Kyle Stephenson couldn't be stopped last Wednesday night and he found the right time to have a big game for the South Tama football team, which won its first playoff contest since 2007.
The Trojans senior running back rushed for 189 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Trojans to an easy victory. The Trojans cruised into the Class 3A second round following a 31-14 rout of Waverly-Shell Rock at home last week.
"It's the best feeling ever right now," Stephenson said. "It's nice to see our hard work finally paying off.
South Tama senior Kaleb Davenport tackles Waverly-Shell Rock’s quarterback sophomore Jake Velky during the first half of last Wednesday’s Class 3A playoff game. Davenport started the game by recovering STC’s opening kickoff in the end zone for a touchdown after no Waverly-Shell Rock players fielded the kick. South Tama won the game 31-14.
"We knew we had to come back strong and practice hard all week," he added about the Trojans regular season finale loss to rival Grinnell the previous week. "We knew we had to forget about the loss."
Before Stephenson could run over and around the Go-Hawks, the Trojans scored an unusual touchdown. Senior Jose Fonseca squibbed the opening kickoff and the ball rolled fast down the field, taking a couple of bounces in STC's favor. The ball bounced off a Waverly-Shell Rock player inside the 10 yard line and into the end zone.
Before the road team could pick up the ball, South Tama pounced on it. Senior Kaleb Davenport recovered the ball in the end zone, scoring the opening touchdown just 10 seconds into the game.
"We were trying to squib it," STC coach Jay Hoskey said. "That one took some really fortuitous bounces. That's what can happen. We like it when the other team doesn't have a chance to set up its timing when you kick it long."
The touchdown excited the Trojans and seemed to deflate the Go-Hawks instantly.
"That gave us the momentum right away," Stephenson said. "It was a sign that things were going to go our way. Plus being at home, made it that much bigger."
Neither team had a very successful opening offensive possession, but the Go-Hawks did earn two first downs while the Trojans went three-and-out. Waverly-Shell Rock began driving its second possession down the field and got deep into STC territory before STC senior Clay Waterbury pulled down an interception at the STC 16 yard line.
Three consecutive STC runs by senior Erik Lux and Stephenson got the Trojans out to their 31 yard line. Lux busted the next play for a 52-yard run, which began shifting the game's momentum. Three plays later, Stephenson cashed in his first touchdown on a nine-yard run, giving STC a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter.
"That's our bread and butter," Hoskey said. "Kyle runs hard and makes extra yards every play. He doesn't take lost yardage. We need to get positive yards all of the time."
After five Go-Hawks plays, South Tama took over and began marching down the field. STC hit a big play when senior Sam Kuhter threw a pass to Waterbury that went for 43 yards down to the Go-Hawks 23 yard line. After recovering their own fumble, the Trojans scored two plays later. Stephenson found paydirt on a five-yard run.
South Tama stopped the next Waverly-Shell Rock drive with its second interception of the game. Junior Zach Morris picked off the Go-Hawks at the STC 23 yard line.
Stephenson continued to run through the Go-Hawks as he broke 14 and 44-yard runs on the next two plays. Lux added to the drive with runs for six and eight yards. Stephenson finished the drive with a four-yard touchdown, giving STC a 28-0 lead at halftime.
"In the first game of the playoffs, you never know what to expect," Hoskey said. "We had a tough week of practice and it was short. It was hard to know what to expect, but we came out and put together a really good first half. We put the game away early.
"We decided to smash the ball at them," he said. "We wanted to run it right at them and they weren't quite expecting this formation we put in, so that gave us an advantage. Sometimes you have to add things in or tweak things, but you have to execute and our kids did. They got the execution thing down."
South Tama moved the ball on its first two possessions of the second half but couldn't score. The first drive ended in a punt, but the second drive ended in Kuhter throwing his first interception of the season. However, Kuhter made up for it by grabbing an interception for the Trojans defense, just three plays later.
The Trojans' junior varsity offense played most of the fourth quarter. They stopped Waverly-Shell Rock on a fourth-down attempt deep in its own territory. After an offensive penalty and two negative runs, junior Dalton Doyle threw a nine-yard pass to junior Tyler Marten on third down.
With a strong wind at the Trojans back, Hoskey opted to let Fonseca try a 47-yard field goal. He booted it and began drifting left, but not before it cleared the crossbar between the uprights, giving STC a 31-0 lead.
Waverly-Shell Rock added two passing touchdowns late in the fourth quarter. Waverly-Shell Rock finished its season 5-5 after winning four of its last five games before playing STC.
"That's not a bad bunch," Hoskey said. "They are a good football team. They had a really good second half of the season."
South Tama traveled to Humboldt on Monday night for its second-round playoff game. The results weren't available at press time.