VAN HORNE — Sage Burns spent his summer attending quarterback camps and getting his mind ready to lead Prairie City-Monroe’s offense in 2019.
But after two games, the Mustangs made a change, moving Burns to running back as they searched for an identity.
Burns didn’t quit. He didn’t pout on the sidelines. He didn’t even leave the field very much. Instead, he took over primary duties at running back for a handful of games before returning to quarterback for the final regular season game.
PCM’s offense is rolling now and Burns played a big part in that on Friday night during the Mustangs’ opening-round Class 2A playoff game. Burns threw for 193 yards, rushed for 106 more and accounted for three touchdowns in the 34-8 victory over No. 7 Benton Community.
Aidan Anderson also had 163 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries, hauled in two catches for 23 yards and returned a kickoff 49 yards.
“We needed a change after the West Marshall loss. I respected their decision,” Burns said. “It helped me to recognize the offense more. So it was a good situation for us.”
Since the Week 7 loss to Des Moines Christian, PCM is averaging 38.3 points per game. Burns moved back to quarterback in the 46-6 win over Centerville last week and threw for a career-high 238 yards.
The Mustangs had more than 500 yards in the win against the Big Reds and put up another 480 against Benton.
“Everything started clicking toward the end,” Burns said. “I can’t even tell you why other than we have been working really hard at practice.”
As good as the offense was against Benton, the defense was just as strong. The Bobcats came into the game with the fourth most passing yards in 2A but were held to 90 by the Mustangs.
Benton’s high-powered offense had less than 100 yards through three quarters. The Bobcats’ lone scoring drive came early in the fourth quarter after PCM already built up 27-0 lead.
“It starts with the plan. And you don’t get a better plan in the state of Iowa than what (Greg) Bonnett plans,” junior linebacker Colby Tool said. “On Monday, he knew exactly what we were doing and on Wednesday it completely changed, and it worked perfectly.”
For the third straight season, PCM’s football team is in the 2A quarterfinals. The Mustangs get fifth-ranked and undefeated OABCIG (10-0) at 7 p.m. on Friday in Ida Grove. OABCIG defeated West Marshall 26-7 in its first-round game.
“I like where we’re at right now,” PCM head coach Greg Bonnett said. “They are showing some toughness. And they are ready to keep getting better. That’s a credit to the players.”
The biggest difference in the win over Benton was dominant lines on both sides of the ball. The Mustangs rushed for 287 on offense and defensive linemen Seth Greiner, Jace Smith, Greyson Strum and Cooper Sloan were in the face of Benton quarterback Clay Krousie all night.
Greiner finished with 9.5 tackles, three tackles for loss and two sacks in the win. Tool also had six tackles, two tackles for loss, a sack and a fumble recovery.
“You have to buy in and do exactly what he tells you,” said Tool, who weighs 165 pounds on a heavy day. “We’ve seen these plays 200 times almost. We got the plays in muscle memory. We knew what we had to do and we executed it perfectly.”
On the back end, when Krousie was able to make throws downfield, Justin Maggard, Landon Fenton, Gatlin Boell and Rayce Kohlhoff were there for coverage, tackles or pass breakups. Andrew Mitchell also had four tackles from his linebacker position.
Maggard finished with 8.5 tackles, Fenton had 4.5 tackles and an in interception and Boell tallied 4.5 tackles, one tackle for loss and several pass breakups.
Kohlhoff was challenged multiple times on deep passes, but he came through every time.
“We knew what they were going to do. We knew how they were going to attack the run, we knew how the QB would keep it and where his outlet passes were,” Bonnett said. “We threw different looks at him all night. There was a lot of talking and communication. We watched a lot of film and executed the script.”
PCM’s defense held Benton on a fourth and one attempt on the Bobcats’ opening drive of the game. PCM’s offense went three and out and punted.
The Bobcats (8-2) picked up two first downs before losing a fumble that was recovered by Tool on their next drive. The Mustangs also lost a fumble to give it right back.
After a Benton punt, Burns found Boell streaking across the middle of the field for an 81-yard catch and run touchdown. That put the Mustangs up 7-0 and they didn’t look back.
Boell had a career-high 106 yards and a TD on three catches in the game.
Benton went three and out on its next two drives. PCM punted on its next drive but went up 14-0 early in the second quarter.
The drive covered 61 yards in seven plays. Burns hit Boell for a 10-yard gain and then Anderson gained 10 more on the ground for another first down. Anderson capped the drive with a 22-yard TD run.
“We had some issues with the offense earlier in the year,” Bonnett said. “Nothing was routine for us, but I feel like guys are playing their positions better with better technique and better focus now.”
The next two drives for PCM ended in turnovers. The Mustangs drove the ball all the way to Benton’s 5-yard line before losing a fumble. They forced another Bobcat punt after just four plays, but PCM’s final drive of the first half ended with an interception.
The Mustangs won the game with ease despite losing two fumbles and throwing an interception in the first two quarters. PCM’s defense also forced a pair of turnovers.
PCM took away any momentum Benton might have had from the turnovers that ended the second quarter with a game-clinching drive to open the second half.
Starting on their own 20-yard line, the Mustangs galloped 80 yards in 10 plays. Only two plays went for more than 10 yards on the drive. Burns hooked up with Jacob Van Winkle for 35 yards and then Burns rumbled for 15 on the next play.
Three plays later, Burns put the Mustangs up 20-0 with a 1-yard TD plunge.
Van Winkle finished with 41 yards on two catches.
Another three out by the defense gave the ball back to PCM’s offense. And the Mustangs once again marched to paydirt.
This time, PCM drove 51 yards in five plays. Anderson capped the drive with a 28-yard TD run in which he broke several tackles on his way to the end zone.
“Some people thought we wouldn’t do much this year after losing so many guys, but that doesn’t matter,” Greiner said. “I don’t care what they say.
“Me, Jace (Smith) and Greyson (Strum) are the veterans who are back and we just tried to hold down the fort until everyone else got up to speed. We have gotten so much better as a team.”
Benton’s best drive of the game came early in the fourth quarter. The Bobcats went 47 yards in eight plays. Only two plays went for more than five yards. Krousie eventually found Turner Schroeder for a 17-yard TD drive to put Benton on the board.
Schroeder led the Bobcats offense with 56 yards on eight catches.
Fenton’s interception of Krousie at midfield set up PCM’s final touchdown. The Mustangs needed only four plays to go 50 yards. Burns gained 40 yards on the ground on second down and then scored two plays later on a 9-yard TD run.
“We’ve been playing with a chip all season because everyone thought we wouldn’t be any good because we lost so many great players last year,” Tool said. “The early loss made us rethink things and the loss to Des Moines Christian put a sour taste in our mouths.
“Ever since that loss, this team has been playing at our highest level.”
Benton rushed for 68 yards on 21 carries. Krousie finished 15-of-33 through the air for 90 yards, one touchdown and one interception. The Bobcats came into the game with 2,300 passing yards in eight games.
PCM 7-7-13-7 — 34
Benton 0-0-0-8 — 8
PCM — Gatlin Boell 81-yd pass from Burns (Tristan Doehne kick)
PCM — Aidan Anderson 22-yd run (Doehne kick)
PCM — Sage Burns 1-yd run (kick blocked)
PCM — Anderson 28-yd run (Doehne kick)
Benton — Turner Schroeder 17-yd pass from Clay Krousie (Krousie pass to Cade Timmerman)
PCM — Burns 9-yd run (Doehne kick)