Cedar Rapids, Iowa News, Sports, and Weather
CEDAR FALLS, Iowa - Practice makes perfect.
For Iowa City Regina, it was practice that led to the perfect call to maintain its perfect record.
The top-ranked Regals converted a 4th-and-19 play to open the final quarter, igniting a 21-point explosion that secured a 42-21 win over No. 2 Dike-New Hartford in the Iowa High School Athletic Association Class 1A football semifinal Saturday at the UNI-Dome.
Regina quarterback Mark Ward hit Alex Balke for a 27-yard gain for a first down at the Wolverines' 11, which led to Ward's 5-yard TD run that gave the Regals a 28-21 lead with 10:14 remaining.
During a timeout, Ward suggested the play designed to split the safeties down the center of the field. Offensive coordinator Ed Hinkle and head coach Marv Cook immediately agreed with the call, that could have easily backfired by giving DNH (12-1) the ball with good field position.
The Regals (13-0) were confident and excited for the play they routinely run in practice.
"I was thinking about a different play, but then they called that," Balke said. "I was like, 'Yes, this always works in practice and now we're finally running it. I was glad we were calling it."
Regina consistently produced big plays when needed. Ward said they took advantage of what the defense gave them throughout the game.
"With the way their safeties were playing, we thought that play would be a good play," Ward said. "We executed it."
Special teams made their contribution. The Regals forced a fumble on the ensuing kickoff and recovered at the Wolverines 19. Ward capped the five-play drive with a 4-yard TD run for a 35-21 lead with less than eight minutes to play.
The Regals recognized their chance to put the game away.
"We made an opportunity," Ward said about the fumble. "We had to put it in the end zone. We had to capitalize on that opportunity."
Regina's defense that allowed a little more than 252 yards snuffed out any Wolverine threats, and Regina's Mike Donovan added a second 1-yard touchdown run with 2:04 left to secure Regina's third consecutive title game berth, winning the 2010 and 2011 2A state titles.
"We were good enough to overcome some things early in the game," Cook said. "We continued to score points and put the game away and out of reach for them."
DNH claimed a 21-14 lead in the third, scoring on its final possession of the first half and opened the second half with Carson Parker's 1-yard TD run. Regina answered right away, tying it on an impressive 40-yard scoring strike from Ward to Matt Streb, who caught the ball about the 5-yard line, turned in from the sideline and took a step in one motion and stretched for the goal line.
Streb said he sold a run play and then sprinted down field. The play went for a 98-yard TD in a quarterfinal win against Maquoketa Valley.
"I created some separation and Mark put it right on the money," Streb said. "I knew I was creeping toward the end zone. Right when I caught it my instinct was to dive and I knew I got the pylon."
Ward threw for 197 yards, completing 12 of 14 passes. Balke was his top target with 76 receiving yards on seven catches. Streb finished with 69 yards on four catches - all in the second half.
Ward added 19 yards on the ground. Riley Dixon led Regina rushers with 135 yards on 28 carries.
Cook said it is fun with the quarterback and coaches are on the same page, and Ward has waited his turn to be a leader while playing behind championship QB's Jack Verducci and Nate Streb.
"He knows where the ball is supposed to be going and when it's supposed to be there," Cook said. "Mark's really done a good job with that. He's getting his turn. He's making the most of it."
The Wolverines gave the Regals fits for a stretch. Parker burned Regina, dancing his way from rushers until receivers came open. The first time resulted in a 31-yard TD to Gabe Eiklenborg, who pulled in a pass lofted over a defender. Another was a 33-yard gain to Terry Mooty, setting up Levi Lynch's 1-yard TD run on the next play that tied it 14-14.
Mooty led the Wolverines with 82 rushing yards, while Parker had 152 through the air. Parker made an impression on the Regals.
"We couldn't get him on the ground," Cook said. "He kept keeping plays alive and then made them."
Regina extended its winning streak to 41 games, losing its last game to Solon in the 2009 state quarterfinal. Cook said this year's team is playing its role in the streak and have to continue their focus for another week.
"We talk earlier if you want to be great you have to be great in November," Cook said. "To be great in November, you have to be good in August, September and October.
"For the most part, they practice hard and pay good attention to get ready. Now, we have six more days to get ready."
They will prepare to face No. 8 Council Bluffs St. Albert (12-1). The Falcons dropped third-ranked Emmetsburg, 18-7, and stand in the Regals way of a third straight championship. They want to continue the tradition started by previous classes.
"We put in the same time, at least getting to the championship game," Ward said. "We've got to see what happens next week. We have to execute."