By Travis Hines
TRAER - The Redhawks put up a red light in the red zone, and their defense of the state title remains on course.
No. 4 North Tama held strong when it mattered most and earned a 24-7 victory over North Butler on Wednesday night at Dennis Athletic Field in the opening round of the Class A football playoffs.
Dalton Hulme sacked the North Butler quarterback in the second quarter of the quarter final football playoffs on Wednesday, Oct. 26 at Dennis Field.
Photo by Amy Jantzen
Nick Whannel rushed for 120 yards and a score while the defense for North Tama (9-1) kept North Butler (5-5) off the scoreboard in three of its four trips inside the 20-yard line.
"North Butler ran the ball hard and we just needed to buckle down when we needed to," said defensive end Mitchell Boerm, who also caught three passes for 44 yards and a score as a wide receiver on offense.
"I think it's all mental. We just don't want them to score so we just try that much harder to stop them (in the red zone)."
The Bearcats got 102 yards on 26 carries from Robbie Rottler on the night, but simply couldn't solve the Redhawks 'D' in close.
North Butler saw seven of its nine drives reach at least midfield.
"Defense played great. The offense didn't really help them out much with some turnovers," said North Tama head coach Brent Thoren, whose team threw an interception, lost a fumble and failed to recover an onside kick.
North Tama took its opening possession of the night 71 yards for a score, getting a Dalton Hulme-to-Boerm 3-yard connection on fourth-and-goal to go up 7-0.
Whannel doubled up the advantage on his 52-yard rumble for a score early in the second quarter.
The Bearcats got a 58-yard return from Cody Nelson on the opening kickoff of the second half and were set up with first-and-goal inside the 10 when Nelson found Layton Nordmeyer for a 25 yard pickup on fourth-and-five.
Three runs later North Butler stood at four-and-goal from the 1, but Nelson was brought down for a loss on a bootleg to render the drive empty.
"It's all effort there. It's not Xs and Os anymore, it's how much you want it," said Boerm of the goal-line stand.
The Redhawks went up 21-0 on a 3-yard Hulme run midway through the fourth quarter, but the Bearcats responded with a 60-yard drive and a score with under 4 minutes to play.
North Butler recovered the ensuing onside kick, but went backwards and turned the ball over on downs in four plays.
Tanner Swanger delivered a 34-yard field goal in the closing seconds to establish the final margin.
Hulme finished with 56 yards passing and another 45 on the ground and has now led the Redhawks to a 4-1 record since being inserted for an injured Jacob Wrage (ankle), whose return later this season has not yet been ruled out.
"I think (Hulme) has come a long way. There's some things that he obviously needs to work on," said Thoren, "but from where he was (in his first start, a loss) against Postville to where he is now, it's night and day. He's more confident. He has more command."
The Redhawks will now face No. 3 Mason City Newman Catholic (9-1) on the road Monday in the teams' third postseason meeting in three years.
The Knights won a semifinals matchup in 2009 while the Redhawks won the rematch in the quarterfinals last season on their way to claiming the state championship.
"Great challenge for us and it's one of those things, we kind of knew what we had to do after the Postville game," said Thoren, "and that's how the playoffs go. We've got to step up."