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MOUNT VERNON — You lose two of three to end the regular season, and people start to sleep on you. Those foolish people.
No one is sleeping on the Williamsburg Raiders now. Not after their 24-14 upset of third-ranked Mount Vernon in a Class 2A state football playoff quarterfinal Friday night at Ash Park.
This was no fluke victory, folks. Just a well-deserved one.
“I still don’t think we’ve seen our best performance,” said Williamsburg Coach Curt Ritchie. “We’re capable of doing more. But just to come out and get this one against that team, which has played at such a high level for two or three years in a row, is huge for us. We needed to get one like that. We haven’t gotten one like that in a long time.”
“I think people forget that was a No. 1-ranked team in the state for quite a long time,” said Mount Vernon Coach Lance Pedersen. “Give them a lot of credit. They have a very good football team, and they’ll represent our district well.”
Williamsburg (9-2) started the season by rolling its first six opponents, assuming the top spot in The Gazette’s 2A poll. But the Raiders hiccupped down the stretch, including a 42-14 beatdown at the hands of Mount Vernon in the finale.
They got into the playoffs via one of two available state-wide wild card berths and edged fourth-ranked Prairie City-Monroe, 18-17, in last week’s first round. Now this.
Union Community (8-3) is the semifinals opponent next Saturday night at 7:06 at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls. This is Williamsburg’s first semifinal appearance since 2012.
“Those losses just made us want to push harder,” said Williamsburg defensive back Cedric Kuesel, who had one of three interceptions against prolic Mount Vernon quarterback Drew Adams.
Adams completed 20 of 34 passes for 187 yards and two touchdowns, extending his state record in that latter category to 106 for his amazing career. He finished with 8,276 career passing yards, which is second all-time in Iowa.
“Probably the best quarterback I’ll ever coach,” said Pedersen.
Williamsburg lost twice last season to Mount Vernon, too, allowing 56 and 42 points, respectively. The Raiders changed their defensive approach this time around, slowing down MV running back Paul Ryan and forcing Adams to throw.
They covered up Mustang receivers pretty well and got pressure on Adams, sacking him a handful of times. The most important one came with 1:40 left, when Graeson Trevino and Noah Zollinger combined to smother Adams in the end zone for a clinching safety.
“We switched a lot of things up on the line,” Kuesel said. “We made sure they couldn’t run, so they had to pass it. Then we shut them down in the passing, so they couldn’t do anything.”
“Obviously we changed some schemes, and our defensive staff did a great job, as did our DBs,” Ritchie said. “To get pressure and get some interceptions against this offense is huge ... The big thing was just effort. If you watched the film of the first game, that was not what we want to be as a program. I think our guys took it to heart, came out here and just played their hearts out.”
Williamsburg changed some things offensively as well, giving fullback Tucker Stanerson his first carries of the entire season. Stanerson rumbled for 39 yards on the first play of the game, setting up quarterback Gage Blythe’s 2-yard TD sneak.
Tailback Gage Hazen-Fabor, who came in as the 11-player game’s leading rusher, was held down most of the night, finishing with 147 yards on 25 carries. A cool 90 of those 147 came on one big carry, though, as he popped loose down the sideline on an off-tackle run for a touchdown that gave Williamsburg a 19-6 lead early in the third quarter.
Stanerson had 88 yards on 14 rushes, playing an integral part in this win.
“We used to do it freshman year and back in junior high,” he said. “We just kind of went away from it, and now we’re back to it. Couldn’t be happier. I feel great helping the team any way I can.”
“They attack so forward and so fast and so hard, we went back to old school,” Ritchie said. “Back to what we were and what we’ve always been. You can’t just concentrate on Hazen-Fabor.”
A fumble recovery at the Mount Vernon 35 set up Williamsburg’s second touchdown, a Blythe 4-yard scramble. MV’s two touchdowns were a 10-yard pass from Adams to Matt Gearhart in the second quarter and an 8-yarder to Zach Baker with 2:10 left.
A two-point pass from Adams to Snedden made it a one-score game of 22-14, and Mount Vernon forced a Williamsburg punt that rolled down to the Mustangs 3 with 1:46 left. The safety followed.
“They did a great job defensively, obviously,” Pedersen said. “They came in with a good game plan, wanted to slow our run down. We had to start passing the football, and some things didn’t go our way in certain situations. To play a team four times in one calendar year is tough. Everybody says it’s hard to beat a team twice. How about four times?”
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