CEDAR FALLS – Iowa City Regina Coach Marv Cook had to wait a while to take a deep breath.
Like some previous games, the Regals weathered an early storm and then poured on the points, allowing their coach and supporters a chance to exhale.
Top-ranked Regina scored 38 straight points, breaking open a game tied after the first quarter and dropping No. 8 North Fayette Valley, 45-21, in an Iowa High School Athletic Association Class 1A state football semifinal Saturday at the UNI-Dome. Regina notched its 55th straight victory and tied Waterloo East (1965-71) for the state's longest win streak and moved a win away from a fourth straight state title.
"It's all about responding and how you respond to adversity," Regina quarterback Drew Cook said. "We did a great job of that today."
The younger Cook was a prime example, throwing an interception on his opening pass of the game and then rebounding with an impressive performance.
The 6-foot-5 junior did a little of everything for the Regals, throwing for 312 yards and a touchdown, rushing for 57 yards, including a 22-yard score and catching a 27-yard pass that set up a key touchdown at the end of the first half.
"He has had a really good year and he's been real solid for us in these big games," Marv Cook said. "Obviously, with the first throw you don't want to start that way. I'm proud of his composure and settling back in and making plays for his offense."
Cook's run got the Regals on the board and he helped tie the score at 14 apiece, lofting a pass for a diving Bryan Amelon down the left sideline for a 34-yard score.
North Fayette Valley Coach Bob Lape said the plan was to stop the run and short passes, but Regina was able to convert on some longer pass plays, averaging nearly 15 yards per completion. Eight went for 20 or more. Amelon finished with 83 yards on six catches, while Nick Phillips led the Regals with 112 yards, also on six receptions.
"We could use our athletes to make some plays and that's exactly what they did," Drew Cook said. "We opened up the playbook and aired it out a little bit."
Cook was effective, completing passes on three straight third-and-long plays. They led to touchdowns on consecutive drives. Regina was 5-for-9 on third down.
"Drew Cook had his best game of the year," Dixon said, "He put the ball on the money on almost all of them."
Phillips provided a key spark, leading to the Regals first lead. On the Tigerhawks first punt, which was touched but not ruled dead, Phillips alertly picked the ball up as players left the field and ran to the 24-yard line. He prevented an interception on the next play, tying up a defender and ripping the ball away to gain possession for a 15-yard gain. Riley Dixon capped the drive with a 5-yard TD run for a 21-14 lead with 9:12 left in the second.
"He's a gamer," Marv Cook said. "He's done that for a long time. He's smart (and) an aggressive, tough kid. He's a playmaker and does a good job with it."
The Regals run game was effective in the red zone, getting three second-quarter touchdown runs from Dixon. He had 33 yards rushing, but had 72 receiving yards on four catches.
Dixon punched the ball in on 4th-and-goal from the 2 as time expired in the first half, giving the Regals a 35-14 edge.
"It was huge momentum going in for the half," Dixon said. "They like to run the ball a lot. We felt if we got up they would have a hard time coming back."
Regina produced 10 points after the break, getting a 22-yard field goal from Jacob Adam and a 1-yard run from Elliot Halsch to ice it early in the fourth.
North Fayette Valley (11-2) brought the fight to the Regals immediately, getting the early turnover and then blocking a field-goal attempt after fumbling the ball back to Regina deep in its own territory.
The Tigerhawks followed with two straight scoring drives that gave them leads of 7-0 and 14-7, running the ball at will. North Fayette Valley ran five straight times, chewing up 60 yards, and scored on Josh Mackey's 3-yard run. The Tigerhawks went 72 yards on the next scoring drive, finishing it with Derrick Kuehner's 12-yard touchdown run around the left end.
"We had to change up a little bit because they were gashing us," Sehl said. "After that, we were lining up right."
Mackey added a two-yard score with 3:47 left to play. He finished with 77 yards, and Kuehner led the Tigerhawks with 80 rushing yards. Giving up points doesn't set well with the Regal defense. They rallied, despite surrendering the first second-half points this postseason.
"It makes us mad," Sehl said about allowing early points. "We have to go out the next play and get after them."
It was a different trend after the start of the second quarter.
"I'm sure they made some adjustments," Lape said. "We can't just keep doing the same thing over and over. We do what we do on offense."
The Regals are tested in practice, facing stressful situations created by the coaches. They adjusted perfectly after switching gears on offense and switching to a different defensive scheme.
"They're great kids," Marv Cook said. "They play with pride and heart. If you line them up right and play with heart, we have a good chance."
The Regals face Fort Dodge St. Edmond (13-0) in the 1A championship game Friday at 11:06 a.m. The seventh-ranked Gaels beat No. 6 Van Meter, 35-14, in the other semifinal. They get a chance to win a second consecutive 1A crown after winning 2A titles in 2010 and 2011.
"It's unbelievable," Sehl said. "I love being back here. It's a great environment."
A victory next week and the Regals will set the win streak and tie the Trojans mark of 56 games without a loss. East's had a tie before the stretch. The focus isn't on the record.
"Just trying to accomplish a goal for Regina community," Dixon said, "and win that fourth state championship."
Lape said he expected a perfect game was needed to win, but that wasn't going to cloud a successful season.
"We had a great and made the semifinals," Lape said. "A lot of people would trade places with us."
The Tigerhawks, in a first season after the merger of North Fayette and Valley Community schools, return seven starters on defense and eight on offense, including the running duo of Kuehner and Mackey. Now, that group has experience of playing in the UNI-Dome and is set on returning.
"We know what it is going to take to get back to this game," Lape said. "We know the effort we need in the offseason."