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VAN METER – West Branch refused to go down without a fight on Friday night but the champs are still standing.
Defending Class 1A champion Van Meter landed a few haymakers early while building a 21-0 first-half lead and survived a second-half flurry from sixth-ranked West Branch to earn a 31-21 win in a quarterfinal battle in Van Meter.
Ian Abrahamson rushed for 244 yards on a career-high 47 carries as third-ranked Van Meter (11-0) advanced to the semifinals for the fourth straight season.
Van Meter will face West Sioux (10-1) in a 1A semifinal on Saturday at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls.
West Branch closed at 9-2.
“We knew it was going to be a battle, we knew it would be smashmouth football,” Abrahamson said. “We knew what we had to do to get a win tonight.”
West Branch trailed 21-0 early in the second quarter and 24-7 at the half but twice cut the lead to 10 points in the second half.
The Bears could get no closer as Abrahamson and Van Meter controlled the ball and chewed up clock while stretching its winning streak to 24 consecutive games.
“That is one of the things I will remember about this team is that they didn’t quit,” West Branch coach Butch Pedersen said. “They kept playing hard to the end.”
Behind the herculean effort from Abrahamson the Bulldogs rolled up 328 rushing yards on 69 carries.
Abrahamson was a handful for West Branch defenders all game breaking tackles and driving for extra yardage.
The 5-foot-11, 205-pound junior scored twice on 1-yard touchdown runs, both on fourth down, to up his season total to 24 touchdowns.
West Branch hadn’t allowed more than 188 rushing yards in a game this season and entered allowing just 93 yards per game on the ground.
Abrahamson alone had 152 yards on 27 carries in the first half.
“He’s a hard runner,” Pedersen said. “We had a lot opportunities to knock him down and he just kept driving so you have to give him a lot of credit.”
Abrahamson didn’t have a run longer than 21 yards but had seven runs of 10 or more yards as the Bulldogs played keep away from an explosive West Branch offense.
The 47 carries for Abrahamson helped Van Meter hold an astonishing 79-33 advantage in total offensive snaps.
“They’ve got a great football team over there and they have great athletes at the quarterback and receiver positions and they work very well together so we just had to limit their touches as much as we could,” Van Meter coach Eric Trudo said. “We wanted to put together some drives and hold on to the ball and we were able to do that.”
The previous career-high carries for Abrahamson was 30 in a week two win over Pella Christian.
He nearly had that by halftime as Van Meter ran 46 first-half plays to just 13 for West Branch.
“That is definitely the most carries I’ve ever had and I took a lot of good hits, they are a really good team,” Abrahamson said. “I just had to power through it.”
Van Meter took the opening kick and marched 74 yards in 10 plays, taking a 7-0 lead when Abrahamson powered into the end zone on fourth and goal.
Abrahamson set the tone for the game on the opening drive rushing seven times for 46 yards.
Following a West Branch punt on its ensuing possession Van Meter took control of the game when junior quarterback Anthony Potthoff connected with Zach Drummond on a 70-yard touchdown pass on third-and-14.
“Any time you get up two scores you feel a whole lot better than being up one score and that put us up two scores,” Trudo said. “That allowed us to certainly be who we were on defense which was trying not to give up big plays which is really hard to do against them.”
West Branch went three-and-out and Van Meter followed with a 14-play, 74-yard touchdown drive that took nearly seven minutes off the clock.
Potthoff hit Spencer Lamb for a 5-yard touchdown strike that made it 21-0 Bulldogs with 7:54 left in the opening half.
“We just had some blown assignments early quite frankly,” Pedersen said. “When you do that against a really good football team you have a hard time crawling back into the thing.”
West Branch got back in the game on the next possession when Beau Cornwell hit Brady Lukavsky for a 46-yard touchdown strike.
Van Meter led 24-7 at the half but West Branch opened the second half with its best drive of the game, marching 70 yards in seven plays.
West Branch cut the lead to 24-14 on a 4-yard touchdown run by Tanner Lukavsky with 9:09 left
“At halftime we talked to them, and talked to them and talked to them and they kept fighting in the second half,” Pedersen said. “I was very proud of them for that.”
Van Meter responded with a 16-play, 71-yard drive that took more than seven minutes off the block and ended with a 1-yard touchdown dive by Abrahamson.
Abrahamson carried nine times for 44 yards on the drive that featured all running plays and but the Bulldogs up 31-14 with 1:54 left in the third quarter.
“That was huge,” Abrahamson said. “We needed that drive to get the momentum back.”
West Branch went down swinging as Cornwell hooked up with Trey Eagle for a 64-yard touchdown pass to cut the lead to 31-21.
However, Abrahamson made sure the Bears never got a chance to get any closer picking up five yards on a fourth-and-two play at the Bear 42 yard line in the final two minutes.
“He has worked extremely hard in the offseason getting much stronger and he went out for track which improved his endurance and he would certainly tell you that he doesn’t do that without the guys up front,” Trudo said. “Our offensive line and our tight ends and our receivers blocked phenomenally tonight.”
First downs 6 23
Rushes-yards 15-59 69-328
Comp-Att-Int 10-17-0 4-10-0
Passing yards 172 88
Total yards 231 416
Punts-Avg 4-37-3 2-36.5
Fumbles-lost 3-0 2-0
Penalties-yards 6-57 7-54
West Branch 0 7 7 7 – 21
Van Meter 14 10 7 0 – 31
VM – Ian Abrahamson 1 run (Sam Bardwell kick)
VM – Zach Drummond 70 pass from Anthony Potthoff (Bardwell kick)
VM – Spencer Lamb 5 pass from Potthoff (Bardwell kick)
WB – Brady Lukavsky 46 pass from Drew Cornwell (Cornwell kick)
VM – Bardwell 31 field goal
WB – Tanner Lukavsky 4 run (Cornwell kick)
VM – Abrahamson 1 run (Bardwell kick)
WB – Trey Eagle 64 pass from Cornwell (Cornwell kick)
RUSHING – WB: Tanner Lukavsky 9-75, Beau Cornwell 5-(-11), Team 1-(-5). VM: Ian Abrahamson 47-244, Anthony Potthoff 20-91, Team 2-(-7).
PASSING – WB: Beau Cornwell 10-17-0 172. VM: Anthony Potthoff 4-9-0 88, Zach Drummond 0-1-0 0.
RECEIVING – WB: Brett Schiele 3-31, Brady Lukavsky 1-46, Trey Eagle 2-72, Zachary Thompson 1-11, Thomas Gould 2-12. VM: Zach Drummond 1-70, JJ Richards 1-9, Spencer Lamb 1-5, Cody Coffman 1-4.