STATE CENTER - There was never much doubt in the West Marshall football team's previous eight wins.
All were blowouts, all had been in hand well before the final horn.
The Trojans had Monday's victory sealed up with plenty of time left on the clock, but needed a remarkable turnaround and another spectacular showing from their star to get there.
T-R PHOTO BY ROSS THEDE
West Marshall’s Dalton Ferch hauls in a 57-yard touchdown pass in front of North Polk defender Clayton Cory, right, on the Trojans’ first play from scrimmage in Monday’s Class 2A second-round playoff game in State Center. The No. 2 Trojans won, 63-35.
Second-ranked West Marshall overcame a second-half deficit scoring 35 unanswered points while senior Dalton Ferch scored eight touchdowns to advance into the Class 2A state playoffs quarterfinals with a 63-35 victory over North Polk.
The win sets up a battle of undefeateds in quarterfinals play as West Marshall (11-0) will visit No. 5 PCM (11-0) in Monroe next Monday for a trip to the UNI-Dome on the line.
The Comets (8-3) recovered a West Marshall fumble on the first play of the second half and scored four plays later on fourth-and-16 from the 30 to take a 35-28 advantage less than 2 minutes after halftime.
At that point, North Polk had scored of four of its last five drives.
The next six possessions yielded no points, four interceptions and two turnovers on downs as the West Marshall defense stood strong.
"For some reason, we just acted a little confused in the first half on defense and I'm not sure why," said West Marshall head coach Ken Winkler, who became the eighth coach in Iowa history with 300 career wins with the night's victory.
"Once we got lined up right, things went a little better."
Having the services of Ferch on both sides of the ball proved to be beneficial as well.
The all-stater rushed for 158 yards and had six scores on the ground, caught one pass that went 57 yards for a touchdown and had two interceptions, one of which he returned 79 yards to paydirt.
"He's a pretty special player," said Winkler slyly of Ferch, who had 443 yards and five touchdowns last week in the Trojans' first round victory over Bondurant-Farrar.
"And on top of that, he's a great competitor. That makes him even better."
Cody Gadbaw's 94-yard kick return in the first half was the only score not notched by Ferch for the Trojans on the evening.
After the Comets' touchdown to open the second half, West Marshall, which did not attempt a pass in the second half, drove 69 yards in 4 minutes to knot the score at 35.
Three plays later, West Marshall's Tysen Streeter intercepted Kyle Skillmunkes' pass and returned it to the Comet 1-yard line.
And Ferch even gets partial credit for that.
"Right before the play, Dalton said, 'Make sure you get under that slant,'" said Streeter, "so I read pass and dropped right under it and it went right into my hands."
West Marshall regained the lead on Ferch's plunge on the next play, but again found North Polk deep in Trojan territory on the next possession.
Skillmunkes dropped back to pass, but Ferch stepped in front of his offering and sped 79 yards to put West Marshall up 49-35 late in the third quarter.
North Polk, pinned deep in its own territory after a penalty on the kick return, went three-and-out on its next possession, but attempted a fake punt, which the Trojans sniffed out immediately, dropping the Comets' Noah Pickard for a loss.
Two plays later, Ferch found the end zone for the seventh time. And two plays after that, he picked up his second interception of the night to set up his final touchdown, a 3-yard run to put the Trojans up 63-35 after little more than 10 minutes of game time had elapsed since they trailed.
West Marshall defeated North Polk 42-6 earlier in the season.
Pickard finished the game with 105 yards rushing, but had just 17 after halftime. West Marshall forced five turnovers for the game and had four picks after halftime.
Since a 14-7 win over Aplington-Parkersburg in Week 2, West Marshall has won its games by an average of 42 points.
"We were concerned about how that would go," said Winkler of facing adversity, "but after the fumble at the start of the second half, I thought we played pretty well from then on out."
Having a senior-heavy squad with some perspective helps.
"I was a little bit down, but we have a team that just is not going to quit," said Ferch of falling behind. "We're not undefeated for no reason. We're a good team, just keep each other up."
Eight touchdowns goes a long way to steadying a team.
"Four-hundred-forty-three yards one game and eight touchdowns the next," said Streeter, "he's doing something right."