GRINNELL - The South Tama County football team played its game against undefeated and second-ranked Grinnell. But not even that was good enough to upset the Tigers at T.T. Cranny Field on Friday night.
The Tigers overcame three fumbles and scored on four of their first five possessions of the second half to pull away from South Tama and advanced to the Class 3A state semifinals at the UNI-Dome following a 49-35 victory over the Trojans.
"The guys gave everything they had tonight," South Tama County coach Jay Hoskey said. "We just couldn't get enough stops tonight."
T-R PHOTO BY TROY HYDE
South Tama defenders Austin Lowe and Zach Morris (21) take down Grinnell running back Bryce Lidtka during second-half action in a Class 3A quarterfinal game Friday night in Grinnell.
STC senior Kyle Stephenson went out on a strong note as he finished with 161 rushing yards and three scores and also scored on a 90-yard kickoff return in the fourth quarter.
Grinnell's junior quarterback Eli Dunne also had a good night. He finished with 173 passing yards and two scores and also recorded two rushing touchdowns in leading the Tigers to the Class 3A quarterfinal win. Grinnell (12-0) also rushed for 218 yards on the night.
"When Eli gets going, it is a tough offense to stop," Hoskey said. "We played our game and hoped 35 points would be enough to win. They have a first-team all-stater at quarterback. I am not sure there are many others better."
STC - Kyle Stephenson 4 run (Jose Fonseca kick), 6:53
GHS - Bryce Lidtka 21 run (Julio Sanchez kick), 4:02
GHS - Joe Nowasell 28 pass from Eli Dunne (Sanchez kick), 3:47
STC - Stephenson 3 run (Fonseca kick), 6:43
STC - Stephenson 4 run (Fonseca kick), 2:59
GHS - Dunne 4 run (Sanchez kick), 1:10
STC - Fonseca 30 pass from Sam Kuhter (Fonseca kick), 10:01
GHS - Jack Leshen 10 pass from Dunne (kick failed), 6:48
GHS - Lidtka 9 run (Lidtka run), 0:24
GHS - Dunne 6 run (Sanchez kick), 7:01
GHS - Lidtka 1 run (Sanchez kick), 4:53
STC - Stephenson 90 kickoff return (Fonseca kick), 4:28
The Trojans hung around for most of the night.
They scored first in the game as Stephenson led an opening drive that went 53 yards. The entire drive was on the ground and Stephenson's 4-yard scamper put South Tama on the board first. South Tama took advantage of a fumble by Grinnell on its opening drive.
The Trojans forced the Tigers into a three and out on their second drive but couldn't take advantage on the offensive side of the ball.
After a three and out by South Tama County, Grinnell evened the score at 7 following two big runs by tailback Bryce Lidtka. Lidtka gained 25 yards and a first down on the first play from scrimmage the first play from scrimmage and then needed just one more play - a 21-yard TD run - to tie the score.
Grinnell cashed in on a South Tama County turnover later as the Trojans had trouble with the kickoff and gave it back to the Tigers on a fumble. One play later, Dunne connected with Joe Nowasell from 28 yards out to give the home team its first lead.
The Trojans immediately went back to work though on their next drive. A heavy dose of Stephenson and Erik Lux on the ground allowed South Tama County (9-3) to tally up 64 yards in 18 plays. The Trojans converted two third downs to start the drive and then finished it off with three straight fourth-down conversions, and Stephenson took in the final carry from 3 yards out.
Grinnell then fumbled on its next possession, which allowed the Trojans to regain the lead. This time, South Tama went 46 yards in seven plays. Stephenson gained 30 yards on the drive and gave his team the lead following a 4-yard touchdown run.
Dunne and the Tigers would have an answer though just before halftime. The passing game netted the first 48 yards as Dunne was 4-for-4 on the drive. He then capped off the march with a 4-yard touchdown run on third and two.
Stephenson had 119 yards at the break, and South Tama had ran 24 more offensive plays but still found itself tied at intermission.
"We did what we wanted to do in that first half, but they just had a few more big plays than we did," Hoskey said.
The Trojans wasted no time regaining the lead in the second half. With so many Tigers selling out for the run, a play-action pass left Jose Fonseca wide open down the middle of the field and Sam Kuhter hit him in stride for a 30-yard go-ahead touchdown.
More momentum went the way of the Trojans on Grinnell's next possession as the Tigers' lost another fumble.
South Tama converted a fourth down but the Trojans eventually lost possession with another fumble. After that, the Trojans' next two possessions resulted in turnover on downs, and Grinnell was off to the races.
The Tigers scored on their next four possessions to take a commanding lead in the fourth quarter. Dunne and Lidtka led the charge offensively. Dunne threw for one and ran for one, while Lidtka added two more rushing touchdowns in the second half to help push the Tigers to the victory.
"We played a really nice ball game tonight, but we just didn't have enough in our tank in the end," Hoskey said.
Stephenson and the Trojans did not go away without a fight though. The senior tailback got his hands on a kickoff and put together one of the best returns of the season.
Stephenson started right, then zig-zagged back left. As he appeared to head out of bounds, he ran over a Grinnell defender, stayed in bounds and rumbled his way back to the right where he broke away from a few other tackles on his way to a 90-yard kickoff return touchdown.
"I saw when he caught the ball that he was going to have the desire to do that," Hoskey said. "That kid is not going to give up. That play should be on You Tube or something."
The Trojans have to be happy with the season despite falling short of the UNI-Dome. South Tama won nine games this season just one year removed from a 2-7 campaign.
"We had a fantastic season," Hoskey said. "From 2-7 to two playoff wins is great. And we very well could have just lost to the eventual state champion."
Hoskey was very emotional with his team after the game, taking time to hug and congratulate each and every one of the players as they left the field. ... Two of South Tama's three losses this season came to district rival Grinnell. ... The Tigers will face off against No. 3 Sioux City Heelan next Thursday in the Class 3A semifinals in the UNI-Dome. ... Dunne is the son of Grinnell head coach Jim Dunne. Jim Dunne also is the school's athletic director. ... Lux finished with 5=63 rushing yards on 18 carries. Kuhter's only pass completion on the night went for a touchdown. He also threw two interceptions, one in each half.