CEDAR FALLS – Relaxed, composed, focused and determined as they took the field in the semifinal round against Adair-Casey, the Armstrong-Ringsted Mustangs appeared to be at home at the UNI-Dome on Thursday.
During pregame warmups, as the Bombers hooted and hollered, the Mustangs stayed calm-the calm before the storm.
It took A-R just six offensive plays in a span of 4 minutes and 21 seconds to put the game out of reach with a 30-0 lead before the Bombers even knew what hit them. The Mustangs ended the gruesome dismantling by a final score of 64-22, while clinching their third consecutive 8-man state championship berth.
“We knew we had to come out fast and not flat to start the game,” said A-R coach Robert Zotz. “We were playing a quality team and you need that kind of start.”
Tyler Tonderum opened scoring on the very first play from scrimmage, dashing 57 yards in a mere 14 seconds to give A-R a 7-0 advantage.
After the Ethan Eisenbacher kickoff sailed into the endzone for a touchback, the Mustang defense went to work. A picture of intensity, sophomore linebacker Dakota Odermann single-handedly stonewalled the Adair-Casey rushing attack on the first two plays.
On third-and-10, Bomber quarterback Taylor Wheatley watched as the shotgun snap sailed over his head into the endzone. Wheatley fell on the loose ball and the Mustangs’ defensive end Craig Tigges touched him down for a safety, making the score 9-0 a little over a minute into the first period.
Following the free kick, the Mustangs needed just two plays on offense to score for the third time in the game. Tonderum again crossed the goal line, this time from 30 yards out, to give A-R a 16-0 advantage with 10:16 left in the opening quarter.
Adair-Casey proceeded to turn the ball over for the second straight possession, fumbling the ball at their 19-yard line.
Clausen came up with the loose ball and two offensive plays later heaved a pass into the endzone to Tigges for a 16-yard touchdown , making the score 23-0.
The Bombers took over following the kick and the Mustang defense held once again, forcing Adair-Casey into a three-and-out. Odermann broke free and got a piece of the ensuing punt, allowing the Mustangs to take over at their own 35-yard line.
On the next play from scrimmage, Tonderum ran to paydirt from 45 yards out to give the Mustangs a 30-0 lead with 7:39 left in the first quarter.
Following another stalled offensive effort by Adair-Casey, Clausen connected with Travis Hantelman for a 44-yard touchdown pass to give the Mustangs a 37-0 lead at the end of the first quarter.
“That’s the kind of start that you dream about,” said Zotz. “You want to get out to that fast start, but don’t want to run out of gas.”
The Bombers finally started to produce some yardage on their next possession, but A-R forced their third turnover of the game as Odermann intercepted a pass and returned it to the Mustang 24-yard line.
However, the Adair-Casey defense-apparently tired of getting tossed around-finally showed a spark, forcing the Mustangs to punt for the first time in the game.
That defensive effort breathed new life into the Bombers as the offense struck quickly, scoring on a Austin Ayers run from 60 yards out on the very first play of their next possession to cut the lead to 37-8.
The small amount of momentum gained by the Bombers was short-lived, however, as Clausen and Hantelman connected on a touchdown for the second time. The 10-yard strike made the score 44-8.
After its offense was forced to punt on its next possession, the Adair-Casey defense attempted to regain momentum by holding A-R on third down. But a perfectly executed punt by Eisenbacher checked up 4 yards shy of the endzone.
With a lot of field in front of them, the Bombers were able to gain very little as the Mustangs forced them into another three-and-out situation.
The ensuing punt was shanked out of bounds at the 16-yard line and a few plays later Tonderum took another run to the house, this time from 2 yards out, with 3:30 left in the half, making the score 51-8.
With little time on the clock and a large deficit to overcome, the Bombers did exactly what their name implies. They went to the air to try to salvage the game and their season.
Adair-Casey found room in the Mustang secondary and moved the ball downfield like clockwork. As time expired, Wheatley ended a terrific drive by connecting with Austin Ayers in the endzone to make the halftime score 51-16.
After having success through the air to end the half, it took little guessing as to what the Bombers would do following intermission.
Of course, the key to stopping any potent passing attack is to put pressure on the quarterback.
The Mustangs looked to Tigges to provide that pressure and the senior didn’t disappoint. He spent the entire second half in the face of Wheatley, forcing the quarterback to scramble for his life.
“Tigges is one of those kids with a motor that never stops,” said Zotz. “We count on him to make plays for us and he came through.”
Starting on offense in the second half, Adair-Casey was forced to punt out of their own endzone. Hantelman got a piece of the kick, allowing the Mustangs to take over on the Bomber 23-yard line.
The Mustang offense began the second half just as they did the first, with a score on the very first play, this time a 23-yard pass from Clausen to Tigges to make the score 58-16 with 8:55 remaining in the third quarter.
Despite the intense pressure, the Bombers took the following possession deep into Mustang territory.
Clausen ended the drive short, however, as he picked off a pass in the redzone and returned it out to the 30-yard line.
Following the interception, Tonderum took the first handoff 50 yards for a score. Making it 64-16 with 8:06 left to play.
Shortly thereafter, the Mustangs brought in the junior varsity as they had the game well in hand.
The Bombers went on to score once more, making the final score 64-22.
A-R was led by Tonderum, who had 215 yards on 13 carries and totaled five touchdowns.
Odermann had three carries for 24 yards. He also led the team with nine tackles and had an interception.
Clausen ran six times for 17 yards and completed 4-of-6 passes for 93 yards and four touchdowns. He also had an interception and a fumble recovery on defense.
Hantelman had two catches for 54 yards and two touchdowns.
Tigges had two catches for 39 yards and two touchdowns. He also had eight tackles, one and a half sacks and a safety on defense.
Bryson Rezac had eight tackles on the day and Brett Thackery had a half of a sack.
Following the game, Zotz was forced to remind the team that they had just won the state semifinals. With a grin, he asked his crew, “Why don’t I see any smiles in this huddle?”
Perhaps there were no smiles because the team has not yet accomplished what it came here to do; win an elusive state championship.
“It’s tough for the kids to get too wrapped up in a semifinal win because they all want a championship,” Zotz said. “Even though a lot of these kids haven’t played a lot the last two years, they’re very focused. It’s tough to get too emotional.”
In their victory, the Mustangs earned a chance at redemption as they will get a rematch with last year’s state champion Lenox next Friday. The Tigers upset the Mustangs in the finale last season by just two points. Lenox beat Preston 30-8 in the semifinal Thursday to advance.