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Iowa City Regina escapes semifinal thriller for eighth straight finals appearance

Pella Christian missed two late field goals in 37-35 loss

Iowa City Regina’s Isaac Vollstedt (44) stiff-arms Pella Christian’s Mark Vander Haar (50) in the second quarter during the class 1A state football semifinal game between Iowa City Regina and Pella Christian at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

CEDAR FALLS — Iowa City Regina Coach Marv Cook may have aged a little more rapidly this postseason than others.

He might find a few extra gray hairs or maybe even a few more missing. His ticker has had a bit of a workout as well. You will have that when your team has had to sidestep a couple challenges that seemed like surefire upset bids.

“I’m 20 pounds overweight, probably 30. I have high cholesterol,” Cook said. “I don’t need that kind of stress.”

Cook and Regina fans had to wait to relax Saturday, needing two late defensive stands that resulted in missed field goals in third-ranked Regina’s 37-35 victory over No. 4 Pella Christian in a Class 1A state football semifinal at the UNI-Dome.

“I’m proud of the way our kids battled,” Cook said. “I thought times we played really well. I thought at times we played really poorly, but we made enough big plays down the stretch to get the victory for us.

“Neither team deserved to lose that game. Unfortunately, one team comes out on the low side of the scoreboard, but it was a phenomenal football game in my opinion.”

After a slow start that created a 14-7 deficit late in the first, the Regals (10-2) took control with a two-score lead. Pella Christian stormed back, scoring on consecutive possessions.

The Eagles’ running tandem of QB Hayden Vroom and Noah Treimer scored on runs of 12 and 1 yards, shrinking the Regals lead to two with 5:39 to play.

“We got that 16-point lead and you start feeling OK about the game,” Regina linebacker and running back Isaac Vollstedt said. “Once they start coming back a little it starts getting a little nerve-racking, but I feel like our team responded well to adversity that came to us at the end of the game.”

Pella Christian’s defense shut down Regina the following two possessions with an interception and three-and-out to give the Eagles the ball in Regals territory.

Vroom returned the pick to the Regina 21 and the Eagles reached the 9 before the Regals stalled the drive. Regina dodged the first go-ahead kick when a 29-yard attempt barely missed wide right.

Pella Christian (11-1) got one more chance, starting at the Regina 42 with a minute left. Vroom hit Sam Brouwer for a 12-yard first-down gain on the opening play, but Regina forced three consecutive incompletions. The final 47-yard field goal attempt fell well short and Regina burned the final seconds. The Eagles also had a 34-yard attempt bounce off the crossbar as the first half expired.

“We obviously got a little lucky with two missed field goals,” Vollstedt said. “I was proud of the way they stepped up and held them out of the end zone.”

Regina built a 37-21 lead on four straight scoring possessions that sandwiched halftime. Vollstedt rushed for a 17-yard TD and booted a 46-yard field goal. Jaden Kies had his hands in the other two scores, providing big plays.

Michael Conlon connected with Kies in stride for a 77-yard bomb that gave Regina a 21-14 lead with 3:57 left in the second quarter.

“He’s ridiculously fast,” Conlon said of Kies. “We let him use his legs and get open.”

Kies hit on the exact same play with 3:43 left in the third, making it 37-21. This time it was an 88-yard strike but it came from freshman Ashton Cook, who replaced Conlon after injury sidelined him for part of the second half.

“Our quarterbacks were able to place it in the right spot,” Kies said. “For me, use my speed to get outside and get underneath it.”

Cook stepped in and flung his first pass on 3rd-and-10 from deep in his own territory. He completed 2 of 3 passes for 120 yards before Conlon returned.

“We prepare them all to get ready,” Cook said. “You never know when your number’s going to get called.

“He’s actually done a good job through this whole playoff run that we’ve had. He had to step in the first game of the playoffs and run three series for us. I really like the way he handles it. He steps in and says I’m ready to go.”

Conlon spearheaded the Regina attack. He threw for 267 yards and two TDs, including a 15-yard score to Jake Phillips for the Regals’ first points. Kies had two catches for 155 yards, while Phillips reeled in six for 123. Alec Wick added 84 yards on five catches.

“They run great routes,” said Conlon, who led Regina with 97 rushing yards. “The (offensive) line gives me plenty of time to sit back there and let those guys get open. We just trust in the play calls and try to execute.”

Pella Christian’s defense rattled Regina early, causing two turnovers in the first three series of the game. One was a fumble off a high snap that Colton Uitermarkt pounced on for a TD with 5:45 left in the first. Uitermarkt also had the first of Conlon’s interceptions.

“I thought our kids played hard enough,” Eagles Coach Rich Kacmarynski said. “I think our kids played well enough to win. We had a few breakdowns here and there. Blew a couple covers and a couple big plays by Regina.

“Tip my hat to Regina. They made some big plays when they had to.”

Regina will get a shot at a seventh state title in the last eight years. The Regals had to settle for a runner-up finish to Western Christian last season. They will face second-ranked Van Meter (12-0) next Friday to try to soothe the sting of a year ago.

“It’s a special feeling,” Vollstedt said. “Coming off last year, second place wasn’t enough for us. I feel like that is going to help push us to work harder this week and come out on top next week.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8679; kj.pilcher@thegazette.com