The Ankeny Centennial football players were hoping to finish their season in the UNI-Dome.
The Jaguars ended up doing just that, but not in the Class 5A championship game like they would have preferred.
No. 12 Centennial traveled to Cedar Falls on Friday and fell to the No. 5 Tigers, 14-10, in the opening round of the playoffs. The Jaguars, who had posted a 28-14 victory over Cedar Falls on Sept. 16, finished with a 5-5 record.
“We were never able to go to the state championship, but these guys frickin’ fight. They’re my brothers,” said Centennial defensive end Brody Targgart. “We aren’t the biggest guys out there, but we’ve battled every team that we’ve played. It was a good game.”
Targgart recovered a fumble by Drake Gelhaus on the final play of the third quarter, giving the Jaguars a first down at Cedar Falls’ 38-yard line and a chance to regain the lead.
Elijah Porter and Easton Miller then carried the ball on the next seven plays, moving Centennial into the red zone before Miller was stopped at the 1 on third-and-goal. That set up a do-or-die play on fourth down.
The Jaguars had already converted three fourth-down plays earlier in the game, two of them on quarterback sneaks by Trenton Smith. They elected to try another sneak, but this time the ball popped out of Smith’s hands as he crossed the goal line and into the awaiting arms of Cedar Falls’ Carter Schlotman.
“I definitely thought I got in, but things just went the other way,” Smith said.
Centennial co-head coach Ryan Pezzetti said it was a 50/50 call.
“I didn’t see it, but maybe the film will show something,” he said. “You know, you don’t put the game in the official’s hands–you never do. We had some opportunities to seal the deal, and we didn’t. Our kids played hard. The defense was outstanding, and that’s what we’ve wanted from them all year. Offensively, you can’t turn the ball over like that, especially in the red zone.”
Centennial had two more possessions, but was unable to pick up a first down. Cedar Falls (8-2) was able to run out the clock after a long fourth-down pass by backup quarterback Chase Kluver fell incomplete with 1 minute 37 seconds left.
“Our kids played their tails off. We’re proud of them,” Pezzetti said. “We thought we had a game-winning drive there, but evidently we didn’t. We’ll accept this defeat as a team, but it’s a tough one to swallow.”
The Jaguars lost despite outgaining Cedar Falls by a 234-104 margin. The Tigers, who had just five first downs, scored both of their touchdowns on short drives that were set up by Centennial fumbles.
“The turnovers definitely hurt us,” Smith said.
Cedar Falls’ Ben Rousell recovered a fumble by Porter at the Jaguars’ 8-yard line midway through the first quarter. Four plays later, quarterback Tate Hermansen scored on a 1-yard sneak to give the Tigers a 7-0 lead.
Centennial then responded with a nine-play, 80-yard drive to tie the game. Smith completed passes of 21 yards to Nick Severson and 34 yards to Max Snyder to set up his 1-yard sneak for the touchdown on the opening play of the second quarter.
After forcing a punt, the Jaguars then drove 58 yards in 12 plays and took a 10-7 lead on a 32-yard field goal by Cael Wiener with 5:56 left until halftime. Porter, who rushed for 72 yards on 17 carries, had a 31-yard run on the drive.
Cedar Falls used a 71-yard punt early in the second half to flip the field. After the two teams traded two more punts, the Tigers got the ball back when Schlotman recovered a fumble by Porter at the Jaguars’ 22-yard line.
Three plays later, Gelhaus ran 11 yards over the right side for the go-ahead touchdown with 4:38 remaining in the third quarter. Gelhaus provided most of the Tigers’ offense with 84 yards rushing on 22 carries.
“I thought our defense played very well,” Smith said. “We definitely got some things to work on on the offensive side, but next year we return a lot of our guys.”
Smith completed 13-of-17 passes for 116 yards. He tried to bull his way into the end zone on the game’s biggest play, but the officials ruled that he didn’t cross the plane of the goal line before losing the ball.
“I thought he was in,” Targgart said. “We have pictures, but it’s football. Stuff happens.”
It was the sixth straight triumph for Cedar Falls, which has allowed just nine points per game during its winning streak. Drew Gerdes racked up 13.5 tackles in the win.
The Tigers will host No. 14 Valley (6-4) in the quarterfinals on Friday. Valley advanced with a 15-10 victory at No. 4 Pleasant Valley, handing the Spartans their first loss.
Meanwhile, the underclassmen on the Centennial squad will start preparing for 2023.
“We’ll regroup, and we’ll come back,” Pezzetti said.