SPORTS

Regals claim sixth straight state crown

Regina survives tough test from Western Christian, 35-28

CEDAR FALLS — The celebration was delayed, but it still came all the same.

A snowstorm postponed the final for three days and an opponent’s valiant effort kept the partying on hold a little longer.

In a season stocked with challenges, it was fitting top-ranked Iowa City Regina had to overcome one more to win its state record sixth straight crown.

The Regals thwarted a last-minute Western Christian rally in their own territory, earning a 35-28 victory Monday in the Iowa High School Athletic Association Class 1A state championship at the UNI-Dome.

Regina (13-1) won its seventh overall title in ninth championship appearances.

“We’ve battled all year,” Regina senior linebacker and running back Justin Hunter said. “Nothing came easy. We had to work toward everything. I’m just proud of everyone on the team.”

Regina looked on its way to extending its title stretch when Hunter broke free for a 22-yard run for a first down with less than 90 seconds in the game. At the end of the run, a hit popped the ball loose. Western Christian’s Ben Ganstra pounced on it, giving the Wolfpack 1:13 to go 63 yards for a potential go-ahead score.

Western Christian reached the Regina 34 with a little less than a minute remaining. Hunter rebounded with an open-field tackle to squelch a screen pass that could have been a big play. The Wolfpack finished with two incompletions for a turnover on downs.

“After I got that first down, I should have gone down,” said Hunter, who had a game-high 156 rushing yards and two TDs. “A bad mistake on my part. I’m glad our team stepped up after that and ended up stopping them. That was huge.”

Regina Coach Marv Cook described Hunter as an iron man who always bounces back.

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“He won’t let us lose in my opinion,” Cook said. “He was going to will it to happen. He made a great play on the screen. That was a big play coming out and he gets the guy.

“He’s a phenomenal football player.”

Western Christian (11-3) set the tone early, exchanging scores with Regina. The Wolfpack’s Tyson Kooima hit Dustin Marra for an 18-yard score and 7-0 edge in the first. Kooima connected on a 14-yard TD pass with Taylor Miedema, taking a 14-7 lead with 3:53 left in the third.

Kooima finished with 237 yards and tied a 1A championship game record with four TD passes. Ben Gesink had 110 receiving yards and two scores for the Wolfpack.

The final minutes of the second quarter helped swing momentum in Regina’s favor, as the run game got rolling behind the likes of blockers Jack Donovan, Reagan Ries and Jared Brinkman.

The Regals scored on two lightning-quick possessions. Isaac Vollstedt capped a three-play drive with a 72-yard touchdown run, tying the game at 14-14 with 3:07 left before halftime.

“The line did their job and opened up a hole for me,” Vollstedt said. “I was able to break free and score.”

Vollstedt added 125 rushing yards as the Regals amassed 466 offensive yards. Quarterback Nathan Stenger said the Regals were waiting for the sophomore rusher to emerge and he came through in the postseason.

“He’s a great athlete,” Stenger said of Vollstedt. “He’s strong and everything.”

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Stenger helped Regina grab its first lead less than two minutes later. On the second play of the next possession, Stenger hit Sam Lincoln for a 69-yard touchdown and 21-14 lead.

Stenger noticed man-to-man coverage and lofted a jump ball. Lincoln, who played football for the first season since his eighth-grade year, did the rest.

“I put it up and Sam made a great catch,” Stenger said. “He went up and got it. He did it all. The (offensive) line blocked great.

“It was all Sam. He made the catch, jumped over the guy, caught it and ran for a touchdown.”

The score was crucial in the seesaw affair. Cook said the Regals needed an advantage against the scrappy Wolfpack.

“We did not want them to have the ball with a tie ballgame in the second half,” Cook said. “We were fortunate enough to get up on them.”

The Regals increased their lead to 14 points on two occasions after the break. Hunter’s 6-yard score made it 28-14 with 5:20 left in the third. Stenger added a 1-yard sneak for a 35-21 lead with 5:11 to go.

“We knew we were in a fight,” Stenger said. “Our guys came together.”

Regular season matchups against bigger schools like Solon and Cedar Rapids Xavier and postseason battles with powers like West Branch and Dike-New Hartford have battled tested Regina. Cook was proud of the way the team responded.

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“You have to bow up,” Cook said. “You’ve got to man up in these games and that’s exactly what they did. They’re going to be better because of it.”

The torch has been passed, figuratively, to the juniors and sophomores. Half the starters on offense and defense return.

“We’ll work hard in the off-season,” said Vollstedt, whose brother, Jacob, was a former Regina running back, “and do what we can to make it seven next year.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8679; kj.pilcher@thegazette.com

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