Matt Levins | The Hawk Eye
BLOOMFIELD — It took 58 years, 11 playoff losses and three seasons in which this year’s senior class of Falcons won just four games to get to the brink of history.
It was only fitting then, that it took one of the best halves and one of the biggest comebacks in Falcons history to achieve the first postseason win in program history.
That is exactly what transpired Friday night at Davis County High School.
WB-ND rallied from an 18-point third-quarter deficit and injuries to two key starters for an improbable 30-24 victory over Davis County in.a Class 2A playoff game.
And it took one final big play, an interception by sophomore Xavier Jinkens with the Mustangs marching for a possible game-tying touchdown in the closing seconds, to finally secure the win and end the 58-year drought.
WB-ND (4-4) advances to play top-ranked Williamsburg (7-0) at 7 p.m. Oct. 23 at Williamsburg.
Davis County ends the season with a 3-4 record.
As the Falcons lined up in the victory formation and senior quarterback Anthony Hoffman knelt down for the last play, the celebration was on.
Fifty-eight long years of waiting was over. And three years of heartaches and heartbreaks for the senior class was erased with arguably the biggest win in WB-ND history.
“First things first, all glory to God for all of this,” said senior defensive back Caden Murphy. whose interception midway through the third quarter led to the Falcons’ second touchdown and swayed the momentum in the Falcons’ favor. “I can’t think of another team, another senior class, that deserves it more. We knew we were special and I think we showed it tonight.”
“It feels amazing. Everyone doubted us, even our own friends didn’t think we were going to get it, but we ended up showing up and winning it. First time in school history. We did it,” said Hoffman, who stepped in to play quarterback when the team learned 30 minutes before kickoff that Hayden Vandenberg would not be able to play because of an injury.
“It feels absolutely amazing. I think it’s probably the best feeling I’ve ever had,” said senior David Gerstel, who recovered an onside kick in the third quarter, which eventually led to the game-tying touchdown.
“It’s amazing. It’s just amazing,” said WB-ND senior lineman Ethan Eilers. “We’re such a family in this program. The kids that have been out since freshman year that are seniors, we’ve been through the crap. We’ve been through the hard times. I can’t believe this. This is amazing. We’re going down in the history books as the first team to ever win a playoff game in West Burlington history. I know it’s different than most years because of the COVID and everyone qualifies, but I don’t think this team cares.”
The first half was literally a disaster area for WB-ND. The Falcons had five possessions in the first 24 minutes. Four of them ended in turnovers, the other with a punt.
To add insult to injury, junior tailback Travain Donaldson, the second-leading rusher in Class 2A, went down with an ankle injury on the first play of WB-ND’s second possession of the night.
“We found out 20-30 minutes before the game that we lose our starting quarterback and starting linebacker. I think that was kind of an eye-opener for us,” WB-ND head coach Jay Eilers said. “The second offensive possession we lose a special tailback. I think that affected our whole football team. I think that affects us up front. I think it affected us defensively. We were searching.”
Then, to rub salt into the wound, the Mustangs scored on a 53 yard pass on the final play of the half. An official inadvertently blew a whistle before quarterback Carson Maeder launched the pass for Caedyn Glosser, but the play stood.
Davis County then scored on the opening possession of the second half to take an 18-0 lead.
A halftime pep talk by the WB-ND seniors had the Falcons revved up and ready to roll.
“We said the seniors need to step up and show some leadership because we’ve been doing it since freshman year,” Gerstel said. “We were freshmen showing leadership to the other seniors and we needed to keep doing it. That’s what our coach told us.”
“We were down multiple scores at half. We went into the locker room and we made a big change,” Ethan Eilers said. “We never gave up. That’s something we’ve been preaching all year. Last week we struggled against Mid-Prairie and it almost felt like we gave up. We’re not that team anymore.”
WB-ND scored on four of its five possessions in the second half.
Hoffman capped a six-play, 42-yard drive with a three-yard scoring run to pull the Falcons within 18-8.
The Falcons hit paydirt the second time they touched the ball. This time, Hoffman scored from four yards out, and Carson Chiprez’s two-point conversion run made it a two-point game.
Davis County drove 89 yards in eight plays, taking a 24-16 lead on a 20-yard run by Maeder on the second play of the fourth quarter.
The Falcons were just getting started. On the Falcons’ next play from scrimmage, Hoffman connected with senior Brady Oleson on a 63-yard scoring pass. A two-point conversion run by senior Kendell Baker knotted the game at 24 with 10 minutes, 56 seconds to play.
Fittingly, Baker scored what proved to be the game-winning touchdown on a four-yard run with 2:45 remaining. Baker, replacing the injured Donaldson, piled up a whopping 226 yards on 30 carries as the suddenly jacked-up offensive line became road graders.
“They picked it up really good. I couldn’t be more proud of them,” Baker said of his offensive line. “I knew my guys have faith in me. I just came out and did what I do best — run the ball hard and continue to do it.”
“That’s a huge thing because our offense runs through our tailback. He was in a position that he could have just put himself in the tank, but he didn’t do that,” Coach Eilers said of Baker.
The WB-ND defense did the rest. With freshman lineman Jordan Nupp hounding Maeder’s every step, he helped force an errant throw, which Jinkens intercepted to seal the Falcons’ victory.
“That was the only time I felt comfortable all night. I felt good. I love seeing our kids celebrate,” Coach Eilers said.
“I didn’t even know I was going to get the pick. I was in coverage and I saw it, grabbed it and ran,” Jinkens said. “I saw the dude in front of me, then he overthrew it and I ran and got the ball.”
“That’s probably the best game I’ve had all year, even my JV games. We got rolling. We got some good defensive lifts and we just kept going,” Nupp said.
The Falcons cherished the first-ever postseason victory long into the night. But there is still plenty of work ahead.
“We knew we have put in so much work for these four years with our senior class. We put in a lot of work. We went through really tough games,” Murphy said. “We knew that this game wasn’t going to be our last because we have to make a good final mark on the school.”
“It feels amazing. We never did anything like this. We’ve been waiting so long for a peak and we finally got it,” Jinkens said.
“This is not our last game. We not putting our stuff back. We’re going to win this game. We’re going to be practicing again on Monday,” Hoffman said.
“It feels really good, especially as a freshman. This is the best I have felt all year. We want to take this all the way to the finals,” Nupp said.
“We’ve been in this situation before up at Eddyville and came up short. But to outscore an opponent, 30-6, in the second half was a huge testament to our kids,” Coach Eilers said.
This group of guys is one of my favorite group of guys of all-time. I’m going to remember them for the rest of my life,” Ethan Eilers said. “I love every single one of these guys. Sometimes I don’t like them, but I love them all the time. This is amazing. This is absolutely amazing.”