CEDAR FALLS, Iowa — So who is No. 1 in Eight-Man football?
Unbeatens Exira-EHK (12-0) and Don Bosco (13-0) will find out at 10:06 a.m. next Thursday after the co-No. 1s rolled in a pair of continuous-clock semifinal victories Thursday at the UNI-Dome.
Exira-EHK quarterback Drew Peppers followed up an eight-touchdown effort by his Don Bosco counterpart, Jake Hogan, by running for five touchdowns and throwing for another in a 56-7 blowout.
The Spartan defense, however, stole the show against No. 3 Newell-Fonda (12-1). Exira-EHK limited the fourth-best Eight-Man offense, statistically, to 161 total yards, including 93 in the first half.
“Our defense is our main point,” Peppers said. “We say Spartan football because that definition is hit hard, every play, like it’s your last time. We just live by hitting hard and playing strong football.”
The Spartans turned two first-quarter turnovers into 13 points while building a 36-0 halftime lead over the Mustangs. The first-half onslaught came one year after Exira-EHK fell behind 34-7 before halftime of its semifinal loss to champion Marcus-Meriden-Cleghorn on this same field.
“They always ask, ‘Does experience help?’ Absolutely it does,” Spartan coach Tom Petersen said. “You get the opportunity to come up here and play, it does make a difference. ... To see our kids jump out in front, you want to do that. I thought we played really well in a lot of areas today.”
Exira-EHK forced and recovered a fumble at the Newell-Fonda 17 on the second play from scrimmage. Five plays later, Peppers ran in from the 7 for his first score of the day.
The early turnover set the tone for an impressive Spartan defensive performance. On its first seven possessions, Newell-Fonda punted four times, fumbled, turned the ball over on downs and threw an interception. Bret Johnson returned the pick for a touchdown to make it 16-0 just over seven minutes in.
The Mustangs averaged better than 54 points per game this season. They were down 43-0 Thursday before Brody Bohe, who entered the game with 1,992 rushing yards, broke free for a 61-yard touchdown run. Still, he was limited to 103 yards on the ground, picking up 42 yards on his other 13 carries.
“Our goal was to get a shutout,” Petersen said. “I realize that they average 55 points a game, but that’s where we set our standards today. I thought we had a good game plan coming in. The kids executed really well on the defensive side. I was really happy with the way we did a lot of things.”
Petersen praised the play of Martin Olson and Austin Moeller along the defensive line. They allowed linebackers Johnson and Nick Peppers to roam the field and make plays, he said.
Offensively, the Spartans scored on five of their six first-half series. Drew Peppers capped four of them with TD runs of 7, 16, 60 and 10 yards. He threw an 8-yard scoring pass to his brother, Nick, in the third quarter before adding a 1-yard TD sneak shortly after.
Jarred Hansen capped Exira-EHK’s victory with a 28-yard touchdown run with six minutes left.
The Spartans will now turn their attention to Don Bosco, which blasted No. 4 Adair-Casey 78-21 in Thursday’s opener. Don Bosco scored all of its points before the end of the third quarter and could’ve broken the Eight-Man playoff scoring record of 82 had it wanted to.
Drew Peppers said Exira-EHK, which finished in a tie with Don Bosco in the final Associated Press prep poll this season, won’t be intimidated.
“I watched a little bit of it, maybe the first quarter, at the hotel before,” he said. “We’ll be ready. We’ll watch a lot of film on them. We just have a goal, and that’s what we’re trying to achieve.”
Newell-Fonda (12-1)........................0 0 7 0 — 7
Exira-EHK (12-0)...........................16 20 13 7 — 56
E: Drew Peppers 7 run (Zach Kliefoth kick)
E: FG Kleifoth 22
E: Bret Johnson 20 interception return (kick failed)
E: D. Peppers 16 run (kick blocked)
E: D. Peppers 60 run (Kliefoth kick)
E: D. Peppers 10 run (Kliefoth kick)
E: Nick Peppers 8 pass from D. Peppers (Kliefoth kick)
NF: Brody Bohe 61 run (Roberto Torres kick)
E: D. Peppers 1 run (run failed)
E: Jarred Hansen 28 run (Kliefoth kick)
RUSHING: NF, Bohe 14-103, Podraza 10-21, Wise 1-3, Johnson 1-2, Anderson 1-(-2), Dicks 1-(-7). E, D. Peppers 20-184, Sander 17-72, N. Peppers 5-30, Hansen 4-27, Burkholdt 4-37.
PASSING: NF, Podraza 3-13-1 41. E, D. Peppers 6-8-0 93.
RECEIVING: NF, Nielsen 2-31, Anderson 1-9. E, N. Peppers 4-30, Simpson 2-63.