MURRAY — Murray quarterback Austin Halls rushed for 381 yards and five touchdowns to lead the Mustangs to a 60-43 Eight-Man quarterfinal victory over Adair-Casey in front of an overflow crowd of 1,080 Friday night.
Halls scored on touchdowns of 50, 65, 36, 65 and 35 yards for the Mustangs. Halls connected with Cody Scroggie for an 18-yard touchdown pass on a fourth-and-16 play with 19 seconds left in the second quarter to give the Mustangs a 28-23 halftime advantage.
Halls’ 36-yard TD scamper early in the third quarter opened up a 36-23 lead, which proved too much for the Bombers to overcome in this offensive-minded contest. (The teams combined for 1,016 total yards.)
“Giving up the touchdown right before half, that hurt us,” said A-C coach Wade Anderson. “We would have loved to have knocked that ball down and gone into half with the lead. They got the first score right after halftime, too. That’s a big swing, going from up three to down 13.”
Halls, only 5-of-15 passing for 33 yards, said the fourth-and-16 TD was crucial.
“We had moved the ball, then we had a couple penalties,” he said. “I slipped on a throw and I had a guy open. On the touchdown, they had a safety over the top on Seth (Nerness), and I hit Cody on a slant. He made a heck of a catch. He told me at halftime the lights were in his eyes and he lost the ball.”
Nerness added touchdown runs of 15 and 55 yards while rushing for 141 yards on 18 carries for the Mustangs (12-0).
“Our key was 25 (Jordan Wheatley), their D-end,” Halls said. “When he’s dropping back like that, he’s taking away my pitch. Then I have to find a running lane. Our O-line was getting such a good push, they were clearing out the cutback lanes. Number 33 (Charlie Terry) on the othe side, I would pitch more often, because he would come up. Nerness, when he gets in the open field, D-backs don’t really want to tackle him. You can’t blame them. He’s 6-4 (190 pounds), and he lowers his shoulder. And, he’s one of the fastest kids on the team.”
Clayton Plowman rushed 28 times for 225 yards and four touchdowns for Adair-Casey (10-2). He also returned an interception 4 yards for a touchdown as the Bombers took an 8-6 lead in the first quarter. Jordan Wheatley added 124 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries.
For the second year in a row, Murray advances to the semifinal round in the Cedar Falls UNI-Dome against Gilbertville Don Bosco (11-0) at 9:05 a.m. Thursday. Elk Horn-Kimballton/Exira (12-0) faces Marcus-Meriden-Cleghorn (12-0) in the other semifinal at 12:05 p.m. The four Eight-Man semifinalists are a combined 47-0.
The championship game will be 10:05 a.m. Nov. 15.
Friday’s game started well for Murray, which was important in a contest that often resulted in the two offensive powerhouses trading scores.
Murray stopped A-C on its first possession and struck quickly on Halls’ 50-yard TD scamper.
Murray forced another A-C punt, but when Halls fired a screen pass intended for Nerness, Plowman stepped in to swipe it for the quick 4-yard touchdown return. Plowman’s two-point run gave the Bombers the first of their three leads in the first half.
But Murray never trailed again after Scroggie’s TD reception as time ran down in the second quarter for the 28-23 margin at the break.
In past victories over A-C, Halls had proven to be dangerous in the passing game — including 436 yards passing in last year’s quarterfinal game — and coach Keith Shields said it was apparent the Bombers were intent on not allowing that again. That opened up some opportunities in the option running attack.
“Last year it was passing the ball, this time it was with the run,” Shields said. “We knew they were going to try to send a lot of people and put pressure on us if we passed the ball. We felt all week we could run the option against them. When they bring enough people up, and they’re jamming Cody off the line, if Austin can make that break and we can get a block or two, you saw what can happen. He’s faster than people think.”
Plowman, fifth in the state 100-meter dash last spring in 11.63, was a constant threat to score. Despite his 226 yards and four TDs, the Mustangs got just enough stops to open up a winning margin.
“When we started we had the momentum going,” end Sam Rockhold said. “We had a few mistakes that let them score, but we never lost our momentum. We never stopped believing in ourselves. My job was to make sure he didn’t get outside, to keep the ball contained so the linebackers could get to him.”
Nerness was a big part of the pass pressure on quarterback Gunnar Dinkla from his end position.
“We got some pressure in there, did what we had to do to win,” Nerness said. “When we made mistakes, we came back and scored.”
Lineman George Barber rolled an ankle early in the game and saw limited duty. RayDean Burdess stepped in at offensive guard, and Dylan Craig rotated in for line duty. The Mustangs occasionally employed a different defensive front that involved Scott Funke and Devin Shields at linebacker.
Shields made a big play in recovering a Bomber onside kick after A-C had closed it to 52-43 with 7:02 remaining. Matthew Barnes also saw secondary duty, and his pickoff sealed the win with 30 seconds left.
“We got great contributions from several different people,” Shields said. “Our guys up front blocked well as we averaged over 10 yards per carry on 48 carries.”
The 381 yards by Halls is the second most in school history, behind only a 410-yard night by Caleb Byers vs. Mormon Trail in 2008. Halls and Nerness both surpassed the 1,000-yard mark for the season in the game, and injured back Andrew Rider is close at 837.
The third straight win over A-C was another impressive offensive performance. The combined total score of the two wins this season is 124-69.
The 16th straight home win (eight this season) gives the Mustangs the same win total as last year’s 12-2 mark, the only double-digit victory seasons in school history. Shields said it’s possible that at some point in the next two weeks Rider could be cleared to play with a padded cast on his arm, but that hasn’t been determined yet.
Murray 60, Adair-Casey 43
Adair-Casey 8 15 6 14 - 43
Murray 6 22 16 16 - 60
M — Austin Halls 50 run (pass failed), 9:51
A — Clayton Plowman 4 run (Plowman run), 7:28
M — Halls 65 run (Scroggie pass from Halls), 6:50
A — Jordan Wheatley 29 run (Emmit Wheatley kick), 3:59
M — Seth Nerness 15 run (pass failed), 2:59
A — Plowman 65 run (Plowman run), 2:48
M — Cody Scroggie 18 pass from Halls (Nerness run), 0:19.
M — Halls 36 run (Scroggie pass from Halls), 10:03
A — Plowman 55 run (kick failed), 2:04
M — Nerness 55 run (Scroggie pass from Halls), 1:53
A — Plowman 1 run (Charlie Terry pass from Gunnar Dinkla), 11:29
M — Halls 65 run (Nerness run), 11:16
A — Plowman 1 run (run failed), 7:02
M — Halls 35 run (Nerness run), 3:46
Rushing: A-C - Clayton Plowman 28-226, Jordan Wheatley 13-124, Traeton Jensen 3-33, Gunnar Dinkla 10-(-4). M - Austin Halls 25-381, Seth Nerness 18-141, Cody Scroggie 3-19, Corey McCracken 2-5.
Passing: A-C - Dinkla 6-14-1 for 58 yards. M - Halls 5-15-1 for 33 yards.
Receiving: A-C - Charlie Terry 3-27, J. Wheatley 2-16, Plowman 1-15. M - Scroggie 3-24, Sam Rockhold 2-9.
Tackles (solo-assists): M - Devin Shields 8-4, Halls 6-4, Rockhold 5-6, Eddie Otto 3-6, Scroggie 4-3, RayDean Burdess 4-3.
Fumble recoveries: M - Shields 1.
Interceptions: A-C - Plowman 1. M - Matthew Barnes 1.