Shorthanded Redhawks fall in first round
TRAER — Noah Weber and Xander Bradley watched from the sidelines as North Tama’s season slipped away. The two seniors and key contributors were out for the years with injuries and indicative of the adversity North Tama (2-6) faced in Taylor Wurth’s first season as the head coach of the Redhawks — one that ended Friday night in Traer, as the home team lost to Maquoketa Valley (2-6) 56-46 in the opening round of the Class A playoffs.
The Redhawks got off to a slow start, allowing a Wildcat touchdown from eight yards out. The scorer was senior quarterback Parker Sternhagen, who bothered the North Tama defense all night long with his speed and ability to break tackles.
Wurth gave credit to the Wildcats’ offensive creativity.
“That quarterback’s a good player, and they got a good offensive mind over there,” Wurth said. “Man I thought we came and we hit them, but it’s about wrapping up and tackling consistently. We just didn’t do it consistently tonight and that’s probably what the film’s gonna say.”
North Tama went three-and-out on its first possession and botched the punt, gifting Maquoketa Valley with a scoring opportunity. The Redhawks held and forced a punt, but a fumble gave the ball right back to the Wildcats. The next play, Wildcat running back Zach Digman suffered a severe right leg injury which required an ambulance to take him off the field of play. Digman gave a thumbs up to the traveling fans as he was loaded into the ambulance.
The first play after the 20-minute injury delay, AJ Ambundo ran for a 32-yard score and put North Tama down 12-0.
The Redhawks relied heavily on junior Gabe Kopriva to create offense, and Kopriva threw a 12-yard touchdown to Ashton Bradley. The two-point conversion made the score 12-8, but Sternhagen scored again before the end of the first quarter.
The second quarter provided a lot of scoring all over the field. It started with an eight-yard touchdown run from Kopriva (one of his five rushing scores) to tighten the deficit to 18-16. But, as with most scores Friday night, the Wildcats responded with a score of their own. Kopriva’s second score put the score at 26-24, but the last score of the half went to Ambundo.
North Tama trailed 34-24 at the break.
Kopriva said the offense never stopped fighting.
“A lot of plays downfield, our linemen made good blocks and our receivers had really good stock blocks,” Kopriva said. “We’ve got a lot of guys who can make plays.”
The Redhawks missed a chance to score early in the third quarter by failing to convert on fourth-and-10 at the Wildcat 16. The rest of the quarter was mostly the same as neither school got a firm footing in the game until Kopriva lunged into the end zone from one yard out and just 29 seconds left in the third. The Redhawks trailed 34-32 and were well in the game heading into the final frame.
Sternhagen and Kopriva ran for 57-yard touchdowns on back-to-back possessions early in the fourth, keeping the score tight at 40-38 with 10 minutes left. As it had all night, the North Tama defense struggled with missed tackles on the ensuing drive, and the Wildcats converted on a fourth-and-one at the North Tama before scoring on the next play to widen the lead to 46-38. It was still a one-score game, and with the ball, the Redhawks tried to fight back. But Kopriva’s second pass of the drive was picked off by a Maquoketa Valley player, and after a long drive that bled clock, the Wildcats scored from five yards out to put themselves out of reach.
Kopriva ran in a touchdown from 21 yards out with less than two minutes remaining, but it was too late to make a difference in the outcome.
Wurth said he was proud of this team, and felt confident in the foundation the team laid for next year.
“Rome wasn’t built in a day,” Wurth said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do, but I believe in our guys and I know we can do it eventually.”
Maquoketa Valley will play Lisbon on the road at 7 p.m. Oct. 23.