WEST BRANCH — Just a blip. That’s all last season turned out to be for this Iowa City Regina football juggernaut.
The Regals are headed back to their home away from home, the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls, after Friday night’s 30-20 upset of third-ranked West Branch in a Class 1A playoff quarterfinal at ice-cold Oliphant Street Stadium.
Regina had a string of 14 consecutive playoff appearances come to an end a year ago. It lost twice this regular season, too, which is uncharacteristic.
But quarterback Ashton Cook’s 6-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter provided the winning points as Regina (9-2) advanced to the semifinals for the ninth time in the last 10 years.
“I’m so proud of my teammates, how they played,” said Cook. “I’m shocked right now, so excited.”
Levi Quinlan ran the opening kickoff back 95 yards for a Regina touchdown, with the Regals holding a 19-14 lead at halftime. West Branch (10-1) took its only lead of the game in the final minute of the third quarter, 20-19, on Gavin Hiersman’s 1-yard QB sneak.
Regina responded on the ensuing possession with a long drive that Cook capped. The drive was interrupted early on by a severe hip injury to standout junior receiver-defensive back Alec Wick after he was tackled to the ground following a 6-yard catch.
Wick was taken off the field on a stretcher and driven by ambulance to a local hospital.
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“We gathered everyone around, said a prayer and said we were going to go win this for our brother Alec,” Cook said. “That’s what we ended up doing.”
Running back Theo Kolie ran 25 times for 173 yards for Regina, pounding the West Branch defense on a drive later in the fourth that took over six minutes off the clock and led to Michael Dunn’s clinching 22-yard field goal with 47 seconds left.
“Coming in, it just felt like the team that was most physical was going to win this game,” said Regina Coach Marv Cook, Ashton’s father. “West Branch is a great football team, and we just knew that we had to match their physicality. I thought we did. Theo Kolie was amazing with our inside zone running play. I just couldn’t be prouder of our guys.”
Hierseman had a pair of short TD runs on quarterback sneaks for West Branch and threw a 49-yard TD pass to Trey Eagle. Tanner Lukavsky rushed 22 times for 110 yards for the Bears and added another 38 yards in receptions.
“The reason I’m so proud of this group is they were very family oriented,” said West Branch Coach Butch Pedersen. “They did everything together. We socialized together, we had fun together, Had good times and bad times, but we always did it together. And that’s pretty important. I was pleased that we didn’t get any unsportsmanlike penalties in the game. We did everything the right way, we were not dirty.
“We knew what they were going to be doing (offensively), we just didn’t get it stopped.”
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