116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR FALLS — Great season, great story, great display of perseverance and courage.
Focus there, now that that great season ended.
West Branch’s football team ran into an opponent Friday morning that was better. Shrug your shoulders and acknowledge the truth.
Top-ranked Van Meter is really, really good, folks. Really, really, really good.
Explosive offensively, stingy defensively, even a kickoff kid who can boot it into the end zone with regularity. The Bulldogs showed it all in a 48-17 Class 1A state playoff semifinal win at the UNI-Dome.
Van Meter (11-1), which lost to 2A semifinalist Williamsburg by five points in the regular season, seeks a second straight 1A championship next week. It was runner-up in 2020 and 2019.
For West Branch (11-1), this was a trip to the Dome for the first time since 2011. It made a stirring fourth-quarter comeback last week in the quarterfinals to get here.
It also, of course, has been dealing with the cancer diagnosis of legendary head coach Butch Pedersen, who began chemotherapy treatments about three weeks ago. He was inspirational on the sidelines for this game, though mostly away from the action, guarded, so to speak, by his son Lance, whose Mount Vernon team plays a 3A semifinal Saturday night.
The Iowa High School Athletic Association allowed Lance Pedersen to be with his father as a sort of guard, making sure Butch was physically protected from any unintentional contact.
“Just to have him on the sideline in general,” said West Branch’s Kinnick Boelk. “I asked him on Thursday if he was going to be there, and he said he was going to try as hard as he could. I’m just so glad he was there with us in our last game.”
⧉ Related article: Photos: West Branch vs. Van Meter in class 1A state football semifinials
“It just meant so much for us to have Coach Pedersen on the sideline,” said West Branch quarterback Tye Hughes. “He hasn’t been able to be with us much the second half of the year, so having him there meant a lot to all of us.”
Pedersen spoke to his downtrodden group on the field postgame.
“It’s all about family. Nothing’s more important,” said West Branch’s Carver Boelk. “Winning’s not more important. We’re a family, and we’re here for each other all the time. That’s what he basically has been preaching to us for four years, and that’s what he was preaching to us after the game.”
A 53-yard pass play from quarterback Hughes to receiver Kinnick Boelk led to a 33-yard Wyatt Fiderlein field goal on the first possession of the game. West Branch stopped a drive deep inside its territory to turn away Van Meter on the ensuing possession.
But stops were difficult to obtain the rest of the way for the Bears. Running back Ben Gordon rushed for 190 yards and a pair of touchdowns, adding another TD on a 62-yard catch and run.
Quarterback Ben Gilliland completed 6 of 7 passes for 183 yards and two touchdowns, including a 94-yard bomb to Will Gordon along the sideline. Gilliland also caught a TD pass off a reverse pass play from Carter Durflinger.
Add a special teams touchdown, when Porter Doggett returned a kickoff-return fumble 13 yards, and this was a rout, a 28-3 game at halftime.
“We were kind of (wondering) coming into it because they hadn’t played many good people,” Carver Boelk said. “But they’re a great team.”
Van Meter finished with 472 yards. Hughes completed 22 of 42 passes for 208 yards and a touchdown to Kinnick Boelk, also scoring on a 1-yard sneak.
Van Meter came in having posted shutouts in its previous four games and in six of its last seven, allowing all of seven points in that span. So West Branch did as much damage offensively as any Bulldogs opponent this season.
“We have a family atmosphere, and when adversity hits, we take it head on,” said Kinnick Boelk. “I’m just proud of all the guys.”
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