STATE CENTER — Colby Tool struggled to hold back tears after PCM’s football game against West Marshall on Friday night.
The Mustang senior had just finished perhaps the best game of his prep career, and the biggest play of the game helped the Mustangs rally past the Trojans on the road during a Class 2A quarterfinal matchup.
Leading 14-12 in the third quarter, Tool’s 31-yard interception return for a touchdown proved to be the deciding score in a thrilling 21-20 playoff victory that sent the Mustangs back to the UNI-Dome for the state semifinals.
“We have been practicing that for two weeks,” Tool said. “I watched the tight end out of the corner of my eye and knew he was going to pop out and do a little drag. I got lucky the ball made a good bounce. It bounced off him and I got it and there was no way I wasn’t getting in that end zone.”
No. 3 PCM faces fifth-ranked Waukon (8-1) in the second 2A semifinal at 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 14 inside the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls.
The opening semifinal pits second-ranked Central Lyon/George-Little Rock (10-0) against sixth-ranked Camanche (9-1) at 4 p.m.
PCM trailed 10th-ranked West Marshall 12-0 at halftime. All 21 points by the Mustangs came in the third quarter.
PCM secured the win after denying the Trojans on fourth down in the final seconds. West Marshall marched 19 plays on the drive before turning it over on downs.
The final play of the game was a pass to Brayden Evertsen that was broken up by senior Justin Maggard, who defended Evertsen three different times on the drive.
All three pass attempts were incomplete with the final two coming inside the 20-yard line.
“The timeout right before that final play, (PCM head coach Greg) Bonnett looked at me and said ‘I can literally see you making this play right now’ and I just knew I had to,” Maggard said. “We knew they were probably going to go to him. It was time to make a big play.”
West Marshall (8-2) stuck to its usual script of bleeding the clock with long, methodical drives.
The Trojans didn’t score on their first drive but forced PCM into a three-and-out. On their second drive, West Marshall went 71 yards in 14 plays.
Preston Pope capped the drive with a 1-yard touchdown plunge. All 14 plays were on the ground. Pope finished with 104 rushing yards on 24 carries.
PCM’s next drive ended in another punt, but the Mustangs picked up three first downs on the series. PCM couldn’t overcome an Evertsen sack that lost 12 yards.
West Marshall turned it over on downs on its next drive but forced the Mustangs into another three-and-out.
Another long drive in the second quarter drained the clock down to almost nothing. The 12-play, 66-yard drive ended with a Peyton Hart 1-yard TD run.
Hart carried the ball 37 times and gained 181 yards on the ground. He was just 1-of-8 through the air for 39 yards and an interception.
“We made some adjustments. We got some stops and the offense started to explode a little bit,” PCM coach Greg Bonnett said. “We can still get better. This was a good game for us to be challenged and win a tough, close one. It will serve us well.”
The Mustangs (10-0) came out firing in the third quarter. They marched 81 yards in 10 plays to get on the board.
Senior Sage Burns opened the drive with a 16-yard run and then sophomore quarterback August Stock got loose for 29 more yards.
After a 10-yard holding penalty, Burns went for 11 yards and then gained five on back-to-back plays to set up a fourth and one.
A false start penalty moved the ball back five yards, but a 21-yard screen pass from Stock to Burns got the ball inside the 5-yard line. Burns got some room off a nice block by senior Caleb Duinink.
Stock made it 12-6 two plays later with a 1-yard TD run and the extra point by junior Tyler Kuecker got PCM within five.
Stock finished with 76 rushing yards and a TD on 11 carries and also threw for 80 yards on five competions.
“We got really focused at halftime. We wanted to prove ourselves and show the state what we are really about,” Stock said. “We had big play after big play on that drive. We needed that so bad. It got us going.”
West Marshall went three and out on its next drive. Duinink and junior Durant Van Dyke ended the series with a sack on Hart.
PCM took the lead five plays later. The Mustangs went 70 yards, highlighted by a 36-yard pass from Stock to senior Gatlin Boell and a 20-yard run by Jacob Van Winkle.
Van Winkle made it 13-12 with a 5-yard TD run and Kuecker added the extra point to extend the lead to two.
Van Winkle gained 19 yards on two catches and also had 62 rushing yards on five carries.
“Getting that score right away was key for us to get things going. The defense gave up 20 points, but we made key stops when we needed to,” Tool said.
PCM got West Marshall into a third down and long on the Trojans’ next drive. Three run plays netted West Marshall a first down but three plays later, Tool made the play of the game with the pick six.
It was PCM’s eighth defensive TD this season and it gave the Mustangs a 21-12 advantage. Tool finished with a career-high 17 tackles, including 14 solos.
“The biggest momentum swing of the game by far,” Bonnett said. “There were some big plays. But that ignited everything. We literally couldn’t control our sideline.”
West Marshall responded in a big way on its next drive. The Trojans drove 66 yards in 12 plays to trim the deficit to 21-20.
All 12 plays were on the ground. Hart got runs of 10, seven, nine and nine on the drive. He capped the scoring series with a 3-yard TD run then got his team closer when he converted the 2-point conversion.
Burns opened PCM’s next drive with a 20-yard run, but the visitors turned it over on downs four plays later.
West Marshall bleeded the clock almost down to nothing on its final drive of the game. Hart converted a fourth and one with a 1-yard run and then a 2-yard run on third and two extended the drive.
Hart converted two more fourth downs to set up the final seconds of drama.
PCM’s defense stiffened though as Hart was stopped behind the line of scrimmage on first down.
Maggard broke up a pass attempt to Evertsen on second down. He was in position to intercept the pass, but Evertsen pulled it away from him and nearly scored a TD himself before the ball hit the ground.
Hart then gained just one yard on third down, setting up one final play. On fourth down, Maggard came through again against Evertsen and the Mustangs’ celebration was on.
“Mags is our best defensive back for sure. It was time for him to ball out,” Bonnett said. “And he did. Now he knows he can do it. If you can cover that kid, you can cover anybody. (Evertsen) is a straight baller.”
Bonnett said he never had a doubt his guys could come back from their first halftime deficit of the season.
The 21-point third quarter turned out to be the difference in the game.
“I told the guys before the final play that it was all on the line and if you don’t love moments like this, then what do you love? And their eyes just kind of lit up and I knew it man,” Bonnett said. “I knew they’d get it done.
“I knew if we made the adjustment and played well, that eventually our players would make enough big plays that we’d pull it out. I never once thought we were going to lose.”
Burns gained a team-high 94 yards on 12 carries and had a 21-yard reception.
Senior Andrew Mitchell finished with 13 solo tackles, senior Connor Bennett had 10.5 tackles and Maggard tallied eight tackles.
Tool, Mitchell, Maggard and Bennett were all part of a large group of Mustangs that struggled to keep in their emotions after the game.
“The emotions ran over me. I don’t get super emotional. I usually don’t shed a tear, but this is definitely a moment for it,” Tool said. “Bonnett preaches that big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games. This was definitely a big-time game. I made some big plays, but it was the whole team that came up big on that last drive. We had to stop them.”
Notes: West Marshall ran 72 plays in the game, while PCM’s offense got only 37 plays. ... Kuecker was 3-for-3 in his PAT attempts. West Marshall’s lone PAT try on the Trojans’ first scoring drive was inches short as it fell just in front of the crossbar. That miss turned out to be a big point in the end. ... Van Dyke and Duinink each had five tackles, while senior Greyson Strum and junior Kaden Hale each tallied 4.5 tackles. ... The Trojans rushed for 302 yards but only averaged 4.7 yards per carry. PCM gained an average of 8.1 yards per carry. ... Evertsen finished with eight tackles, one sack and 2.5 tackles for loss.