CEDAR FALLS — A turnaround and turnovers.
A year after Boyden-Hull/Rock Valley had its quest for back-to-back state titles halted by Waukon, the Nighthawks exacted a little revenge. They turned the tables on the defending state champions thanks to four first-half takeaways.
Second-ranked BHRV parlayed an interception and fumble into scores and cruised to a 48-12 victory over No. 3 Waukon in the Class 2A state football semifinals Saturday night at the UNI-Dome. The Nighthawks (11-1) will attempt to win their second state crown in the last three seasons, facing the winner between West Liberty and top-ranked Monroe PCM here Friday at 2 p.m.
“They’re a really good team,” Waukon Coach Chad Beerman said. “We’re young. They came back and they fought but you can’t dig that deep of a hole and take yourself out of it.”
The miscues reared their ugly head early. BHRV’s Trey Huyser picked off Creed Welch on the second snap from scrimmage, returning it to Waukon’s 29. Three plays later, Elliot Van Kekerix scored the first of his two TD runs, getting in on a 1-yard plunge.
Waukon (10-2) turned it over on its first two possessions and four of its first five of the first half, losing a scoring chance on the second drive with a fumble at BHRV’s 13.
Even when things went the Indians’ way, it benefited the Nighthawks.
Like its second half play against Algona in the quarterfinals, Waukon’s defense produced a goal-line stand early in the second. The Indians took over at their 1, but fumbled the direct snap in the end zone. Sam Te Slaa pounced on it, increasing BHRV’s lead to 21-6 with 11:29 before half.
Even though Waukon was here last year, the Indians were a senior-dominated team. This year’s version is a bit younger, including 17 sophomores on its roster and a couple freshmen, who were on the field at game’s end. Butterflies contributed to the rough start.
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“It was nerves,” Welch said. “There were a couple that played last year in our run, but there were a lot of new people on this one. We were all kind of nervous.”
BHRV starting quarterback J.T. Van’t Hul added a 1-yard TD run between those scores, but didn’t finish the first half on the field. Van’t Hul was helped off the field on the first play of the Nighthawks’ last scoring drive before the break.
Backup Keyton Moser was an effective replacement, finishing the 62-yard, 13-play drive with a 15-yard TD pass to Brayton Van Kekrix for a 28-6 advantage.
The passing combo connected again for a 48-yard TD on the opening possession of the second half. Moser finished 9-of-18 passing for 146 yards and two TDs. Elliot Van Kekerix amassed a game-high 107 rushing yards, including a 64-yard TD in the third.
Van’t Hul, who finished with 134 total yards, including 69 passing, was hurt in an early regular-season game. Moser struggled in that outing and Nighthawks Coach Cory Brandt had a lump in his throat when Van’t Hul went down.
“Keyton said if it ever happens again, I’m going to have some experience under my belt (and) I’ll be ready to go,” said Brandt, noting Van’t Hul had a low ankle sprain and expects to play in the finals. “Keyton stepped in and did an outstanding job.”
Waukon was missing leading rusher Dawson Baures for most of the first half. Baures, who entered the game with 1,255 yards and 20 TDs on the ground and 933 yards and 10 TDs receiving, was sidelined by illness and made a brief impact.
He reeled in a 68-yard TD pass from Welch, pulling the Indians within 7-6 late in the first quarter. The Indians were limited without their playmaker.
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“We have to rely on sophomores to be playmakers,” Beerman said. “That is someone Creed is used to looking for. He made some plays but that’s too much to pick up.”
Welch added a 54-yard TD pass to Avery Rocksvold on a flea-flicker on Waukon’s first drive of the third. Welch finished with 255 passing yards, while Ethan O’Neill rushed for 32.
Waukon has reached the semifinals in three of the last six seasons. It is becoming the standard and the young players have sights on putting in the hard offseason work for a return trip.
“We love being here,” Rocksvold said. “Every year our goal is to get here. I think we’re a really young team. If everyone keeps putting in the work we’re capable of we can get back here and do some damage.”
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