CEDAR FALLS, Iowa — Carroll Kuemper played tremendous defense on 47 of Spirit Lake’s 49 offensive plays.
The nature of sports is that the Knights probably will only remember the other two.
No. 5 Spirit Lake hit the No. 4 Knights for two big plays, a 44-yard Cody Poock touchdown run and a 69-yard pass from Paul Brown to Casey Spaeth, in its 17-10 Class 2-A semifinal football victory Saturday at the UNI-Dome.
The Indians managed only 42 yards on those other 47 plays.
“We had it in our hands, and that’s what hurts real bad,” Kuemper coach Chad Klein said. “We knew we had a chance, and it was our game to win or lose. Just two big plays we gave up on the other side.”
Spirit Lake (12-1) advances to Friday’s 2:06 p.m. championship game against No. 1 Mediapolis (13-0), which beat Dyersville Beckman 19-6 in the other semifinal. Kuemper closes at 12-1 after its second semifinal appearance.
“We didn’t play our football the first half of the game,” Kuemper senior Colby Baumhover said. “We were nervous. We were getting used to the atmosphere.”
Kuemper has a 1,000-yard rusher in junior Chase Rupiper, but often this season used its aerial game, with 2,100-yard passer Cole Neary, to set up everything else. With strong, athletic players on the perimeter and an outstanding pass rush, Spirit Lake forced Neary into a 13-of-33, 80-yard effort that included an interception and no touchdowns.
“Our defensive backs really had a great game,” Spirit Lake coach Josh Bolluyt said. “We didn’t pick a lot of them, but we got hands on the balls. We were able to break passes up. I thought our defensive line had a great rush at times.”
Trailing 17-3 in the fourth quarter, Kuemper had a second-and-1 on the Indians 11 when Neary’s sideline pass was picked by Brandon Stoll. However the Knights forced a three-and-out, and a low snap bounced away from punter Poock before he kicked it sideways out of bounds, giving the Knights possession at the Indians 4.
Neary ran it in from the 4, and it was a 17-10 game with 3:18 left. Kolby Hilgenberg’s interception with 1:27 remaining gave Kuemper hope and the ball at its 39. But four straight incompletions ended the Knights’ chances.
“We were one block away or a catch away all night on offense,” senior center Logan Nolting said. “Our defense did a heck of a job to get us the last chance there at the end. We were confident that we were going to do everything we could to make that last chance count.”
Early in the game, the Knights couldn’t corral several Neary passes that might have allowed him to get in a better rhythm. The result was an uphill battle throughout the game.
“We dropped some early passes that would have really helped us,” Klein said.
Spirit Lake’s Poock opened the scoring on a nifty 44-yard run in which he shed three would-be tacklers.
Trailing 10-0 at the half, Kuemper moved within a touchdown on Hilgenberg’s 42-yard field goal with 2:45 left in the third.
But two snaps later, Spirit Lake converted the play of the game. Brown fired one downfield to Spaeth, who was defended well by Cooper Kanne. Both players leaped, but Spaeth came down with the ball. He stumbled briefly, but kept his feet and completed the 69-yard scoring play to make it a 17-3 game.
“Our kid was in the right position,” Klein said. “Their kid made a great play, our kid made a great play. Theirs just came out on top of that situation.”
Kuemper will return its quarterback, top running back and several of its top receivers.
“There’s a lot to be excited about,” Klein said. “We’ll build off this, but we love our senior class. They’ve put more wins together, I believe, in Kuemper history, in a three-year span. They’ve done an outstanding job of developing this program.”
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Spirit Lake (12-1).........................7 3 7 0—17
Carroll Kuemper (12-1)...............0 0 3 7—10
SL: Cody Poock 44 run (Brett Cochran-Bray kick)
SL: FG Cochran-Bray 27
CK: FG Kolby Hilgenberg 42
SL: Casey Spaeth 69 pass from Paul Brown (Cochran-Bray kick)
CK: Cole Neary 4 run (Hilgenberg kick)
RUSHING: SL, Cody Poock 17-63, Bryson McCabe 4-27, Rick Mavis 1-9, Paul Brown 9-(-56), team 2-(-2). CK, Chase Rupiper 22-117, Cole Neary 6-(-27), Josh Irlbeck 2-4.
PASSING: SL, Paul Brown 10-14-1, 118 yards; Cody Poock 0-1-0. CK, Cole Neary 13-33-1, 80 yards; Ben Hicks 0-1-0.
RECEIVING: SL, Cody Poock 3-55, Bryson McCabe 3-20, Nick Amundson 1-26, Casey Spaeth 1-9, Tyler Petersen 1-8, Rick Mavis 1-0. CK, Alex Drees 4-42, Chase Rupiper 6-24, Colby Baumhover 2-8, Josh Irlbeck 1-6.