116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR FALLS — Joey Rhomberg was in middle school the last time Mount Vernon played for a state football championship.
He recalled how he started to aspire to be in their position someday. Seven years later he helped make that a realty.
“I was a little kid in the stands, wanting that to be me someday,” Rhomberg said. “It’s pretty awesome to get here.”
Rhomberg passed for a touchdown and rushed for another as second-ranked Mount Vernon topped No. 6 Humboldt, 14-6, in a Class 3A state football semifinal Saturday night at the UNI-Dome. The Mustangs (12-0) return to the championship game for the first time since 2015.
Senior Henry Ryan was at that last title game as well. He said his brother, Paul, was an underclassman on that team that included his role models like NFL players Tristan Wirfs and Jack Cochrane and all-state quarterback Drew Adams.
“I looked up to those guys,” Ryan said. “Jack Cochrane, I love that man. I look up to him so much.
“It’s great to be back. As a little kid, that’s all I wanted to be, playing in the Dome with my boys.”
Few had Mount Vernon on their radar at the start of the season and it quickly made its presence known, stacking up wins to reach a 12-0 record after the semifinals. For all the doubters that existed, none of them were in the Mustangs locker room.
“All you really need is the guys in that room to really believe,” Mount Vernon Coach Lance Pedersen said. “You don’t need anybody else to believe and those guys did.
“Everybody on that bus ride here believed we could win tonight and everybody on that bus believed we could win it all in August.”
Mount Vernon produced a hot start, driving 70 yards on eight plays and scoring on the opening possession of the game. The Mustangs’ vaunted pass attack accounted for 48 of those yards with Rhomberg completing all five pass attempts.
Ryan’s runs of 23 and 9 yards during the series helped set up the play-action pass. Humboldt defenders bit on the fake and Rhomberg hit a wide open Brady Erickson for an 18-yard TD. The Mustangs led 7-0 a little more than 2 1/2 minutes into the game.
“We got the read that we wanted,” Rhomberg said. “Brady Erickson made the catch. It was pretty awesome to start the game off with a touchdown.”
Rhomberg helped ice the game on the first play of the fourth quarter. Rhomberg scored in the middle of a scrum on a QB sneak from the 4, making it 14-3 with 11:55 to play.
He finished with 148 yards passing and added 36 on the ground, hitting Erickson six times for 64 yards.
“Joey does a great job for us,” Pedersen said. “He’s a great leader. He’s a great football player. We’re so extremely proud of him and what he’s been able to accomplish up to this point.”
Ryan had a workmanlike game-high of 103 rushing yards and added 12 yards receiving. He displayed a physical style that helped the Mustangs move the chains for 18 first downs.
“Henry Ryan — stud,” Rhomberg said. “He came up with some huge plays and Brady Erickson had a really big catch down the stretch. It is awesome to have those two on my team.”
The Mustang offense followed with drives into Humboldt territory but couldn’t finish with points, turning the ball over on downs, missing a field goal and throwing two interceptions in the final minutes of the first half.
“We had to work for every single inch we got,” Rhomberg said, “but our coaches and players put it together to get that (win) tonight.”
Mount Vernon’s stout defense yielded just two Trevor Beach field goals from 33 and 22 yards.
The Mustangs stuffed the Wildcats, holding them to just six first downs and just 178 total yards, including a mere 47 on the ground. Humboldt was 0-for-11 on third- and fourth-down conversion attempts.
The Wildcats (10-2) still had a chance to tie it, trailing by eight with 4:57 to play and taking over at their 44. Will Orness hit Corey Dettman for a 40-yard pass to the Mustangs 16.
Humboldt didn’t advance any farther. Actually, it lost ground before Ryan’s interception on fourth-and-36 from the 42.
“They’re just tough,” Pedersen said. “They get after it and have a lot of fun as they do it. We work hard to gang tackle the football. I think our guys did an outstanding job executing the game plan on the defensive side. I’m very proud of them.”
The Mustangs face top-ranked and defending state champion Harlan Friday at 1 p.m. The Cyclones (11-1) beat No. 3 Adel ADM, 49-35, in the semifinals. Aidan Hall powered Harlan’s offense, amassing 312 total offensive yards. The University of Iowa commit rushed for 238 yards and four TDs on 21 carries. He added 74 yards on seven receptions, including a 14-yard TD pass.
Harlan is making its 23rd state title game appearance and will look to add to its 13 state football titles. Both are state records.
The Mustangs will be heavy underdogs again. A role they embrace.
“Absolutely,” Ryan said. “Why not go for the best? To be the best you’ve got to beat the best. I think we can do it, so I’m excited for that matchup.”
MOUNT VERNON 14
First Downs 6 18
Passing yards 131 148
Total yards 178 305
Fumbles-lost 1-0 1-0
Punts-avg. 5-36.2 3-33.0
Penalties-yards 4-35 4-36
Humboldt3 0 03– 6
Mount Vernon7 0 77 --14
MV – Brady Erickson 18 pass from Joey Rhomberg (Ben Crock kick)
HUM – FG Trevor Beach 33
MV – Rhomberg 4 run (Crock kick)
HUM – FG Beach 22
RUSHING – Humboldt: Lance Coon 15-58, Will Orness 6-(-11). Mount Vernon: Henry Ryan 19-103, Joey Rhomberg 7-36, Jackson Hird 5-27. Team 2-(-9).
PASSING – Humboldt: Orness 9-18-2-131. Mount Vernon: Rhomberg 22-35-2-148.
RECEIVING – Humboldt: Corey Dettmann 5-52, Josh Thurm 2-45, Trevor Beach 1-35, Mason Van Pelt 1-(-1). Mount Vernon: Brady Erickson 6-64, Evan Brase 4-34, Caden Stimmel 4-19, Austin Deeb 3-8, Jensen Meeker 2-15, Ryan 2-12, Zatyk Holub 1-(-4).