Kline Leads BGM To First State Title Game
By K.J. Pilcher, Reporter
CEDAR FALLS – The music blared and the walls vibrated.
The song “Livin’ Part of Life” by Eric Church echoed in the hall every time someone opened the BGM locker room.
The top-ranked Bears loved the life they were living Friday after handling No. 3 Wapsie Valley, 35-10, in an Iowa High School Athletic Association Class 1A state football semifinal at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls. BGM advanced to the championship game for the first time in school history.
“It’s an awesome time in there,” BGM senior Jack Kline said. “We’re just celebrating.”
The Bears (13-0) avenged last year’s semifinal loss to the Warriors (12-1), which spoiled their first trip to the semifinals, and snapped the defending A state champions’ 26-game win streak. They earned the right to crank up the victory music.
“They played outstanding,” BGM Coach Jerod Burns said. “We’ve been talking about playing as hard as you can every single snap. I really think the kids did that. I don’t think there is anything left that they could have given.”
It has been a long journey for these seniors.
“It feels great,” BGM’s Kyle Gritsch said. “All of our guys are playing well. We’ve been playing together since elementary school at recess. We haven’t looked back from there.”
BGM sent a clear message to open the game, dictating the tempo from the start. The Bears seemed to be able to move the ball at will, scoring touchdowns on four of their five first-half drives. They drove the length of the field repeatedly, manufacturing two 69-yard drives and a 78-yard possession to close the first half.
“I thought it was going to be big for us to get the momentum early,” Burns said. “That’s exactly what they did and put a great drive together.”
Kline capped the opening drive of the game with a 29-yard TD run, bouncing off a tackler and bolting to the end zone. It was the spark to a big day for Kline, who finished with 125 yards rushing and 67 receiving yards on seven catches.
“The speed of Jack Kline,” Wapsie Valley Coach Tony Foster said, “our team wasn’t prepared for it.”
Kline, who has a national record for nine punts returned for a TD this season and is fourth all-time nationally with 10 career punt returns for scores, set up a score on BGM’s next possession, running a kickoff back 76 yards to the Warriors’ 10.
Two plays later, Kyle Gritsch grabbed Bryan Kriegel’s pass in the left flat for a 10-yard touchdown, putting the Bears up 14-3.
Gritsch provided a punch to the Bears offense, adding a 1-yard TD plunge up the middle with 38 seconds left in the second quarter, giving the Bears a 28-3 edge at halftime. Gritsch, who had 99 total yards, also pounded the final nail in the Warriors’ coffin with a 22-yard burst up the middle for the Bears’ final score with 4:37 remaining.
A little luck never hurts either and the Bears capitalized on some good fortune early in the second. On 4th-and-goal from the Warriors’ 1, Kriegel fumbled the ball trying to reach for the goal line in a scrum. The ball fell to the turf in the end zone where lineman Zac Freese pounced on it for a touchdown and a 21-3 lead with 9:30 left in the second.
Kline and Gritsch provided a nice 1-2 combination for the Bears. They have powered the Bears this season. Kline also averaged 38.6 yards per punt, while Gritsch was perfect on five extra-point attempts.
“They are both tremendous athletes and running backs,” Burns said. “They’ve been workhorses for us this year. It’s been a lot of fun to be able to scheme and game plan. They can do it all.”
The Bears defense was just as impressive, holding Ethan Kleitsch, one of the top rushers in Class A, to 27 yards. Only three Warriors had positive rushing yard with Kleitsch the only to gain more than four. BGM didn’t allow a touchdown until the final few minutes.
“Our defense played well as a team,” Gritsch said. “We all flew to the football.”
Both Gritsch and Burns were quick to credit the offensive and defensive line, allowing running backs to gain yards and the linebackers to roam free and make plays.
“Our interior three played phenomenal,” Burns said. “They played with their heart.”
The Bears will face West Lyon, who is tied atop the Class A rankings. The Wildcats (13-0) disposed of Avoca AHST, 63-21, in the other Class A semifinal. BGM appreciates the opportunity to play for a title.
“it’s pretty cool to be the first (BGM) team to be there,” Kline said. “Hopefully, we’ll win.”
Wapsie Valley’s Ryan Miller threw for 161 yards, including a 4-yard score to Derek Trotter. Stone Kane led the Warriros with 112 receiving yards on three catches. The Warriors will miss a large group of seniors that occupied 20 of 22 starting spots on offense and defense.
“It seems like it’s been minutes,” Foster said about his time with the seniors. “They were very focused. … One of the great pleasures I have had as coach.”
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