HUMBOLDT - After asserting itself on both sides of the ball for more than three quarters, South Tama's football team made Monday's playoff game quite nerve-racking during the final minutes.
A 21-0 South Tama lead nearly slipped away during the final nine minutes of the contest. However, the Trojans' defense stopped Humboldt on its final drive to lock up the victory. The Trojans (9-2) defeated Humboldt (7-4) in the second round of the Class 3A state playoffs.
"It was a good team effort," coach Jay Hoskey said. "We talked about how we thought it was one of those games where we thought we could win it in the trenches. They had been a pretty physical team, but that was kind of our forte. We got the job done with an impressive effort.
South Tama senior Kyle Stephenson, center, had another big game for the Trojans in the playoffs. Here, he runs through a large hole made by the offensive line Monday night at Humboldt. Stephenson carried the ball 42 times for 255 yards in the Trojans 21-12 victory.
"We thought we had to assert our kind of play tonight," he added. "The kids took that to heart and got the job done."
Clinging to a 7-0 halftime lead, South Tama asserted itself in the third quarter. STC stopped Humboldt's initial drive with a three-and-out near midfield. After a Humboldt punt backed STC up to its own 16 yard line, the Trojans took the ground for a powerful 84-yard drive.
STC seniors Kyle Stephenson and Erik Lux continued their successful rushing attack. Stephenson carried the ball four straight plays for 41 yards before Lux gave him a break by gaining 17 yards on two carries. After being stopped twice on the ground, South Tama went to the air for a touchdown.
Senior Sam Kuhter threw a 10-yard pass to senior Vinny Lasley, who leaped to make the catch. Lasley ran toward the goal line, dodged a defender and fell into the end zone. The 20-yard play gave STC a 14-0 lead with 5:28 remaining in the third quarter.
"That was a heck of a play," Hoskey said. "We only completed three or four times. Vinny made a great catch and run for the score."
South Tama's defense came up big once again. Humboldt began driving into the Trojans territory after the touchdown. The Wildcats connected on a short pass and the wide receiver sprinted down field, but the Trojans stripped the ball from the Wildcat. STC senior Kaleb Davenport recovered a fumble for the second-straight game.
"We never really worked with a short field, but we got a few turnovers tonight," Hoskey said. "We stopped some drives with a couple interceptions and a fumble. Our defense had stepped up and played really well during the second half of the year. Nobody has been able to run the ball on us."
The Trojans went back to its rushing attack and drove 81 yards. Stephenson and Lux combined to run all 13 plays on the drive. Lux finished it with a three-yard touchdown run, giving STC a 21-0 lead with 9:14 left in the contest.
"We put in that score offense last week,"Kuhter said. "We just pound it right at people, chewing up ground and chewing up the clock. We know it's going to be low-scoring, but if we can keep that clocking running, then we'll be good."
Stephenson rushed the ball 42 times for 255 yards for an average of 6.1 yards Monday night. Lux added 67 yards on 14 carries for the Trojans.
"Those guys are crazy," Kuhter said. "It seems like I would hand the ball, turn around they are carrying five or six guys on their back. It's fun watching those guys run the ball."
South Tama's lead seemed to be insurmountable with nine minutes remaining. However, Humboldt's offense woke up from its slumber after the Trojans final score with a two-play, 57-yard scoring drive. The Wildcats connected on a 41-yard pass on first down, before throwing a 16-yard touchdown pass. The point-after kick was nearly blocked, but the Wildcats tried to run the ball and it failed.
STC junior Dalton Vest recovered the ensuing onside kickoff. The Trojans' offense kept rolling as they drove down the field with ease. After seven plays, Kuhter fumbled the snap and Humboldt recovered on its own 13 yard line.
The Wildcats drove 87 yards in 11 plays. They scored a touchdown on a six-yard pass with 2:23 remaining in the game. Seconds later, they recovered their onside kick at the STC 48 yard line after not connecting on their two-point pass attempt.
After throwing an incomplete pass, Humboldt snapped the ball over its quarterback's head. The Wildcats quarterback recovered the ball on its own 26 yard line. They threw two more incomplete passes and gave the ball back to STC. The Trojans ran one more play before kneeling out for the victory.
"We would have liked to wrap it a bit sooner," Hoskey said. "But give (Humboldt) credit, they made some plays down the stretch. We also helped them by giving them the ball."
South Tama scored its first touchdown early in the second quarter. On their second possession of the game, the Trojans drove 90 yards in 15 plays. Kuhter finished the drive with a one-yard quarterback sneak.
"We were moving people up front," Hoskey said. "Trevor Rohach was outstanding as that lead blocker. He kicks out on people and we have our best blocker leading the way most of the time."
South Tama's players were excited to win their second playoff game.
"This feels amazing," Kuhter said. "It's so great. It feels like a dream come true. Ever since we were little kids, we dreamed of coming this far and making it to state. Just playing in the state playoffs is great, but the fact that we keep winning is amazing."