CEDAR FALLS - They all came back to one fact when asked to assess the aftermath.
"We just couldn't get it going."
And with that, the West Marshall football team's season was stopped short of its goal.
The No. 2 Trojans' powerful offense was stifled, their defense shredded and their drive to a state title stalled with a 35-14 setback to No. 3 Spirit Lake on Monday in the semifinals of the Class 2A state football playoffs.
Luke Kabele rushed for 250 yards to help the Indians (13-0) to 340 as a team while West Marshall (12-1), Class 2A's top running team, was held to just 80 yards on the ground.
"We just had trouble getting anything going on the ground, and we had trouble stopping them on the ground," said West Marshall head coach Ken Winkler, "and that makes for a long day.
T-R PHOTO BY ROSS THEDE
The West Marshall football team comes together to reluctantly celebrate its Class 2A state semifinalist trophy after falling to third-ranked Spirit Lake, 35-14, in Monday’s game at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls.
"We just couldn't get it going."
The Indians will now face No. 1 Iowa City Regina (13-0) on Saturday at 1 p.m. for the state title.
Trailing 21-7 early in the second half, West Marshall had a pair of red zone opportunites to halve its deficit come up empty.
Iowa High School State Football Playoffs
At UNI-Dome, Cedar Falls
Thursday, Nov. 10
Murray 58, Clarksville 35
Fremont-Mills 69, Armstrong-Ringsted 26
Friday, Nov. 11
Lisbon 24, Mason City Newman Catholic 10
West Hancock 48, Madrid 38
Bettendorf 35, Cedar Falls 7
West Des Moines Valley 14, Ankeny 3
Saturday, Nov. 12
St. Ansgar 32, West Branch 19
CB St. Albert 24, Emmetsburg 6
Monday, Nov. 14
Iowa City Regina 35, Beckman Catholic 28
Spirit Lake 35, West Marshall 14
Decorah 35, Harlan 14
La Porte City Union 42, ADM 28
At UNI-Dome, Cedar Falls
Friday, Nov. 18
Fremont-Mills (13-0) vs. Murray (12-1), 10:35 a.m.
West Hancock (12-1) vs. Lisbon (13-0), 2:05 p.m.
Bettendorf (12-1) vs. West Des Moines Valley (13-0), 7:05 p.m.
Saturday, Nov. 19
Council Bluffs St. Albert (12-0) vs. St. Ansgar (11-2), 10:05 a.m.
Spirit Lake (13-0) vs. Iowa City Regina (13-0), 1:05 p.m.
Decorah (11-2) vs. La Porte City Union (11-2), 7:30 p.m.
On the first try, the Trojans faced a fourth-and-3 from the Indians' 10, but Tanner Stalzer was stuffed at the line for no-gain.
West Marshall got another crack at the end zone immediately, however, when Dalton Ferch intercepted a halfback pass to set the Trojans up at the Spirit Lake 31.
They made it as far as the 19 before Ferch, trying to attempt a wide-receiver pass, scrambled on fourth-and-11 for just 4 yards.
Two plays later, Kabele busted out for a 65-yard rush and later finished the drive on a 1-yard plunge to put Spirit Lake up three scores.
Ferch entered the game with a Class 2A-best 2,186 yards and 41 touchdowns on the ground.
His 10.3 yards-per-carry was second in the class among those with at least 100 carries.
The Indians limited him to 32 yards on 17 carries for an average of 1.9 YPC.
"I thought we played great team defense and did a good job of containing him and slowing him down," said Spirit Lake head coach Josh Bolluyt.
After an option-pitch came late on Ferch's second carry of the game, he was levelled by Spirit Lake's Bryson McCabe with a bone-crushing hit from Ferch's blindside.
"I don't know what happened. I don't know who hit me. Something hit me. I don't know what it was," said the senior Ferch. "It stung a little bit, but I tried to play through it."
Spirit Lake was clearly the more physical team of the two this day, unleashing more than a few hits of the variety that Ferch felt, and kept a West Marshall offense averaging nearly 49 points per game decidedly in check.
"They definitely played more hard-nosed than we did at times," said West Marshall quarterback Braydn Beals. "(Spirit Lake is) a very physical team. I think it maybe surprised our guys a little bit."
Beals threw a season-high 22 times for a season-best 201 yards. But it was out of necessity as West Marshall, which averaged 8.3 YPC this season, posted a YPC mark of 2.1 as a team.
"We just couldn't establish the run and that's what we're known for," said Beals, who threw a pair of interceptions. "If we can't establish the run, it's very hard to get anything going.
"We couldn't get anything going."
West Marshall did, at least for a moment, manage to show some of its usual flair early in the contest.
Facing fourth-and-goal from the 1, Beals tried to muscle his way through on a sneak, but was stopped and turned around before the goal line.
The senior, however, managed to flip the ball to Ferch, who walked into the end zone to put the Trojans up 7-3 in the second quarter.
The lead was short-lived as Kabele put Spirit Lake up for good 5 minutes later with a 5-yard TD run.
Athletic, smart and creative efforts like Beals' were a hallmark of West Marshall's undefeated run to the UNI-Dome, but Spirit Lake was able to mostly nullify those endeavors with Class 2A's third-ranked scoring defense.
The Trojans were 3-of-16 on third down while going nearly a full two quarters of game action between conversions number two and three.
"I don't know that they matched our speed, it was just they were more physical than we were today," said Winkler.
"We just couldn't get anything going."
Spirit Lake put up 407 yards of total offense without attempting a pass in the second half.
Its defense kept West Marshall off the board after halftime until Beals tossed a 48-yard touchdown on a screen pass to Duncan Ferch, who caught six passes for 97 yards on the day, late in a contest that was already decided.
"You know coming in you've got to give it your all or you're going home and we just didn't execute well enough today, so we're going home," said Dalton Ferch, who finishes his career with 98 touchdowns to rank fifth in Iowa 11-man football history.
"We talked at the beginning this year we wanted to play in the championship game. We made it to the Dome, we just didn't have that extra step to make it to the championship game," he added.
And then he said the one thing that seemed to be on every Trojans' mind after a season that seemed headed for history suddenly halted.
"We just never got it going."