TRAER - North Tama pitched its seventh shutout of the 2009 season Friday night in Traer, but there was something distinctly different about this goose egg.
This time, the Redhawks actually needed it to pull out a win.
After rolling through the first eight games of its schedule with margins of victory no less than five touchdowns, the top team in Class A was given all they could handle in a 7-0 win over district rival North Mahaska.
The Redhawk defense once again showed why it is one of the top units in the state by holding the Warhawks to just 97 total yards and six first downs on the evening, and Dylan Youel punched in a 3-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter to break a scoreless tie to complete a perfect regular season for North Tama.
"We know we're going to be in some tight games with the playoffs [starting next week], so I think it's really important [to play a close game] to get us in the right frame of mind," Redhawk head coach Brent Thoren commented on his team's first close call of the season. "It gives our kids a wake-up call. It's good to have our kids play four quarters because we haven't been playing all four quarters all season.
"We knew it was going to be a battle. We were fortunate to come out of tonight with a win."
The showdown between North Tama (9-0, 7-0) and North Mahaska (7-2, 6-1) was largely a field position battle on a muddy Dennis Field. Each team struggled to cash in on rare trips to the red zone and had difficulty on special teams.
The Redhawks came up empty in three trips inside the Warhawk 20-yard line and had two bad snaps on punts to give North Mahaska short fields.
The Warhawks got inside the red zone twice, turning it over on both trips, while muffing a punt return and having a punt blocked on special teams.
The two teams played to a 0-0 stalemate for three quarters, and the Redhawks looked poised to break the scoreless tie early in the fourth quarter. North Tama had fourth-and-short on the North Mahaska 10-yard line and elected to bypass a 27-yard field goal try and attempt to rush for the first down after missing a 33-yard attempt on the previous possession.
Youel was met by a throng of Warhawk defenders at the line of scrimmage to stop the run shy of the first-down marker and keep the game tied for a little longer.
"They were loading up the box to prevent us from running the football and they did a good job of stopping us," Thoren said of North Mahaska's defense.
A three-and-out forced by the Redhawk defense set up a 40-yard drive for the North Tama offense which would produce what would prove to be the game's lone score.
Colton Hamilton caught one pass for 9 yards and rushed for 28 more on the drive to pave the way for Youel's 3-yard scoring run.
Hamilton finished the day with 82 yards rushing to lead the Redhawks while Youel added 63.
The Redhawk score seemed to awaken the North Mahaska offense as they moved quickly down the field on the ensuing drive. One pass play and five rushes brought the Warhawks to the North Tama 38-yard line with just over four minutes to play. On a third-and-3 rush, Joseph Agan looked certain to move the chains before Brandon Boerm rushed in to deliver a monster hit to keep the ball short of the first down. A quarterback sneak on fourth down was stuffed by the Redhawks to bring their offense back on to the field.
North Tama controlled the line of scrimmage all evening, holding the Warhawks to just 46 yards rushing on the night.
A Redhawk fumble gave North Mahaska another chance to score late in the quarter, but Boerm - also the team's quarterback - once again stepped up with a big play, intercepting Boyle to thwart another Warhawk scoring chance.
North Mahaska had one last chance with seconds remaining to run one final play, but defensive end Jeremy Wrage sacked Boyle to end the game and close out an undefeated regular season in Traer.
Wrage had two sacks on the night for Thoren's defense. Boerm, in addition in his one interception, threw for 126 yards on offense.
Lucas Hefty caught five passes for 38 yards and Caleb Edwards had six receptions for 63 yards.
Boyle rushed for 32 yards and threw for another 51 in the loss for North Mahaska. Agan had 20 yards on the ground and Brock Davis led the Warhawk receivers with 19 yards.
"It was a game of field position tonight, no doubt about it," Thoren noted. "Our defense has played stout all year and it is just a challenge for them.
"I knew they would come through."
Thoren's squad will begin its trek back to the UNI-Dome, where they finished second a year ago in the state tournament, Wednesday against Highland Riverside, which sports a 2-7 overall record. North Mahaska visits 5-4 Danville on Wednesday.
A win by both schools in the substate round would set up a rematch between the two on Nov. 2. It is the same scenario as the 2008 season, when the two teams met in Round 1 of the state playoffs.
The Redhawks won that playoff faceoff a year ago, ultimately advancing to the championship game, where they fell to Southern Cal in overtime.