Lions roar into title gameCEDAR FALLS, Iowa — Last year at this time, Central Lyon/George-Little Rock’s Jordan Gacke was only a spectator during the playoffs.
By: Aaron Hagen, Worthington Daily Globe
CEDAR FALLS, Iowa — Last year at this time, Central Lyon/George-Little Rock’s Jordan Gacke was only a spectator during the playoffs.
Out with a broken foot, he could only watch as Solon took the state championship from the Lions.
This season, the senior signal-caller wanted his chance at the Spartans.
Solon took care of its end Monday at the UNI Dome, defeating Roland-Story 24-7 in the first Class 2A semifinal game, leaving the Lions to take care of business.
From the first drive, CL/G-LR played like a team on a mission in a 31-14 victory against IKM-Manning.
“This is what we wanted all year — a rematch with Solon — and now we have it,” Gacke said. “It was (a quiet bus ride home last year) and everybody still remembers that and what it felt like after that loss. Hopefully it shows on Saturday.
“We have unfinished business.”
When the two teams square off at 1 p.m. Saturday in the dome, it will be the first time in the 37-year history of the playoffs the same two teams will meet for the third consecutive season in the state championship.
“They are an extremely good football team,” CL/G-LR head coach Toby Lorenzen said of Solon. “We got them in ‘06, they got us in ’07, and this is the rubber match. This is the first time ever that the same teams have met three years in a row in the finals. It’s kind of a history game.”
While the Lions (13-0) advance to Saturday’s state championship game, it wasn’t always easy Monday against the Wolves.
“It was a good performance by all our kids,” Lorenzen said. “Everybody stepped up when they needed to. We had some gut-checking to do — we had some people get hurt, and our kids stepped up and did what they had to do.”
Gacke, Tyler Starr, Scott Eben and Dylan Reynolds each spent time on the sidelines with injuries in the game.
Gacke and Eben were both injured on an extra-point attempt; Reynolds injured his arm, while Starr missed a play with a stinger in his shoulder.
Following an interception by IKM-Mannings’ Ryan Halbur, Starr delivered the hit of the season.
“I didn’t really like that we threw an interception that close to the red zone, so I wanted to put the hurt on the guy that did it, so I did, and unfortunately I had a little stinger in my shoulder,” Starr said. “I had to come out for a play.
“At first I thought it was separated because I had so much pain, but after a while it went numb, so I figured it was a stinger. I couldn’t really turn my neck. It kind of freaked me out at first.”
Starr recovered to make another big play in the second half.
Leading by a touchdown, CL/G-LR punted and pinned the Wolves deep in their own territory.
On the first play from scrimmage, Starr stripped Halbur and recovered the fumble to give the ball back to the Lions.
“I filled outside, hit him and stripped it from him,” Starr said. “It was a user strip. I was just making sure I held on to it there, I didn’t want them to get the ball back.”
Cody Zimbelman connected on a 30-yard field goal to give the Lions a 10-point advantage, a lead the Wolves would never overcame.
Starr came up with big plays defensively, but it was his offense that sparked the Lions on their first drive of the game.
Starting on its own 41, CL/G-LR marched down the field. In 11 plays and nearly six minutes, Starr capped the drive with a 14-yard burst to give the Lions a 7-0 lead.
“We kind of put in a jumbo package when we get down towards the red zone,” Starr said. “In case we have to punch it in we put me at tailback and Brandon Koel at power back so we get a little more punch in the end zone.”
While the punch worked on the Lions’ first touchdown, it was their explosiveness that produced the other three scores for CL/G-LR.
Halbur (20 carries, 106 yards) scored on a 6-yard run to tie the score at 7-all, and as the half was winding down, it appeared the score would be knotted at the break.
Receiving the ball with 2:25 remaining, Gacke and the Lions needed only one play to find paydirt.
Gacke dropped back and found an open Derek Johnson for a 40-yard touchdown strike as the Lions had a 14-7 lead at the break.
“Derek Johnson has been a big part of that this year and has done a lot of those big plays,” Lorenzen said. “With Jordan and the way he can throw the football, we’re capable of doing that. When the time comes and we need to make the play, we have some seniors that will step up and do that.
“It was huge and it was exactly what was needed at that point. Getting that play in and being able to score really lifted us at that time.”
On their second possession of the second half, the Lions were pinned deep in their own end.
However, that didn’t bother Gacke.
On the first play from scrimmage, the senior quarterback took the ball around the left end, and after breaking a tackle, was all alone as he sprinted for an 86-yard touchdown.
“I broke one tackle — I think it was their quarterback — and we both lowered our shoulder and I bounced off and it was open from there,” Gacke said. “We’ll take those one-shot scores.
“We’re pretty explosive; it just comes down to keep away from the penalties and stuff like that.”
Gacke finished with 111 yards rushing on 12 carries in the game, but gave the Lions momentum with the long run.
“That was nice,” Lorenzen said. “We’ve seen Jordan do that throughout the regular season. We were waiting and were hoping that would happen on the dome floor and he was able to get one.
“He did a great job of getting outside and made a nice read on that. The offensive line did a good job and he was able to turn it on.”
Halbur found the end zone again as the lead was cut to 21-14 as time expired in the third quarter.
After the field goal, CL/G-LR put the finishing touches on the victory.
Following an interception by Johnson, Gacke scrambled in for a 16-yard touchdown. However, a holding penalty was called on both teams, nullifying the score.
On the next play, Eben repeated the performance with another 16-yard scamper as the Lions took a 31-14 lead.
Andrew Eben intercepted a pass to end IKM-Manning’s next drive as the Lions closed out a semifinal victory.
Following Monday’s win, the thoughts went immediately to Solon and returning the state championship to Northwest Iowa after last year’s disappointment of a 24-7 Solon victory.
“This game is probably the biggest game of my high school career,” Starr said. “Not only is it the state championship, but it’s the team that I’d like to beat most out of any team in the state. You can’t explain the feeling of losing a state championship, and I’ve already experienced it once and I really don’t want it to happen again, so we’ll bring all we got.”
CL/G-LR 7 7 7 10 — 31
IKM-M 0 7 7 0 — 14