Some of the Prairie City-Monroe football players have been to the UNI-Dome before.
Senior Wes Cummings has wrestled in AAU tournaments in the dome. He also stepped onto the turf during a college visit to Northern Iowa last year.
Olin Meinders, another senior, said he was in the stands watching his cousins during Pella’s run of three straight state championships a few year’s back.
Other PCM players will be stepping inside the famous dome for the first time.
Every player on the Mustang team is trying to make history. No PCM team has ever played in a state championship game. Or been 12-0 in a season.
That’s what this year’s team is trying to accomplish when it faces West Liberty in a Class 2A state semifinal game at 7 p.m. Saturday in Cedar Falls.
“The atmosphere is going to be crazy,” Meinders said. “I had some cousins that played for Pella during the three-peat. The crowd just got so into the game. I can’t wait for the game and for the fans to just go crazy.”
The top-ranked Mustangs will take its No. 1 ranked offense and a defense surrendering only 9.18 points per game to the UNI-Dome to face a West Liberty (8-3) squad which has won seven straight games since starting 1-3.
West Liberty dropped early-season games to 1A West Branch (32-6) and 3A Solon (7-0) and Washington (34-27).
Those teams went a combined 24-6 this season.
The Comets, like PCM, weren’t tested in district play. Their closest game was a 27-9 win over Mount Vernon. They downed Chariton, 30-10, in the opening round of the playoffs and then dispatched fourth-ranked Benton, 42-14, in last week’s quarterfinal game.
West Liberty trailed Benton 14-12 at halftime before rallying with a big second half. The Comets rushed for 302 yards in the victory. The defense also forced four turnovers.
“They are winning games because they play well together,” PCM coach Greg Bonnett said. “They stay solid in all aspects of the game and compete until the end of the game.”
West Liberty’s win against Chariton in the opening round of the playoffs will help PCM when it evaluates the Comets on film.
Chariton was the runner-up to the Mustangs in 2A District 6 this season. PCM won that game 42-0 back on Sept. 21.
“Like all tapes we watch, we see how people played them and what worked versus what didn’t work,” Bonnett said. “It’s nice to see Chariton against them because we know what the players Chariton had were like in terms of size, strength and ability.”
PCM’s top-ranked offense in 2A includes 2,989 rushing yards.
Cummings leads the way with 1,434 yards and 22 rushing TDs. He’s about 200 yards and three rushing TDs away from setting single-season records at PCM.
Senior quarterback Reed Worth is 168 rushing yards away from 1,000. He’s also thrown for 2,065 yards and has 25 passing TDs and 15 rushing scores.
Senior Jarron Trausch has 437 rushing yards, 361 receiving yards and 11 TDs.
Worth and Cummings joked after practice Monday that there was a little bit of a competition at the start of the season for who could rush for more yards. Both are averaging more than eight yards a carry, and PCM averages 7.3 yards per rush as a team.
“I kind of wanted to run for more than Wes at the beginning of the season,” Worth said. “Most teams have designed runs for their quarterbacks. It’s part of our scheme, and the line creates a lot of space for me also.
“We just have enough weapons to make it impossible to defend everyone. If they are keying on Wes, then we get it to Jarron a few times. If they key on both of them, then we can go deep to our speedy guys.”
West Liberty’s best offensive player is senior quarterback Seth Feldman. He has 1,485 passing yards with 21 touchdowns and five interceptions.
Feldman is completing 59 percent of his passes. He’s also rushed for a team-high 664 yards and 12 TDs.
Seniors Gabriel Melendez and senior Coy Ruess enters Saturday’s game with 474 and 338 rushing yards, respectively, and a combined seven rushing touchdowns.
Sophomore Lake Newton leads the West Liberty receivers with 546 yards and five TDs on 25 catches. He’s also returned a punt for a touchdown. Junior Will Esmoil has 25 catches for 305 receiving yards and four TDs and junior Talen Dengler sits with 24 catches for 291 yards and six TDs.
Esmoil leads the West Liberty defense with 85 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, one sack and three fumble recoveries. Senior Spencer Daufeldt has 65 1/2 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, five sacks and three fumble recoveries.
The Comets’ defense enters the state semifinals with 75 solo tackles for loss, 17 sacks, 19 fumble recoveries and seven interceptions.
“We just have to keep doing our jobs, stay on our blocks, basically the same stuff we’ve been doing all season,” senior tight end Isaac Telfer said when asked about West Liberty’s defense. “We have to execute.”
West Liberty’s offense averages 28 points per game and 4.3 yards per carry. Defensively, the Comets surrender 14 points per game but are only allowing 7.7 points during their seven-game win streak.
PCM could have an advantage in the kicking game. Sophomore Andrew Mitchell is 1-for-1 in field goal attempts and 40-of-44 in extra points this season. West Liberty has not kicked a field goal and is only 18-of-31 in extra points.
“It’s really nice to be able to count on that,” Bonnett said. “There was a time really early in the year where I thought we might go for two on every extra point.”
Playing in the UNI-Dome and advancing this far into the season is something the PCM players have been dreaming about since middle school.
On Saturday, when they walk on to the turf field, their dreams will become reality.
“I have never been to the dome. It will be a great experience for me. I am excited,” senior defensive back Payton Strovers said. “This is the most fun I’ve had by far. I have enjoyed every minute of this season.”
PCM senior wide receiver and defensive end Brayton Van Dyke is looking forward to playing in front of what is expected to be a lot of Mustang fans.
“This has been our dream since we were so young. I have a lot of family coming up to watch,” Van Dyke said. “This is a pretty big deal.”
Senior Chance Palm is just hoping for his team to finally be challenged. The Mustangs are outscoring opponents by 40 points this season. And according to bcmoorerankings.com, which is a website that bases its game projections on computer analytics, PCM is projected to win the game by a little more than 23 points.
It’s the biggest projected spread of any of the 10 11-man semifinal games.
“I am just excited to play a good team. I want to be challenged by someone,” Palm said.