CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa Dubuque players gathered around head coach Stan Zweifel in the post-game huddle. A tearful Zweifel had just a few words to say. He told his team he loved them.
Dubuque beat Coe 49-42 in an Iowa Conference football game with a conference title on the line at Clark Field on Saturday. Dubuque, which wrapped up its regular season Saturday, clinched the Iowa Conference championship. It is the school's first IIAC championship, and first D-III playoff appearance, since 1980.
"It just felt right," Zweifel said of the win.
Coe tried anything it could to slow Dubuque's high-powered offense. Dubuque averaged over 11 yards per play, never punted, and apart from two interceptions in the red zone by Coe's Demetreus Johnson, scored on every possession.
Coe resorted to an act of desperation to stop the onslaught. After scoring with 1:53 in the third quarter, Coe's Wes Anderson tapped a kick that tumbled 11 yards before recovering it himself.
"We were reaching for everything we could," Coe head coach Steve Staker said.
Dubuque quarterback Wyatt Hanus completed 23-of-32 passes for 310 yards and three touchdowns. Demacus Fleming caught seven passes for 141 yards. Running back Justin Spaulding racked up 214 yards on 21 carries behind a line with a tight end, Miles Hookstead, substituting for an injured left tackle.
"It wasn't any different from what I figured," Staker said.
Both teams took advantage of good field position. Dubuque tallied 166 yards on six kickoff returns. Coe had 232 yards on eight kickoff returns.
After Dubuque scored on its first possession, Coe traveled 54 yards on 11 plays, capped by Brad Boyle's quarterback keeper from seven yards. On Coe's next possession, Boyle put his head down and barreled across the goal line to tie the score 14-14. The touchdown put Boyle in second place, ahead of Fred Jackson, on the list of career rushing touchdowns at Coe with 48.
Out of the locker room, Coe, down 28-21, scored on four plays. Nick Ratchford, a fifth-year senior, caught passes for 26 yards and a 16-yard touchdown, his first of the season. He tore his right ACL in the third game of the season and has played the last three games in disrepair.
Spaulding broke a 44-yard run for a score on the next play.
Then on 4th-and-2 from the Dubuque 25-yard line, Boyle looked for Keaton Juergens in the corner of the end zone. Juergens appeared to make the catch but officials ruled he bobbled the ball and went out of bounds.
"Having that touchdown taken away was huge," Staker said.
Dubuque advanced downfield, and on 4th-and-10 at the Coe 25-yard line, Hanus hit Fleming on a sideline route for 12 yards. Then Spaulding rushed for a 13-yard touchdown. Dubuque led 42-28.
Coe finished off an 11-play, 71-yard drive with a reverse, which Jared Kuehner swept around for an 8-yard touchdown. Coe recovered the onside kick but had to punt. An interception returned the ball to Coe, which assembled its longest drive of the day, a 12-play, 96-yard march. Dubuque hammered back, and nine plays later, scored on a 12-yard run by Spaulding. Coe had one last chance. On 3rd-and-3, Boyle suffered the only sack of the day, a 12-yard loss at the hands of Dustin Sorrentino.
The win gave Dubuque it's fifth outright conference championship – including titles in 1940, 1942, 1979, 1980 – and seventh overall. They shared the title with Upper Iowa in 1948 and split it four ways with Buena Vista, Central and Luther in 1978.