MOUNT AYR — Homecoming games often provide an emotional backdrop for the home team.
That was the case for Mount Ayr Friday night in its 25-13 win over Van Meter. But for the Raiders, it was more than just a homecoming game.
The stakes were high, as both Mount Ayr and Van Meter came into the game undefeated in Class 1A District 7. Homecoming also marked the anniversary of a tragic car accident the year prior that took the life of Mount Ayr student Konner Klommhaus.
Senior Zane Sickels, who was named Mount Ayr homecoming king, stepped up and had a big night playing in honor of his best friend.
“Zane Sickels, I just thought played at a different level tonight,” co-head coach Delwyn Showalter said. “Konner Klommhaus and Zane Sickels were like brothers, and this has been a tough week for Zane. He was playing for somebody else tonight.”
Sickels was all over the field, doing a little bit of everything for the Raiders Friday night. Sickels ran the ball five times for 28 yards, caught one pass for 13 yards, returned one kickoff, racked up five tackles and one sack, recovered a fumble and hauled in an interception in the closing minutes of the game to ice the victory.
“Monday was the day of the actual accident. We’ve been playing all week with that in the back of our minds,” Sickels said. “We just wanted to focus on Friday. We were going to play our game. I played for Konner tonight, and I left everything out on the field I could, because I knew he was there watching. I just wanted to play my best for him, because he’s my best friend.”
Sickels and the rest of the Mount Ayr defense were a big reason why Mount Ayr was able to overcome an early 7-0 deficit to win the game.
Tyger Bottenfield intercepted a Jacob Sobotka pass and ran 51 yards for a touchdown just three minutes into the game to give Van Meter the early lead.
But the Raider defense held a potent Van Meter passing attack in check, keeping the offense in the game.
“I just thought our defense had a tremendous ballgame,” Showalter said. “They came in here with an outstanding passing offense and a lot of weapons. We did a nice job of shutting them down. We made some big plays with our special teams as well, and then the turnovers were huge tonight.”
Mount Ayr held Van Meter to just 133 yards passing, while also picking off Bulldog quarterback Brandon Brittain twice. Mount Ayr recovered three fumbles in the game as well.
The combination of Sobotka and senior receiver Braydee Poore tied up the game at 7 apiece on a 24-yard touchdown pass with 6:39 to play in the first quarter.
With 6:25 remaining in the first half, Sobotka scored on a 14-yard run to give the Raiders a 13-7 advantage. But, Brittain answered back with a 4-yard touchdown run of his own with 3:10 left in the half, sending the teams into the break knotted at 13.
“First half, we were able to complete some passes,” Showalter said. “We used a little bit different look in the second half, which I think, it didn’t confuse them, but it allowed us to be more physical with receivers. That, I thought was real big.”
The Raiders held Van Meter scoreless in the second half, as Sobotka broke the tie, scoring both of Mount Ayr’s second half touchdowns on runs of 66 yards and 11 yards.
“We were pretty sluggish offensively,” co-head coach Derek Lambert said. “We struggled with their quickness up front to begin the game. Their defensive line is extremely quick, but I think as the game went on, we adjusted to that quickness and we took advantage of some opportunities we had. The biggest thing is our defense played extremely well.”
Mount Ayr held the Bulldogs to 224 total yards of offense, compared to 469 for the Raiders. Mount Ayr picked up 352 yards on the ground.
Mount Ayr improved to 6-0 overall and 3-0 in District 7, while Van Meter falls to 4-2 and 3-1. Pella Christian also entered Friday’s games undefeated in the district, but a 28-14 loss to Ogden knocked them from the ranks of the unbeaten, leaving Mount Ayr in sole position of first place in the district.
But, the final three games do not get any easier for the Raiders.
Mount Ayr hosts Central Decatur (4-2, 1-2) this week, before traveling to Ogden (4-2, 3-1) and hosting Pella Christian (5-1, 2-1) to close the season.
“It was the second game in a row where we had to play a full game,” Lambert said. “I think that’s really good for our guys right now. The last two games have really tested us. I really like our physical style of play, and I think that is what’s allowed us to be successfull so far, is being physical up front.”
And with that tough stretch of games to close out the season, the Mount Ayr players refuse to get caught looking too far ahead, instead remaining focused on the next game in front of them.
“It was just another penny in the penny jar,” Sickels said. “We’re not letting it get to us. We’re just taking it one game at a time. We’re just playing our game. We’re playing physical, hard, smashmouth football. We’re just trying to do our best and focus on us.”
Mount Ayr 25, Van Meter 13
Points by quarter
Van Meter 7 6 0 0 — 13
Mount Ayr 7 6 6 6 — 25
VM — Tyger Bottenfield 51 interception return (Grant Gordon kick), 9:17
MA — Braydee Poore 24 pass from Jacob Sobotka (Casey Paxson kick), 6:39
MA — Sobotka 14 run (kick missed), 6:25
VM — Brandon Brittain 4 run (kick missed), 3:10
MA — Sobotka 66 run (kick blocked), 11:41
MA — Sobotka 11 run (2-pt. failed), 11:27
First downs 9 22
Rushes-yards 32-91 46-352
Passing yards 133 117
Total yards 224 469
Punts-avg. 2-40.0 3-29.3
Return yards 133 63
Fumbles-lost 3-3 6-2
Penalties-yards 5-28 15-107
RUSHING — VM: Brandon Brittain 15-46, Cody Blackwell 13-36, Boonie Green 3-8, Logan Crawford 1-1. MA: Jacob Sobotka 17-174, Erik Freed 10-103, Cody Stackhouse 5-37, Zane Sickels 5-28, Riley Weehler 7-22, Johnathan Triggs 1-5, Lincoln Martin 1-2.
PASSING — VM: Brittain 7-17-2 for 133 yards. MA: Sobotka 12-18-1 for 117 yards.
RECEIVING — VM: Blackwell 3-39, Ben Flaherty 2-33, Jeremy Helmick 1-47, Tyger Bottenfield 1-14. MA: Freed 4-56, Braydee Poore 3-44, Sickels 1-13, Stackhouse 1-6, Dylan Doman 2-1, Martin 1(1-3).
PUNTS-AVG. — MA: Casey Paxson 1-42.0, Poore 2-23.0.
TACKLE LEADERS (solo-assists) — Stackhouse (5-6), Sobotka (3-6), Mason Mercer (3-4), Weehler (0-6), Joe Ricker (2-4), Shane Swank (3-3), Sickels (1-4), Levi Martin (1-3), Poore (2-1), Triggs (1-2), Lincoln Martin (0-2), Caleb Schnoor (0-2).
INTERCEPTIONS — MA: Lincoln Martin 1, Sickels 1.
FUMBLE RECOVERIES — MA: Triggs 1, Lincoln Martin 1, Sickels 1.
SACKS — MA: Sobotka 2, Sickels 1, Stackhouse 1, Mercer 1.