn to tie the game at 8-8.
Iowa Valley responded with a scoring drive of their own. The Tigers fed their workhorse Goettsch the ball as he methodically marched the Tigers downfield. Goettsch capped the drive with his second rushing touchdown of the night as Iowa Valley reclaimed the lead, 16-8.
With time becoming a factor, the Sabers knew they needed to score on the ensuing drive. After a dropped pass on third down, Haselhuhn completed a key fourth down pass to Embray to keep the drive alive. A few plays later Haselhuhn connected with Knox for his second touchdown of the night to tie the contest at 16-16.
Iowa Valley continued to play smashmouth football with Goettsch. The workhorse kept moving the sticks as the Tigers inched closer toward the end zone. The Saber defense struggled to tackle him, as Goettsch scored from four yards out to give Iowa Valley the lead once again. His third rushing touchdown of the night appeared to be the fatal blow in the contest, giving Iowa Valley the 22-16 lead with just 29.4 seconds left. The Saber defense held the Tigers on the 2-point conversion attempt, however, which would prove to be crucial.
A squib kick and solid return by Jake Knox set the offense up in great field position. With under 23 seconds left, Coach Aaron Allspach dialed up a hook and ladder, which the offense ran to perfection. The play caught the Tigers by surprise as Knox caught the pass and then lateraled the ball back to Pinegar. Pinegar raced to the end zone, sending the dejected Saber crowd into absolute pandemonium. On the 2-point conversion attempt, Haselhuhn kept the fans on their feet as he dove across the goal line, giving Twin Cedars the lead. The Sabers hung on in the remaining seconds, winning by a score of 24-22.
Haselhuhn finished with 241 passing yards and 2 touchdowns. Embray caught 8 passes for 125 yards. Knox tallied 87 receiving yards and 2 touchdowns. Defensively, Embray and Pinegar led the team with 11 and 10.5 tackles, respectively.
With the win, Twin Cedars improves to 10-0 on the season and advances into the second round of the 8-Man playoffs. The Sabers will host Midland (8-2) on Friday, November 4th with a ticket to the UNI-Dome on the line. Midland leads the 8-Man class in passing yards and is third in points per game.
Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. If you can’t make it to the game, you can listen live on KIIC 96.7 FM.