CEDAR FALLS - North Tama bulldozed its way through the first 11 games of its schedule on the strength of a suffocating defense and a punishing ground game. And now, to the likely dismay of those left standing in Class A, it looks as though the Redhawks have added another dimension to their game.
Quarterback Brendon Boerm threw for 163 yards and three touchdowns Friday night in the Class A state quarterfinals to lead the No. 1 Redhawks in a 39-0 dismantling of WACO under the lights of the UNI-Dome.
"Brendon is really starting to come into his own at the quarterback position. At the beginning of the season, (opposing defenses) just focused on him running the football and trying to take that away," North Tama head coach Brent Thoren said. "Now he's doing an excellent job of reading coverages and finding the open receiver, like he did tonight. And let's give our offensive line credit, he had all kinds of time back there.
"When the pressure was on him, he made the big throws and our receivers made the big catches."
Caleb Edwards played a big part in the Redhawk passing game as well. Edwards, North Tama's all-time leader in touchdown receptions, caught seven passes for 87 yards and two scores. He also did major damage in short bursts with his legs, racking up 92 yards and a score on the ground on just two carries.
North Tama (12-0) will now face Newman Catholic of Mason City (11-1) next Friday at 10:30 a.m. at the UNI-Dome in the Class A semifinals.
The Redhawk offense stepped on the gas early against the Warriors (8-4) and kept rolling through the third quarter. North Tama moved 71 yards in nine plays in the game's first drive, opening the scoring with a 23-yard touchdown toss from Boerm to Lucas Hefty. Boerm was 2-for-3 with 45 yards on that first drive while adding another 19 yards with his legs.
The Redhawk defense gave up 24 yards - a big number for them - to the Warriors on their first possession before bringing their offense back on the field with a fourth-down stop courtesy of a Cade Isenhower sack.
Just two plays later, Edwards broke off the first of his two long runs of the evening, turning the corner down the left sideline before outrunning the WACO defense for a 66-yard sprint to paydirt.
And just like that, the Redhawks sported a two-score lead less than 8 minutes into the contest.
"Our kids just came out and did a great job of making some adjustments on the fly, and we got a couple of early scores," said Thoren. "We were able to methodically work our way down the field and, once we punched it in, it just kind of snowballed."
The Redhawks' next possession stalled after three plays, forcing a punt. The Warrior returner signalled for a fair catch on the high kick, but dropped the ball, with the Redhawks pouncing on it for what appeared to be the early death knell for WACO.
But a referee's inadvertant whistle prior to the muffed punt, voided the entire play. The Redhawks were forced to punt again - essentially a 'do-over' - and the Warriors got a healthy return to near midfield.
What could have been a momentum-changer in this quarterfinal matchup, became just a footnote, as North Tama's defense allowed just three yards and forced a punt.
"It's how our defense has been all year. They see a little adversity and they thrive off it," Thoren commented. "They want that challenge. The field position (change) was big on (the second punt), and our defense did a good job with it."
Jeremy Wrage hit a 23-yard field goal late in the second quarter to put the Redhawks ahead 24-0 at the halftime break.
Senior running back Dylan Youel got in on the action offensively after the half with a 2-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. Youel has seen limited time on offense the past three games after battling back spasms and a leg injury. He ranks in the top-10 in rushing yards in Class A and now has 22 rushing touchdowns on the season. He's played nearly every down on defense for the past two games, and even registered a sack against WACO.
His backup, Colton Hamilton, rushed for six scores in place of Youel the previous two games, but he did not see a carry in the second half against WACO after leaving with an injury.
"Colton tweaked his ankle tonight, and Dylan is working his way back in," said Thoren. "There wasn't any point in playing Colton any more tonight with the score. We're very fortunate to be playing in these types of (lopsided) games right now.
"It allows our guys to ice their dings and get rested up for the future."
Boerm and Edwards hooked up one final time at the end of the third quarter on a 23-yard score to put the lead where it would stay for the remainder of the game, 39-0.
All but two of North Tama's games this year have ended with the 35-point running clock/mercy rule in effect.
In addition to throwing for 163 yards, Boerm also notched 87 on the ground, giving him 250 yards of total offense for the game.
"At the beginning of the year, he had a level of comfort with a couple of receivers and now he's starting to distribute the ball more," Thoren said of his signal caller. "It helps us be more diversified and makes the other team defend sideline to sideline."
Youel added 11 yards on the ground and Hamilton had 53, despite seeing limited action.
Hefty had three catches for 69 yards against the Warriors and Sean Dengler also reeled in one catch on the night.
Spencer Shepherd led WACO with 62 yards rushing and Tad Morrow chipped in 52. The Warriors had just 103 yards of total offense - including six passing yards - against the Redhawks, who pitched their 10th shutout of the season. They have allowed just 18 points in 12 contests.
The win sets up a matchup with No. 8 Newman Catholic, who defeated No. 4 NU High 35-7 on Friday night. NU's loss coupled with No. 5 Madrid's (11-1) defeat of No. 2 AHST (11-1) leaves the Redhawks as the only undefeated team in Class A.
Still in the mix is No. 3 Southern Cal (11-1), which defeated North Tama in overtime in last year's championship game. The two could once again meet in the state title game if both the Mustangs and Redhawks win their semifinal matchups next week.