PCM head football coach Greg Bonnett thought a close, competitive game in the quarterfinals against West Marshall was exactly what his team needed.
The Mustangs outscored their opposition 513-46 through the first nine games but needed to rally from a 12-0 deficit against the Trojans last week.
PCM scored 21 points in the third quarter and held on against No. 10 West Marshall to clinch its second trip to the Class 2A state semifinals in the past three seasons.
Now, the Mustangs will try to do what the 2018 team did and win the whole thing. Standing in the way of PCM's path is fifth-ranked Waukon.
"I think the excitement of everything was exactly what we needed," Bonnett said of the close win. "Enjoying the ride is the most important thing. This time in life comes to an end and the memories we are making will be forever beautiful. But being here now is such a great thing."
Kickoff from the UNI-Dome is slated for 7:30 p.m. on Saturday. It is the final semfinal game in the state of Iowa. No. 2 Central Lyon/George-Little Rock faces No. 6 Camanche in the first 2A semifinal game.
Waukon comes into the semifinals 8-1. It began the season ranked No. 1 by a lot of publications but dropped the season opener 19-18 to 3A Decorah.
The Indians have won eight straight games since, including an impressive quarterfinal win over No. 7 Solon last week.
Waukon also was at the UNI-Dome the last time PCM made it but lost in the semifinals to the team the Mustangs defeated in the championship game. It will try to fare better in the opening game in Cedar Falls this time around.
Bonnett said Waukon reminds him of his own team with what they do on offense and defense.
"It's your typical Waukon team where they are going to play fast and throw a ton of stuff at you to keep you off balance," Bonnett said. "They will run unbalanced formations, motions from anywhere and hide eligible receivers lined up as tackles and things like that. In the end of it all, their players will get after it."
Waukon ranks sixth in 2A with 3,366 total yards. PCM is sitting first with 4,201 yards. The 2,968 rushing yards ranks second in the class, but the Mustangs' 77 TDs ranks first.
Waukon is led by senior quarterback Creed Welch, who has thrown for 1,113 yards and rushed for 614 more. He has thrown for 14 TDs, rushed for 10 scores and is averaging 9.4 yards per carry.
Senior Ethan O'Neill has gained 906 yards on the ground with 16 TDs. He is averaging 8.8 yards per carry and also returned a kickoff for a score this season.
The Mustangs' style of play may match up better against Waukon's spread offense than they did against West Marshall's power running formations.
"We are a four front defense most of the time so it keeps us gap sound against a traditional spread or tight offense," Bonnett said. "The thing about these guys is they will create gaps by using funky alignments and hybrid tight ends and fullbacks. We see things similar to this so we have the basics prepared and now it's just a matter of making sound adjustments when the time is right as well as offering some wrinkles to throw back at them."
PCM's defense surrendered a lot of rushing yards last week to West Marshall, but another defensive TD proved to be the difference in the game.
Colby Tool's first defensive TD of the season gave PCM a 21-12 lead and the Mustangs held on. Tool also had 17 tackles in the game and leads the defense with 47.5 tackles.
Junior Lincoln Snitker and senior Brennan Sweeney might be Waukon's best players.
Snitker has 18 catches for 328 yards and six scores on offense and 56.5 tackles, 19.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, four interceptions and a TD on defense. The 19.5 tackles for loss ranks third in 2A.
Sweeney's 12.5 sacks is second in 2A and he also has 19 tackles for loss, which ranks fourth in 2A, and 42 tackles.
"Both of these guys are very good on both sides of the ball," Bonnett said. "They are fun to watch just like the Evertsen kid (at West Marshall). Nothing but a bunch of good football players left now so, like I tell our guys, it's time to let the big dogs play."
Waukon's defense ranks fourth in 2A with 25 sacks, seventh with 75 tackles for loss and tied for sixth with 15 interceptions.
PCM's defense ranks tied for second with 17 interceptions, led by Justin Maggard's seven. The eight defensive touchdowns also leads 2A.
"Their defense is very similar schematically to what we do in terms of gap control and alignments," Bonnett said of Waukon. "They read and flow well and can do it without blitzing a whole bunch so that tells me right away they are sound. We have to be prepared to bang up front and turn routine plays into huge plays."