HARLAN — All the momentum Creston/O-M seemed to gain with a touchdown drive late in the first half Friday against seventh-ranked Harlan seemed to blow away in the brisk wind of Saturday when play resumed.
Creston/O-M trailed 14-7 when play was halted at halftime Friday as thunderstorms moved throughout western Iowa. Officials from both schools finally decided on resuming at 1 p.m. Saturday at Merrill Field.
Aided by a a south wind gusting to 36 mph, Harlan took advantage of good field position as the second half resumed Saturday afternoon, and struck for three quick scores in a 34-7 victory over Creston/O-M.
Weather conditions were much different on Saturday. Compared to the calm, warm and humid conditions at kickoff at 6 p.m. Friday, fans were greeted Saturday by a strong southwest wind and much lower temperatures peaking in the mid-50s.
It didn’t take long for the Cyclones to strike, as Creston/O-M punted into the wind from its own 14, giving the Cyclones possession on the Panther 41-yard line. A penalty on the kickoff return had pinned the Panthers deep in their own territory to start the opening drive.
Ten plays after Harlan fielded the punt, Nate Gettys scored on a 2-yard run to make it 20-7, as a fumbled snap for the kick led to a failed two-point pass attempt.
Things quickly got worse for the visitors. Creston/O-M fumbled on a reverse play handoff on its next possession at its own 20. Harlan needed only four plays to score, as quarterback Adam Juhl found 6-foot-7 tight end Trey Lansman over the middle in the end zone for a 4-yard TD to stretch it to 27-7.
Things didn’t improve for the Panthers on their next possession. On a third-and-two play, a high shotgun snap was bobbled by Panther quarterback Brandon Phipps, leading to another punt into the wind instead of a first down and improved field position.
This time Harlan took over at its own 44, with that drive also culminating in a scoring connection from Juhl to Lansman from 13 yards out, making it 34-7 with 10 seconds left in the third period.
The Panthers then got the wind at their back, but never recovered from the third-quarter flurry. With Juhl floating a high pass into the wind, Panther safety Bryce Briley had an apparent interception with 7:40 remaining, taking the ball deep into Harlan territory, but the play was nullified by a pass interference penalty on the Panthers.
Play was more competitive Friday, as Jesse Rathe caught a 27-yard touchdown pass shortly before halftime to bring Creston/O-M to within 14-7 of Harlan at half.
It was a productive drive starting at the 3:50 mark at the Panther 11-yard line. Tight end Levi Eblen made a nifty over-the-shoulder catch for a 26-yard gain to the Harlan 35 with a minute left. The TD catch by Rathe came on fourth-and-two at the 27 with 28 seconds left.
Gettys opened the scoring for Harlan with a 5-yard run with 3:49 left in the first quarter.
Later, Harlan had a short field and drove 44-yards, capping the drive with a 3-yard pass from Juhl to Allan Hopp.
Rathe also had an interception in the first half, and Panther all-state linebacker Trevor Frain had tackles for losses on two successive Harlan possessions. It was a much different story Saturday, however.
Creston/O-M finished with only 11 net yards rushing. Phipps was 9-of-20 passing for 148 yards.
Harlan had balanced production offensively, running for 181 yards with another 145 through the air by Juhl. Harlan had 18 first downs to Creston/O-M’s seven.
Those numbers tell the story of the outcome better than any inconvenience the Panthers endured from two trips to Harlan in 19 hours, coach Brian Morrison said.
“We gave them a short field. You can’t pin yourself that deep and expect to win against Harlan,” Morrison said. “We couldn’t get anything going. We needed to take control of what we do and run the ball. We couldn’t do that.”
The final possession of the first half, and relative success of the defense in preventing big plays, provided optimism for the final two quarters. Then Mother Nature threw in a wrinkle with the Panthers facing Saturday’s wind.
“They are a good football team,” Morrison said. “They are balanced. Our defense didn’t play bad by any means. They just got in a tough situation there. We had opportunities, but Harlan was aggressive and got after it.”
Going in, Harlan coach Curt Bladt had talked about the importance of moving the ball consistently and keeping it away from the Panther offense. He came away pleased with his team’s defensive effort.
“We’ll take that,” he said. “Creston’s put up a lot of points against people, and for our defense to step up at that level, that’s a good sign. I thought we’d be in a dog fight all the way with this thing.”
Taking the wind to start the third quarter was a key factor, Bladt noted.
“If we would have gone against the wind to start with and they’d have put two or three scores like we did, it may have been kind of difficult to get those back,” he said. “So we decided that we’d kick them down in there and see if we couldn’t keep them there. The defense did a great job.”
Overshadowed in the loss was a big defensive effort by Frain at middle linebacker. He finished with 13 total tackles, including four for losses. Seth Maitlen and Conner Pals, who both battled minor injuries during the game, produced 13 and nine tackles, respectively, with Pals adding two key pass breakups. Rathe’s interception Friday was the only Harlan turnover.
Gettys finished with 129 yards rushing on 31 carries and two touchdowns. Juhl was 14-of-30 passing for 145 yards and three TDs with one interception. Harlan improves to 5-1 and 3-0 in the district to share the lead with Lewis Central.
Creston/O-M, now 4-2 overall and 2-2 in District 1, hosts Glenwood in a key game this Friday to keep playoff hopes alive. Glenwood played a non-district game Friday, losing to Sergeant Bluff-Luton, 40-17. In district play, ADM shut out Atlantic 38-0 and Lewis Central topped Perry in a defensive battle, 17-7.
Harlan 34, Creston/O-M 7
Points by quarter
C/O-M 0 7 0 0 — 7
Harlan 7 7 20 0 — 34
H — Nate Gettys 5 run (Ethan Knudson kick), 3:49
H — Allan Hopp 37 3 pass from Adam Juhl (Knudson kick), 4:04
Cr — Jesse Rathe 27 pass from Brandon Phipps (Conner Pals kick), :28
H — Gettys 2 run (pass failed), 5:41
H — Trey Lansman 4 pass from Juhl (Knudson kick), 2:29
H — Lansman 12 pass from Juhl (Knudson kick), :10
C/O-M ... Harlan
First downs 7 ... 18
Rushes-yards 27-11 ... 43-181
Passing yards 148 ... 145
Total yards 159 ... 326
Punts-avg. 7-32.6 ... 3-30.0
Return yards 123 ... 69
Fumbles-lost 3-1 ... 1-0
Penalties-yards 8-65 ... 7-55
RUSHING — C/O-M: Adam Baker 12-27, Trevor Frain 3-15, Brandon Phipps 8-(-6), Maxx Walters 2-(-5). Harl: Nate Gettys 31-129, Adam Juhl 4-18, Luke Hall 1-8, Allan Hopp 2-5, Eli Williams 3-4.
PASSING — C/O-M: Phipps 9-20-0 for 148 yards. H: Juhl 14-30-1 for 145 yards.
RECEIVING — C/O-M: Maxx Walters 4-67, Jesse Rathe 3-41, Levi Eblen 1-26, Frain 1-14. H: Gabe Ferry 4-63, Gettys 3-44, Trey Lansman 4-30, Luke Hall 2-7, Hopp 1-5.
PUNTS-AVG. — C/O-M: Gavin Leith 7-32.6. H: Cale Stork 3-30.0.
TACKLE LEADERS (solo-assists) — C/O-M: Trevor Frain 7-6, Seth Maitlen 6-7, Bryce Briley 4-5, Conner Pals 4-5, Cory Rathe 0-7, Gavin Leith 0-6, Alex Chapman 1-5, Jesse Rathe 3-1, Jordan Thompson 0-3, Adam Baker 0-3, Tayler Pettit 0-2, Spencer Wray 0-2.