STATE CENTER - Class 2A's top-ranked defense proved itself time and time again, and the offense came through when it had to too.
Kuemper Catholic ground down West Marshall's vaunted rushing attack and prevented the Trojans' second consecutive trip to the UNI-Dome, winning a war of attrition, 22-13, in Friday's Class 2A state football quarterfinal game.
The fourth-ranked Knights (12-0) limited No. 3 West Marshall (11-1) to season-lows of 95 rushing yards and 118 total yards of offense in a battle of unbeatens with a spot in the final four on the line.
T-R PHOTO BY ROSS THEDE
Kuemper Catholic defenders Colby Baumhover (12), Josh Irlbeck (11) and Adam Drees (9) gang-tackle West Marshall tailback Duncan Ferch during the first half of Friday’s Class 2A state quarterfinal football game in State Center. The Knights’ top-ranked defense held Ferch and the Trojans’ touted rushing attack to a season-low output in a 22-13 victory over West Marshall to advance to next weekend’s state semifinals at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls.
"We couldn't quite ever get control of the line of scrimmage I think was the biggest thing," said West Marshall head coach Ken Winkler, "and we couldn't do what we wanted to do on offense.
"And that punt return was a big play."
The Trojans went into the halftime locker room down 15-6 but took the opening possession of the second half and quickly marched 58 yards on six plays. Jake Pszanka's 10-yard keeper on the option, and Gustavo Rodriguez's extra-point kick, made it 15-13.
KMP - Josh Irlbeck 5 run (Riley Bach pass from Kolby Hilgenberg), 9:46.
WM - Duncan Ferch 93 kickoff return (run failed), 9:30.
KMP - Alex Drees 8 pass from Cole Neary (Hilgenberg kick), 4:35.
WM - Jake Pszanka 10 run (Gustavo Rodriguez kick), 9:41.
KMP - Chase Rupiper 1 run (Hilgenberg kick), 11:46.
West Marshall forced a three-and-out on Kuemper's next drive, but the Trojans handed it back moments later when Pszanka's third-and-13 pass was picked off by Josh Irlbeck.
Working on a short field, the Knights had trouble moving the ball on the ground in the red zone. Cole Neary's third-down pass was intercepted by Elijah Streeter in the end zone, but West Marshall's ensuing drive went nowhere. Dale Hilleman's punt was caught beyond midfield by Chase Rupiper, who slipped through a trio of Trojan defenders and advanced the ball all the way down to the West Marshall 17.
Four plays later, Kuemper had gone back ahead by two scores, 22-13, on Rupiper's 1-yard touchdown plunge with 11:46 still to go.
But West Marshall's offense never managed another first down, with the Trojans actually going backward 2 yards over four possessions before Colby Baumhover's interception near midfield sealed the victory with 50 seconds left.
"They pretty much controlled things and that was the bottom line," Winkler said of the Knights. "We just couldn't sustain anything, they're a good football team.
"We ran the option well (in the third quarter) and then they took that away from us. We just had trouble doing what we wanted to do."
An otherwise innocuous stat line going into the game was West Marshall junior tailback Duncan Ferch's single-season rushing total, which needed 68 yards to match Brian Preston's school record total of 2,257 set in 1989. But Kuemper, allowing an average of just 6.2 points per game, kept Ferch in check to the tune of 22 carries for a season-low 59 yards and no rushing touchdowns for the first time all fall.
Ferch did, however, log the first special teams touchdown against the Knights this season, taking a kickoff back 93 yards for a score. Streeter handed to Ferch on a reverse return, and the blockers cleared a lane that he needed to leave only to beat one last defender.
Irlbeck's 5-yard touchdown run with 9:46 left in the first half gave Kuemper the early advantage. A bad snap on the extra-point try led to Kolby Hilgenberg's two-point conversion pass to a well-covered Riley Bach, and West Marshall failed in its attempt to match with a two-point try after Ferch took the ensuing kickoff back.
Neary threw for 177 yards and a touchdown, finding Alex Drees for an 8-yard score with 4:35 left in the second quarter.
Neary ended up 16-for-28 passing, finding Drees nine times for 102 yards. Rupiper led the Knights with 40 yards rushing on 17 carries.
The Knights' 238 yards of total offense was their second-lowest output of the season, but it was enough to get them into the state semifinals. Their 22 points was a season-low.
Kuemper will meet fifth-ranked Spirit Lake (11-1) in a 4:06 p.m. game Nov. 10 at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls. The Indians knocked off No. 1-ranked Boyden-Hull/Rock Valley, 21-17, to reach the Dome for the second year in a row.
Ferch finished the season with 2,248 yards - nine behind Preston's school record but 59 ahead of Dalton Ferch's family record (2,219) established last fall.
Devin Chesler contributed 32 yards rushing, while Ferch was the only receiver to make a reception, charting three grabs for 23 yards.
Kuemper's two interceptions were their 24th and 25th of the season, which leads the entire state. West Marshall was the only team to play within nine points of the Knights since their Week 1 triumph over Carroll High, 27-21.
"They were a little more physical than we were tonight and that's the story of the game," said Winkler. "It's always hard (to lose) if you get in the playoffs, especially if you get through the first couple rounds.
"But I think any time you can go 11-1 it's a good season, a lot of teams would want to be that. The sun will come out tomorrow."