CEDAR FALLS — After three hours of action-packed football producing 140 points, and an overtime with both teams scoring touchdowns, it came down to one two-point conversion play.
In a record-setting Eight-Man semifinal game Thursday morning, that spilled into Thursday afternoon, Murray and Gilbertville Don Bosco had nothing settled after 48 exhausting minutes, with the two undefeated teams locked in a 70-70 tie.
Murray won the overtime coin toss and elected to play defense first. In this game, 10 yards wasn't much of an impediment in scoring a touchdown, and Don Bosco junior quarterback Jake Hogan carried three times until he finally scored from the 4-yard line. He also followed his blockers in for the two-point conversion.
Trailing 78-70, Murray now had to respond once again in this see-saw battle. On third-and-goal from the 10, the trusty combination of quarterback Austin Halls passing to receiver Cody Scroggie came through once again for their fifth TD connection of the day.
So, now the game would advance to another overtime possession for each team, or end with a failed conversion and two-point difference.
After the shotgun snap, Halls was flushed out of the pocket to his left. The receiver on that end of the field, running a crossing route toward the left sideline, was tight end Sam Rockhold.
Just as Rockhold prepared to receive the pass on the run, Don Bosco defensive back Tyler Metcalf reached just far enough to tip the ball away from Rockhold, and sink Murray's quest for a second straight championship game appearance.
Third-ranked Don Bosco 78, No. 2 Murray 76.
It finally ended for a UNI-Dome crowd that had just ridden an incredible roller-coaster of emotions since the 9:06 a.m. start, as the teams finally shook hands at 12:21 p.m.
"That was something to see," Don Bosco coach Colby Yoder said. "One for the ages for sure."
In fact, it was the highest scoring playoff game in Iowa playoff history — surpassing the 118 Farragut and Twin Cedars scored in 2002 — and third-most total points ever in an Eight-Man game.
Hogan rushed for 253 yards and three touchdowns and passed for three more scores as the Dons (12-0) advanced to the state title game next Thursday in the school's first year of Eight-Man football. Their opponent will be Marcus-Meriden-Cleghorn,which blew out Exira/Elk Horn-Kimballton, 61-22.
"It was one of those games you hate to have either team walk off (defeated), as hard as they went at each other," Murray coach Keith Shields said. "It may not sink in right now, but this was a game they'll never forget. To have an opportunity to come back to the UNI-Dome and play in a game like that."
Murray (12-1) had converted eight of nine two-point conversions in regulation, but Metcalf anticipated the play coming in overtime.
"They had been running cross routes to the tight ends all game and that is what they were beating us on," Metcalf said. "Jake (Hogan) slowed my guy down for a second and I got over there and deflected the ball ... did what I had to do."
Halls, who slumped to his knees on the turf after Metcalf's play, said his options were limited.
"I didn't trust what I was seeing," Halls said. "But I didn't have a lot of options. They took away my running lanes. I had to get rid of the ball and I had to give Sam a chance to make a play. The defender made a better play. I have no regrets, other than I fell a little short with it. I just wish we could have had one more opportunity."
The start of the game was a polar opposite to last year's semifinal win over Clarksville, which started with a 14-0 deficit.
This time, the Mustang faithful was excited as the running back duo of Seth Nerness and Andrew Rider lined up deep to receive the opening kickoff.
Rider had not appeared in a game since breaking his left arm on the fourth play of the Oct. 19 game against Lamoni.
With a padded cast cut shorter on Wednesday, Rider was medically cleared to play Thursday. He was restricted with what he could do with his left arm and hand, but he immediately showed there was nothing wrong with his legs.
Cradling the kickoff in his right hand, Rider cut toward the right sideline, made two would-be tacklers miss, and then turned on the jets toward the opposite corner of the Dons' end zone. As Mustang Nation erupted in a roar of excitement in the east bleachers, Rider completed his 75-yard touchdown.
Little did anyone realize at the time there would be 19 more touchdowns scored in the game!
"It's almost all healed," Rider said. "It felt good to be back."
Because of his limitations, Rider didn't play full-time on either side of the ball, but saw spot duty at running back and linebacker, and proved so effective at kick returns that Don Bosco eventually resorted to squib kicks.
Scroggie's first TD reception and a two-point play made it 16-0 in favor of the Mustangs early in the first quarter, but the Dons came roaring back just as they had in facing a 20-0 deficit in a second-round win over Springville.
It was 16-16 nine minutes into the game, and then the Mustangs hit a rough patch that turned the momentum over to Don Bosco.
A rare stop by the Don Bosco defense forced a Murray punt, but the snap went over the head of punter Sam Rockhold into the end zone, where it was recovered by Nate Kremer for a Dons' touchdown and a 22-16 lead.
Murray's troubles were compounded moments later when Halls' pitchout from his own 10 intended for Rider went bouncing backward. As the teams scrambled for it, the ball bounced out of the back of the end zone, resulting in a safety, and a 24-16 margin.
"Austin told the guys on the sideline, 'hey, we're just shooting ourselves in the foot on a few plays. We can come back and play our game.' We responded and got right back into it," Shields said.
While scrambling, searching for an open receiver, Halls ended a wild first half by running for a 9-yard touchdown and passing to Scroggie for the two-pointer and a 48-40 Mustang lead.
Murray took a 10-point lead (56-46) on a 2-yard Seth Nerness run set up by a long completion from Halls to Scroggie and personal foul (late hit) that further advanced the ball to the Dons' 15-yard line.
But, Don Bosco quickly responded with another touchdown, and the third quarter ended with Murray clinging to a 56-54 lead.
A touchdown pass by Hogan to start the fourth quarter pushed the Dons back in front. Halls countered with a 48-yard touchdown scamper for Murray, and hit Rockhold with the conversion pass for a 64-62 Mustang lead.
After Hogan's 49-yard punt pinned Murray deep at the 5-yard line a few minutes later, Murray picked up 44 yards on a pass from Halls to fullback Corey McCracken. That ignited a scoring drive, as Scroggie made a spectacular catch against double coverage for a 29-yard gain to the 1-yard line, where Halls then punched it in on a quarterback sneak.
Leading 70-62, Murray had a chance to open up a two-score lead with 7:17 left. But, Halls was forced to leave the field with blood spotted on his arm, or return if Murray burned a timeout.
Shields elected to send Rider out to receive the snap in a wildcat formation. After starting to run, he surprised the Dons with a quick toss over the middle, that just fell short of completion, leaving the margin at eight points.
"They walked Austin off the field," Shields said. "Looking back, it's a possibility we could have just used a timeout there. With Andrew not practicing much lately, we put him in a tough spot there. We executed pretty well, just didn't quite connect. Making it a two-score game would have been big there."
Another opportunity squirted away from the Mustangs later in the period after the Dons had tied it at 70-70. Back to receive a Mustang punt, Hogan missed the ball and it went bouncing behind him. More than one player had a chance to fall on the ball in Don Bosco territory with 41 seconds left, but Dylon Rhoads of the Dons fell on the ball on his own 9-yard line.
With 16 seconds left, Hogan punted to Murray, and after it rolled, there was time for one more play. Halls' pass was intercepted by Metcalf, which caused a few anxious moments on the Mustang sideline, but he was tackled near midfield by Rockhold.
In overtime, there was little doubt that either team would have much trouble traveling 10 yards.
"I really did feel it would come down to the two points," Yoder said. "Both teams were picking up big yardage and were probably going to score."
"We were up 10 a couple of times and couldn't put it away," Halls said. "This team is a lot better than Clarksville last year, the way they run their offense. They're two-dimensional. When we got up early, we knew it wasn't over."
Shields said the effort was a proud end to a special era of Mustang football. Back-to-back trips to the UNI-Dome ended with a 2012 season scoring 852 points, believed to be the second most ever in Iowa high school history behind Fremont-Mills' 891 in 2011.
Eleven seniors appearing for Murray for the last time are Raymond Barlage, Scroggie, Eddie Otto, Alex Youngquist, Halls, Devin Shields, McCracken, Dylan Craig, RayDean Burdess, Eli Barr and Matthew Johnston.
"We told them afterward that we were proud of every single one of them," Shields said. "Those seniors who walked off the field for the last time, just the competitors they are and the leadership they've shown, we wouldn't trade those guys for anybody."
Murray game notes
• Murray senior fullback Corey McCracken sang the National Anthem prior to the semifinal game against Gilbertville Don Bosco.
• Scott Giles of Mount Ayr was line judge for the game. At 12:05 p.m., three hours after the opening kickoff, he turned to a Mustang statistican and said, "Doesn't it seem like this game is taking a long time?"
• Former Winterset and Simpson College football player and wrestler Cory Christensen is an assistant coach for the Dons.
• Murray defensive coordinator Steve Baker is being awarded the Iowa Football Coaches Association award for Assistant Coach of the Year for 8-Player football next week.
Baker, in his 16th year as an assistant at Murray, will receive the honor at halftime of the Class 3A championship game Thursday, at approximately 7 p.m. Title games are telecast by KCWI 23 in Des Moines (channel 9 on Mediacom cable.)
• Murray finished its second consecutive 12-win season, the only seasons with double-digit wins in school history.
• Murray's all-time playoff record is now 7-5.
Murray game summary
Don Bosco 78, Murray 76
M — Andrew Rider 75 kickoff return (Sam Rockhold pass from Austin Halls), 11:47
M — Cody Scroggie 38 pass from Halls (Rockhold pass from Halls), 8:44
DB — Tyler Metcalf 33 pass from Jake Hogan, (Travis Havel pass from Hogan), 7:43
DB — Havel 14 pass from Hogan (pass failed), 3:03
DB — Nate Kremer fumble recovery in end zone (Havel pass from Hogan), 1:41
DB — Safety out back of end zone, 1:20
M — Scroggie 31 pass from Halls (Halls run), 10:54
M — Scroggie 42 pass from Halls (Scroggie pass from Halls), 7:06
DB — Tyler Backes 6 run (Hogan run), 5:17
M — Scroggie 30 pass from Halls (Halls run), 2:20
DB — Backes 13 run (Backes pass from Hogan), :51
M — Halls 9 run (Scroggie pass from Halls), :35
DB — Hogan 9 run (pass failed), 7:11
M — Seth Nerness 2 run (Scroggie pass from Halls), 5:26
DB — Mason Svoboda 17 run (Hogan run), 3:09
DB — Dylon Rhoads 15 pass from Hogan (Hogan run), 3:09
M — Halls 48 run (Rockhold pass from Halls), 11:02
M — Halls 2 run (pass failed), 7:17
DB — Hogan 12 run (pass failed), 6:06
DB — Hogan 3 run (Hogan run)
M — Scroggie 10 pass from Halls (pass failed)
Rushing: DB - Jake Hogan 34-258, Tyler Backes 14-53, Mason Svoboda 7-44, TJ Even 2-14. M - Austin Halls 19-90, Seth Nerness 7-9, Andrew Rider 2-14, Sam Rockhold 1-14, Corey McCracken 1-(-1).
Passing: DB - Hogan 12-28-1 for 160 yards. M - Halls 18-32-1 for 309 yards, Rider 0-1-0.
Receiving: DB - Tyler Metcalf 3-89, Travis Havel 2-17, Dylon Rhoads 4-32, Backes 3-22. M - Cody Scroggie 11-236, Rockhold 5-25, Nerness 1-4, McCracken 1-44.
Tackles (solo-assists): M - Matthew Barnes (10-4), Halls (6-4), Rockhold (5-5), Eddie Otto (5-4), Nerness (5-3), RayDean Burdess (3-5), Rider (4-3).
Fumble recoveries: M - Nerness 1.
Interceptions: M - Halls 1.