CEDAR FALLS — It’s one day away from championship weekend at the state football playoffs in Cedar Falls, and Henry County’s own New London Tigers will be kicking off the fun in the eight-man championship against Rockford.
New London’s path to the championship started out smoothly enough. After going 8-1 in the regular season, the Tigers beat down both Gladbrook-Reinbeck and Iowa Valley to earn their spot at the UNI-Dome.
The Tigers ran over Gladbrook-Reinbeck 60-12 in Gladbrook. Junior running back Jordan Johnson had 191 yards rushing, 22 receiving and three total touchdowns, and senior back Keontae Luckett had 176 yards on the ground, 41 through the air and five total scores including a pick-six.
While the Tigers were eliminating Gladbrook-Reinbeck, Rockford was grinding out a thrilling 64-58 win over Turkey Valley.
The Warriors did so with the help of senior running back Kaden Lyman, who ran for 206 yards and five scores in the win. Senior quarterback Jacob Staudt, who leads Class 8-Man in total yards, ran for 128 yards and passed for 121. He threw for two touchdowns and ran for two.
The next week yielded the same results. Both teams were out for revenge against the district champions from their district. New London was looking to avenge a 22-12 loss at Iowa Valley earlier in the year, and Rockford was out to get Don Bosco after falling 80-6 at home to the Dons in their third game.
Much like the week before, New London dominated. The Tigers rolled 56-20, reaching the 35-point running clock rule for the second-straight week, and getting another huge game out of Luckett.
Luckett ran all over Iowa Valley, going for 233 yards and four scores to bury the district champs.
While New London was cruising in Marengo, Rockford was pulling the upset of the night. The Warriors nipped the favored Dons 32-26 in overtime, thanks in part to a fantastic game by Staudt.
Staudt ran for 211 yards and two touchdowns on the night. The passing game wasn’t fantastic, going for just 107 yards and two interceptions, but the ground game did what it needed to do to turn Rockford into Class 8-Man’s Cinderella story.
Last week, it was time for Rockford and New London to earn their spot in the final. Rockford was first, once again playing the role of underdog against Southeast Warren. New London followed with a marquee matchup against a red-hot Fremont-Mills team.
This time the roles were reversed. Rockford dominated Southeast Warren 52-19. The Warrior defense had their best game of the playoffs, limiting a high-powered Southeast Warren offense and even scoring on defense, getting a 29-yard fumble recovery from sophomore Zach Ott.
It was another huge day for Staudt, who threw for 222 yards and four touchdowns, and ran for 103 yards and a score.
In game two, New London won an all-time classic. The Tigers pulled off their own thrilling overtime victory, 60-54. This time, it was senior quarterback Isaac McSorley turn to be the star.
McSorley threw for 224 yards and four touchdowns and ran for 60 yards and three scores, including the game-winning quarterback sneak in overtime.
Another senior, tight end and defensive back Mason Porter, had quite the game himself. Porter caught five passes for 125 yards and three touchdowns offensively, and picked off two passes on defense, including a drive-ending interception in Fremont-Mills’ half of overtime.
Luckett ran for 138 yards and two touchdowns in the win. He also caught five passes for 26 yards, and led the defense in tackles, with 14.5.
Darius Whaley was second on the team with 11 tackles, and also caught a touchdown pass on the offensive side of the ball.
The New London defense had four takeaways in their first-ever game at the dome. McSorley had a fumble recovery in the win, and Currey Jacobs fell on a fumble as well.
Now, both teams get set to match up against each other. At 10 a.m., on Thursday, Nov. 15, the New London football team will look to win its first state championship in school history.
For the first time this postseason, the Tigers will be the home team, which means they’ll be in their home uniforms and on the opposite side of the field than Thursday’s semifinal.
For many onlookers, the story of the game will be Rockford, as the Warriors want to put a storybook ending on their Cinderella run. But for those in Henry County, nothing would make the final page of the 2018 football season better than seeing head coach Mark McSorley and the Tigers hoist up the state title when all the dust has settled.
For those who can’t come to the game, Comcast Sports Chicago will be carrying the contest. The game will be the first of six state championships, which will take place from Thursday morning until the night of Saturday, Nov. 17.