On a night when top-seeded Ankeny Centennial was knocked out of the Class 4A playoffs, the Ankeny football team nearly pulled off another shocker at Valley Stadium.
The Hawks led most of the game before dropping a 24-21 decision to top-ranked and second-seeded Valley, which got a go-ahead touchdown from Tre Fugate midway through the fourth quarter to avoid a huge upset. The Tigers (10-0) will play five-time defending Class 4A champion Dowling Catholic (8-2) in Friday’s quarterfinals.
The loss ended a four-game winning streak for Ankeny (5-5), which reached the playoffs for the third time in four years under coach Rick Nelson.
“The kids really played hard,” Nelson said. “They deserved to win that game.”
Despite the loss, the future of the Ankeny program looks bright. Sophomores Brody Brecht, Jase Bauer and Cael Boyd accounted for all three of the Hawks’ touchdowns.
“I have never been prouder about something than how proud I am of the team,” said Brecht, who caught one touchdown pass and threw for another. “We battled until the very end. The defense played arguably the best they have all season, the offense did their job as well, and it was a great team effort. The coaches coached a heck of a game.”
After Ankeny fumbled on its first possession, the Hawks intercepted a Valley pass to get the ball back. Nelson then dipped into his bag of tricks to put his team ahead.
Ankeny was at the Valley 1-yard line when Bauer, the team’s quarterback, stepped away from center in an apparent effort to change the play. The ball was then snapped directly to Boyd, the Hawks’ running back.
Boyd ran to his left and flipped the ball to Brecht, the team’s leading receiver. Brecht then passed to a wide-open Bauer in the right corner of the end zone for a touchdown.
“The kids followed our game plan,” Nelson said. “It was fun to watch.”
Ankeny increased its lead to 14-0 on a 10-yard run by Boyd with 5 minutes 35 seconds left in the second quarter. However, Fugate scored on a short run with 1:49 remaining to pull the Tigers within 14-7 at the half.
Perhaps the biggest play of the game came early in the second half, when Ankeny had the ball near midfield before committing a costly turnover. Bauer attempted to throw a screen pass in the flat, but Valley lineman Logan Krausman picked it off and then lumbered his way to the end zone to tie the game.
The Tigers later took their first lead on a field goal, but Ankeny refused to quit. The Hawks drove to the Valley 10 before Bauer connected with Brecht on third-and-8 in the left corner of the end zone.
“Brecht was amazing,” Nelson said. “He just made some unbelievable catches.”
Brecht gave credit to his teammates for helping to put the Hawks ahead, 21-17, early in the fourth quarter. Valley had allowed just 50 points combined in its first nine games.
“On that play we were in slot and I was the inside receiver,” Brecht said. “I ran a post corner and the line did a great job giving Jase time and Jase threw a great ball and I went up and made the play. Everyone did their job.”
Unfortunately, Valley answered on the ensuing drive as Fugate scored with 7:30 left. The Tigers then held off Ankeny the rest of the way.
“I just wish we could have had it settled by our players. There were some really interesting calls,” Nelson said. “It was very frustrating, but I can’t do anything about it.”
Nelson later tweeted that he was proud of the Hawks.
“You played your hearts out tonight,” he tweeted to his team. “Not the way we wanted to end our season.”
Brecht was also disappointed by the outcome, but encouraged by the Hawks’ progress in the last month.
“I love all of the coaches and every single player,” he said. “It was a great season, and they will be my brothers for life.”