116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR FALLS — Goliath wobbled.
David gave it everything he had but couldn’t land one last stone to drop a prep football giant.
Mount Vernon’s valiant effort put it on the verge of an upset and state championship but it wasn’t enough to hold off Harlan’s comeback bid.
The top-ranked Cyclones scored three touchdowns in the final 12:16, including a 48-yard pass from Teagon Kasperbauer to Cade Sears with 1:24 remaining, to top No. 2 Mount Vernon, 30-23, in the Class 3A state football championship Friday at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls.
“I thought it was a very gutsy performance from our players and a championship performance,” Mount Vernon Coach Lance Pedersen said. “There is nothing to hang our heads about.”
The Mustangs (12-1) gave Harlan its toughest challenge since a season-opening loss to 4A runner-up Council Bluffs Lewis Central. The Cyclones were held to their lowest point total by a 3A foe, but still managed a second straight crown and increased their state-record championship total to 14.
“They didn’t expect us to punch them in the mouth like we did,” Mount Vernon senior Henry Ryan said. “We battled every play, every snap. Just so many people stepping up. Our coaches prepared us. It came down to execution. We just didn’t quite get there.
“I’m so proud of my guys. I love them to death and it was a great season.”
Mount Vernon staggered and stymied Harlan for most of the first three quarters, positioning itself for a victory after two key turnovers produced 14 points and a 23-7 lead.
The Mustangs’ Jackson Jaspers picked off Kasperbauer and returned it 26 yards for a TD. The Cyclones fumbled the snap to start the ensuing drive. Mount Vernon recovered at the Cyclones 32 and appeared to put the game away when Ryan punched it in on fourth-and-goal from the 1.
Mount Vernon seemed in control and confident, needing to whittle down the clock.
“I was just thinking ground and pound,” Ryan said. “Get a first down. You’ve got to convert. Get first downs and if we strung a couple first downs together we win that ball game.”
Harlan’s defense held the Mustangs to one first down the rest of the way and responded with two consecutive 13-play scoring drives with 2-point conversions.
The first covered 59 yards in 4:07, resulting in a 6-yard TD pass from Kasperbauer to Birch with 16 seconds left in the third. Kasperbauer hit Sears on a conversion pass to make it 23-15.
The Cyclones (12-1) trio connected again on their next drive for 62 yards. Sears made a juggling catch in the back of the end zone, while Birch tied the game at 23 with one of his own for two points at the 3:39 mark.
Sears and Kasperbauer completed the rally on their next possession. Kasperbauer passed for 220 yards, including 137 in the second half. Birch had 138 yards on 11 catches, while Sears added five grabs for 75 yards.
“We had to keep doing what we always do,” Sears said. “It finally clicked and we got going.”
The Mustangs were short-handed after an injury late in their 14-6 semifinal win over Humboldt sidelined quarterback Joey Rhomberg. Ryan received a text from Rhomberg Sunday night and readied himself for the transition from tailback to signal caller.
“I took that in,” Ryan said. “I prepared myself. I had so many people help me prepare. I hurt for Joe because he’s such a good guy. He would have done anything to be out there with us.”
Ryan helped put the Mustangs ahead, hitting Jensen Meeker for a 32-yard TD pass on fourth down for a 6-0 advantage.
“That was a big momentum boost,” Ryan said. “Coaches told me to throw it up and let him run under it because we have some great athletes here at Mount Vernon.
“I’m proud of Jensen. It’s his first year out. He did so well for us. He made a great snag and great play.”
Ryan had just five days to make the transition from tailback to signal caller. A tough task on a regular week and a mammoth one for the final against No. 1.
“He did everything he possibly could. I’m just so proud of him,” Pedersen said. “One thing I’ve always said is you can’t replace one guy with one guy. You replace one guy with everybody stepping up. I thought our football team did that.”
The Mustangs defense did just about all it could, limiting Harlan to 291 total offensive yards, which is about 80 below its average. They also forced four turnovers — two interceptions and two fumbles. Mount Vernon parlayed those into 21 points.
“There wasn’t anybody that left something out there,” Pedersen said. “They gave us their all. That’s all I can ask from my guys.”
Harlan 30, Mount Vernon 23
First Downs 6 17
Rushes-yards 34-42 30-71
Passing yards 64 220
Comp-att-int 5-15-1 22-39-2
Total yards 106 291
Fumbles-lost 3-0 3-2
Punts-avg. 6-35.5 4-25.5
Penalties-yards 2-10 7-52
Mount Vernon 6 3 14 0 --23
Harlan 7 0 7 16–30
MV – Jensen Meeker 32 pass from Henry Ryan (kick blocked)
HAR – Aidan Hall 20 run (Stephen Leinen kick)
MV – FG Ben Crock 30
MV – Jackson Jaspers 26 interception return (Crock kick)
MV – Ryan 1 run (Crock kick)
HAR – Jacob Birch 6 pass from Teagon Kasperbauer (Kasperbauer pass to Sears)
HAR – Sears 3 pass from Kasperbauer (Kasperbauer pass to Birch)
HAR – Sears 48 pass from Kasperbauer (Leinen kick)
RUSHING – Mount Vernon: Henry Ryan 17-29, Jackson Hird 14-27, Jackson Rhomberg 1-0, Caden Stimmel 1-(-2), Team 1-(-12). Harlan: William Kenkel 11-43, Aidan Hall 8-26, Noah Schmitz 4-17, Team 5-(-7), Teagon Kasperbauer 2-(-8).
PASSING – Mount Vernon: Ryan 5-15-1-64. Harlan: Kasperbauer 22-39-2-220.
RECEIVING – Mount Vernon: Jensen Meeker 2-61, Stimmel 2-(-2), Zatyk Holub 1-5. Harlan: Jacob Birch 11-138, Cade Sears 5-75, Hall 3-12, Hayden Soma 1-2, Brehden Eggers 1-(-3), Kasperbauer 1-(-4).