CEDAR FALLS — The holes got larger at the end. Ethan O’Neill got stronger.
Or so it seemed.
“No, no. I’m gassed,” he said. “That was a tough game, a physical game.”
With starting quarterback Creed Welch sidelined with an ankle/knee injury, fourth-ranked Waukon rode the running of O’Neill, made some big defensive plays late and tripped No. 1 Monroe PCM. 38-21, in a Class 2A state football semifinal Saturday night at the UNI-Dome.
O’Neill rushed for 192 yards and three touchdowns, backup quarterback Sean Cooper more than held his own, and the Indians (9-1) advance to the championship game for the third time in four years.
They’ll meet No. 3 Central Lyon/George-Little Rock in the championship game at 2 p.m. Friday. The Lions (11-0) whipped No. 9 Camanche, 41-0, Saturday.
“We’ve got a really good team behind us now, but we’ve got another one ahead of us,” Waukon Coach Chad Beermann said.
Waukon won the 2A championship in 2017 and was the runner-up to Ida Grove OABCIG last year.
Down by 17 points in the first half, PCM (10-1) got within 24-21 on Jacob Van Winkle’s third touchdown, a 23-yard run with 11:20 left in the game.
But the Indians, playing without their three-year starter at QB, answered.
On the first play after the kickoff, O’Neill broke for a 20-yard gain, igniting a six-play, 68-yard scoring march. He capped it with a 14-yard TD, and it was a two-score lead again at 30-21 with 8:27 left.
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Braxton Stewart foiled PCM’s next drive with an interception, then O’Neill supplied the clincher with a 1-yard dive with 3:37 to go.
“Our defense really had to buckle down,” said Waukon defensive end Brennan Sweeney, whose 15-yard sack snuffed out a third-quarter PCM march. “When Creed went down, we were a little nervous. We had to buckle down and show who had the bigger heart.”
Welch was injured midway through the second quarter with Waukon leading 16-7 and driving for more. Cooper came in and finished the drive with an 11-yard scoring strike to Avery Rocksvold, and Waukon had its largest lead of the half at 24-7 after O’Neill converted the two-pointer.
“Creed wanted to come back in,” said Beermann, who said the injury was “a little to his ankle, and a little to his knee,” and that chances are good that he’ll be available next week.
“We’re really fortunate. Cooper would start for a lot of teams.”
Waukon was unstoppable offensively before Welch’s injury. The Indians drove for touchdowns on their first two drives, and did it with ease.
The first march went 80 yards in nine plays, with Welch and O’Neill front and center. O’Neill capped it with a 1-yard run, then added the two-point conversion.
After a PCM punt, the Indians were at it again, starting it with gains of 15, 22 and 17 yards. Welch ended it with a 7-yard keeper, then tacked on the two-pointer, and it was 16-0 late in the first quarter.
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