GRINNELL If South Tama football coach Jay Hoskey could have had it his way, he would have ended Friday's playoff contest in the middle of the third quarter.
Hoskey's Trojans took the opening possession of the second half and drove 61 yards for a touchdown, taking a 28-21 lead over rival Grinnell. Following that touchdown, Grinnell proceeded to score 28-straight points in the second half. Grinnell (12-0) went on to beat South Tama (9-3), 49-35, for the second time this season and advance to the Class 3A state semifinals.
"It's too soon to reflect on it," Hoskey said. "I'm really proud of our guys. We were 2-7 last year and we were one step away from the state semifinals. This senior class took it upon themselves to get a lot better and they had the potential to do that. They worked really hard and you could see that this season."
South Tama’s football team is presented its trophy for reaching the Class 3A state quarterfinal round following Friday’s loss at Grinnell. The Trojans’ season ended at the hands of their rival, 49-35.
One of those XX South Tama victories was Kyle Stephenson, who carried the Trojans offense for much of the season. He carried the ball 36 times for 164 yards and three touchdowns in the Trojans finale.
"Overall, it's mostly a successful season," Stephenson said. "We would have liked to have won tonight, but all good things come to an end. Hoskey said, 'it's not the end for us, even though football is over.'"
Grinnell's star player also had a big game in the Tigers' victory. Junior quarterback Eli Dunne completed 15-of-21 passes for 173 yards and a pair of scores, along with two rushing touchdowns in leading the Tigers to the Class 3A quarterfinal win.
STC - Kyle Stephenson 4 run (Jose Fonseca kick), 6:53
GHS - Bryce Lidtka 21 run (Julio Sanchez kick), 4:02
GHS - Joe Nowasell 28 pass from Eli Dunne (Sanchez kick), 3:47
STC - Stephenson 2 run (Fonseca kick), 6:43
STC - Stephenson 4 run (Fonseca kick), 2:59
GHS - Dunne 4 run (Sanchez kick), 1:10
STC - Fonseca 36 pass from Sam Kuhter (Fonseca kick), 10:01
GHS - Jack Leshen 10 pass from Dunne (kick failed), 6:48
GHS - Lidtka 9 run (Lidtka run), 0:24
GHS - Dunne 6 run (Sanchez kick), 7:01
GHS - Lidtka 1 run (Sanchez kick), 4:53
STC - Stephenson 90 kickoff return (Fonseca kick), 4:28
"When Eli is on like that, it's a dang tough offense to stop," Hoskey said. "The kid doesn't miss a throw. They do a fantastic job of spreading the ball all over the field. We played our kind of ball game early and when you put up 35 points, you think you can win. We made a few mistakes, but we also made some plays, too."
South Tama made one big pass play Friday night. Senior Sam Kuhter completed his only pass of the contest for a 36-yard touchdown to fellow senior Jose Fonseca. That touchdown capped off a four-play, 61-yard drive to open the second half. STC senior Erik Lux and Stephenson had 16- and nine-yard runs on the first two plays of the drive. Fonseca's score gave STC a 28-21 lead with 10:01 remaining in the game.
Grinnell's Troy Smith received the ensuing kickoff and returned it 20 yards before fumbling the ball. Lux forced and recovered the fumble for South Tama, giving the Trojans possession on Grinnell's 38 yard line. Six plays later, Kuhter fumbled a handoff and the Tigers recovered on its own 28 yard line. The fumble was the third of four STC turnovers in the game.
"We didn't capitalize once and that was big," Hoskey said. "We won the turnover margin early, but we had a couple of late turnovers that hurt us."
Grinnell nearly scored on the first play after the turnover with a 59-yard run from Bryce Lidtka. Four plays later, Grinnell converted a fourth-down-and-seven for a touchdown with a 10-yard pass, tying the game at 28-28.
The Tigers swung the momentum later in the quarter. They stopped South Tama on a fourth-down attempt and took over on their own 34 yard line. They scored a touchdown eight plays later when Lidtka rushed into the end zone on a nine-yard carry.
South Tama's next drive was stopped on a fake punt that failed. Kuhter faked the punt with a pass that sailed over his intended wide receiver. Grinnell took advantage and drove 40 yards in seven plays and finished it with a Dunne six-yard rushing touchdown.
The last of the Tigers touchdowns came after South Tama threw an interception on its next drive. The Trojans threw a middle screen play that was blown up by the Tigers, who intercepted the pass at the Trojans 33 yard line. Grinnell scored on a one-yard run to take a 49-28 lead with 4:53 left in the game.
"They are a tough team to beat," Hoskey said. "They will be very tough at the dome. They are a spread team with some speed and there's no wind or weather in the dome. They run the right stuff for what they have. They have a first-team all-stater at quarterback. I'd like to see one better than this kid and he's a junior. He's also a very good baseball and basketball player."
The ensuing kickoff might have provided the wildest highlight of the Trojans season. Grinnell squib kicked the ball, as it had all night, but this one rolled back to the Trojans star - Stephenson. He started heading right, but quickly cut back to the left at the 20 yard line to avoid several defenders. He had one player to beat to the sideline and Stephenson used his speed to race around the corner and turn up field.
One Grinnell player had Stephenson targeted and was sprinting across the field to knock him out of bounds. However, when they collided, there was a loud pop and the Tigers player flipped out of bounds. Stephenson spun around and stayed on the field. He continued following blockers as he cut back to the right side of the field. Two more broken tackles later, including one which almost brought him down, and he cruised into the end zone, but not before he ran over a defender past the goal line.
"They hadn't kicked to me all night," Stephenson said. "Then it went past the other guys and I grabbed it. I just ran and when nailed that guy on the sideline, I didn't know what was going on. I just ran the other way. I wanted to run that guy over in the end zone."
His 90-yard touchdown excited the STC sideline and stands, while leaving the coaches speechless. When asked if he'd ever seen a play like that, Hoskey was quick to respond.
"Never," he said. "I could see it when he caught the ball. He had that desire in his mind. He hit a big kid here and about knocked the kid out, but he stayed inbounds. Then he broke about four or five tackles after that. That should be on YouTube."
The play is online at www.youtube.com, in case anyone wants to watch it. While the kick brought energy back to the Trojans, they were unable to stop Grinnell during the final 4:27 of the game as it picked up three first downs. The Tigers converted two fourth-down plays as the ran the clock out to win the game.
"Our guys gave everything they had in this game," Hoskey said. "We played a pretty good game, but defensive wise, we couldn't get them stopped.
South Tama took advantage of Grinnell turnovers in the first half, while imposing its will offensively. Grinnell received the opening kickoff, but fumbled on its third play and STC recovered. South Tama drove 61 yards on all running plays and finished it with a four-yard touchdown run by Stephenson.
After both teams exchanged punts, Grinnell tied the game with a two-play, 46-yard drive that was capped off with a 21-yard run by Lidtka. The Trojans fumbled the ensuing kickoff and Grinnell scored again on a 28-yard pass. The Tigers 14-point swing happened in seven seconds.
"Offensively, we're doing what we want to do," Hoskey said. "We hope we can score on them every time, but we know they're a better than that. We're running well and dominating the time of possession. They made a couple of big, quick scores."
South Tama responded to the momentum swing with a 19-play, 64-yard drive that chewed up 8:59 of the clock. STC converted three fourth-down attempts on the drive, including the final play. Stephenson scored on a two-yard run, tying the game at 14-14.
Senior Kaleb Davenport forced another Grinnell fumble on the Tigers next drive. Senior Austin Lowe recovered the ball at the Tigers 46 yard line. South Tama scored six plays later on a four-yard run by Stephenson.
"It's a game of adjustments," Hoskey said. "We tried a couple of different blocking schemes. It looks like we're running the same thing every time, but it's different stuff that we run in there. The bottom line is our kids gave everything and I'm not sure we had as much left in our tank."
Grinnell tied the game at 21-21 before halftime. During the first half, STC ran 32 plays, while Grinnell just ran 18.
South Tama finished its season 9-3, which included two losses to its rival Grinnell. The Trojans advanced to the playoffs for the first time since 2007.
"We had a fantastic season," Hoskey said. "When you come from 2-7 to winning two state playoff games in a pretty good district, it's a great season. I'm proud of these kids."