CEDAR FALLS — There were 65 eight-man teams that suited up in Iowa in 2018, but only one could be top of the class, and the New London football team proved without a doubt who that team was on Thursday morning.
The Tigers ended their dream season in the most perfect way, by celebrating a state championship on the UNI-Dome field after defeating Rockford 55-14 in New London’s first-ever state title game.
“It’s kind of a thing you can’t even imagine,” said senior running back Keontae Luckett. “You dream about it, but you don’t really feel it until it happens.”
New London left no doubt from the opening kickoff. The Tigers stuffed Rockford on their first two possessions and turned both into scores. The first was a 32-yard touchdown pass from Isaac McSorley to Mason Porter, and the second was a 55-yard dash from Keontae Luckett, which had the Tiger fans going wild.
Luckett seemed to have another long touchdown run on New London’s next possession, scampering 61 yards to the end zone, but the play was called back on a block in the back, and the Tigers were forced to punt. Rockford capitalized with a three-yard rushing touchdown from Dillon Schriever early in the second quarter. The two-point try failed, but it was a game again, at 14-6.
The Warriors got the ball back down eight points, and drove all the way to the goal line, but a fourth-and-goal try was upended by a touchdown-saving tackle by Clayton Phillips at the one-yard line. That turned in to a 79-yard drive that ended with a 10-yard score from Jordan Johnson.
Darius Whaley picked off a pass on the next drive, and the score stayed 21-6 at halftime. New London would go on to score the next 34 points of the game.
“We weren’t letting up,” Whaley said after the win. “It wasn’t like last week where we were letting up. We wanted it so bad, and we went out and got it.”
Johnson scored on a four-yard touchdown run on New London’s first drive of the second half. Isaac McSorley hit Whaley for a 30-yard touchdown pass with 5:27 left in the quarter, and Porter made the second stellar defensive play for New London on the next drive.
New London led 35-6 and Rockford was desperately trying to get something going offensively. Schriever rushed the ball up the middle but the ball popped out and rolled all the way past the Tiger defense. Porter saw the ball roll by his feet, scooped it up and ran it to the sideline, taking it back for a 17-yard touchdown. That defensive score helped stretch the lead to 42-6, which brought the Class 8-Man title game to a running clock.
“I was just thinking I was going to go down and (cover) it up, but it just kept rolling,” said Porter. “I was like, ‘I need to pick this up and take it in to score, it’ll take the roof off this place.’”
The fourth quarter was just a formality. Luckett began the quarter with another touchdown run, this one a 30-yard russ. The two-point pass attempt to D.J. Humphrey was incomplete. Then, sophomore Caydin Wahls, who spent most of the day in Rockford’s backfield on defense, punched in a four-yard score with 3:16 remaining. Roberto Carrillo hit his seventh extra point in seven tries, and the Tigers held a 55-6 lead.
The Warriors did score eight points in the final minute, but by that time the celebration was already on in the stands. When the clock hit zero, that celebration made its way to the field, as New London players finally got their hands on the state championship trophy.
“The feeling is like no other,” said Whaley. “I’ll remember that for the rest of my life.”
During the celebration, quarterback McSorley embraced with father and head coach Mark McSorley.
“He’s been coaching me my whole life,” McSorley said. “It really just set in. He’s taught me to be a great competitor, and a great person. I gotta thank him for that.”
McSorley finished the day 7-10 for 192 yards, two touchdowns and an interception through the air. He rushed for three yards as well, but his dad and head coach says it was his leadership on the field that was most impressive.
“I’m so proud of him,” Coach McSorley said, fighting tears. “His leadership on the field, and his knowledge. He called half those plays today. That says a lot about him ... I just remember playing catch with him in the yard. I remember ... everything.”
Luckett finished the day with 133 yard on the ground and two touchdowns, and added one catch for 17 yards. The senior back says of all the memories this year, the time with his teammates sticks out most of all.
“Just the hugs, and all the laughing we did,” Luckett said. “We might have been crying, but it was a good cry.”
Jordan Johnson had 50 yards and two touchdowns on the ground, and also caught one pass. Whaley finished with four catches for 131 yards and a touchdown, and Porter had one catch for a 32-yard score.
Defensively, the Tigers forced four turnovers. Porter, McSorley and Carter Allen all had fumble recoveries, and Whaley had one interception.
This was the first year that New London played in Class 8-Man. It was just Coach McSorley’s second year as head coach, and it was the final year for six seniors; McSorley, Porter, Luckett, Whaley, Carrillo and Humphrey.
In closing, Coach McSorley said the title hadn’t quite sunk in yet as of the postgame celebration, but he thinks he knows what he’ll remember years from now when he looks back at New London’s first-ever state championship.
“Everything,” McSorley said. “The journey, the support. The way the administration helped the team. Our traveling secretaries, the parents, the community. The moms that step up and feed these kids every pregame, every week. The moms that step up and pack our carry-home lunches on the bus. The dads that work the chain gang, and the clock. Everything that went in to this. That’s what I’m going to think about.”