PREP FOOTBALL: Wolves take down Bison
LAKE PARK, Iowa - Averaging nearly 57 points per game entering the playoffs, the Harris-Lake Park Wolves came nowhere near that total in their first-round football game of the Iowa 8-man playoffs against the North Iowa Bison.
However, the Wolves did just enough on offense by taking a 7-0 lead into halftime and extending the lead to 14-0 by scoring on the opening drive of the second half before holding off a furious Bison rally in the fourth quarter to claim a 14-6 victory.
The H-LP victory over NI avenged a loss in the second week of the regular season when the Bison held the Wolves to their previous low in points in a 33-28 contest.
"We just had to battle," H-LP head coach Lane Gunderson said following the game. "That's the best defense that we've played all year.
"We didn't play as well offensively as we usually do, but our defense was outstanding. I was proud of how the kids rose up and made plays at the end."
Following a three-yard touchdown run by Frank Campos that capped off a nine-play, 55-yard Bison drive with 3:12 left in the game, the visitors went for an onsides kick to try to get ball back.
Fortunately for the Wolves, Tanner Hiveley recovered the ball, but the Bison quickly forced the hosts into a three-and-out, setting up a punt and a last-chance effort to close the gap.
Eli Ihnen, who punted for seven yards on his first punt but came back to average 31 yards with his boots, pinned the Bison back on their own 17, setting up a final drive for NI with 1:34 left in the game.
The Bison managed to get the ball past midfield, but with time winding down, the Wolves received nice pass deflections by Kade Heikens and Ihnen that helped set up a fourth down with 0:36 left.
On the fourth-down play, Javier Tapia sacked Bison quarterback Derek Yegge to get the ball back for the Wolves, who went into the victory formation and kneed the ball twice to end the game.
"It feels great, winning this game," Tapia said. "It means a lot for our team and our school. I'm just glad that I was able to do that for our team and I hope we get better as we move on in the playoffs."
Tapia finished the game with 13 tackles and two sacks to help lead the H-LP defense.
Ihnen led the Wolves with 21 tackles, while Skylar Cudmore and Hiveley each recorded 13 tackles. Hiveley also had a sack and an interception.
"It was a defensive battle out there," Ihnen said. "No one could get many yards, but we got the yards when we needed them."
Ihnen, who caught 10 passes for 96 yards and a touchdown, was a big part of the H-LP offense when it was netting yards as his seven-yard TD grab from quarterback Colin Brons capped off a 10-play, 55-yard drive to open the second half.
"The defense was bailing on us all night and we said that we needed to get something over the middle," Ihnen said of the slant pass he caught from Brons for the score. "Colin does a great job of knowing when to get me the ball and he put it right where it needed to be."
That score put H-LP ahead 14-0 and provided the cushion the hosts needed at the end.
"That was huge to get that score to start the second half," Gunderson said. "Especially going into the wind to start second half and then with (the Bison) having to go into the wind in the fourth quarter."
Prior to the second half, the Wolves nearly put points up on their first possession of the game.
After forcing the Bison into a three-and-out on the game's opening drive, the H-LP offense drove from its own 34-yard line down to the Bison 3-yard line on 10 plays, primarily through the air as Brons completed passes to Hiveley, Ihnen and Heikens.
However, facing a fourth-and-goal from the 3-yard line, the Wolves decided to go for it, but were stopped short to come up empty early.
"We didn't feel comfortable going for the field goal there," Gunderson said. "We wanted to try and get it the end zone, but came up a bit short."
The game remained in a gridlock throughout the opening frame as neither side was able to sustain drives for long until the Wolves forced the Bison to turn the ball over on downs early in the second quarter.
Following a run for a loss, a delay of game penalty and an incomplete pass that set up a H-LP third-and-19, the Wolves broke the tie on an electrifying play from Brons to Heikens.
Brons lobbed a pass to Heikens in the left flat and Heikens, along with the some keys blocks along the way, did the rest by running across the field from left to right and then scampering up the right sideline for a 57-yard TD reception at the 9:55 mark of the second quarter.
"They were rushing us pretty hard, so we decided to slip me out on a little flare," Heikens said. "I got some really good blocks from the line and those guys got downfield. I had a really nice cutback lane with the good blocks and I was lucky enough to get in there."
A huge block near the visiting 25-yard line by Ihnen helped seal the game's initial scoring play.
Heikens, who kicked both of his PATs successfully, finished with nine catches for 102 yards and the TD, while also rushing eight times for 31 yards.
Brons completed 22 of his 36 passes for 205 yards, two scores and an interception in the game, and also made some key plays for the Wolves' defense as he intercepted a pass and recorded two QB sacks.
However, Brons left the game late in the fourth quarter after combining with Hiveley for a sack on the Bison scoring drive.
"I don't have any idea," Gunderson said about the status of Brons' injury. "He had a concussion in our playoff game last year, so that's what it possibly could be. Hopefully not."
While H-LP will wait to find out the status of Brons, the team will begin preparations for its second-round game.
The Wolves travel to Newell to take on the 10-0 Mustangs of Newell-Fonda Monday at 7:00 p.m.
NI 0 0 0 6 - 6
H-LP 0 7 7 0 - 14