WEST BRANCH — They didn’t stop Mitchell Harger.
But the West Branch Bears slowed him enough.
The Bears “held” Harger — the state’s leading rusher in all classes — to 151 yards, and avenged a regular-season defeat by defeating No. 7 Alburnett, 21-13, in a Class 1A football quarterfinal Monday night at Oliphant Street Field.
Cade Jones outrushed Harger, netting 179 yards on 19 carries, including two touchdowns as the Bears (10-2) won their ninth straight game.
“We were 1-2, and a lot of people threw us under the bus,” said Bears Coach Butch Pedersen. “But the kids continued to believe in each other, and they showed what can happen when you keep the faith.”
West Branch is the only 11-man team in the state to reach the semifinals for the fourth straight year. The Bears face No. 10 Saint Ansgar in a semifinal Saturday at the UNI-Dome. Saint Ansgar (10-2) upended No. 3 Aplington-Parkersburg, 27-21, Monday.
Alburnett concluded its best season in school history at 11-1. The Pirates won their district — a run that included a 42-35 win over West Branch in Week 3 — and won their first two postseason games ever.
“You can’t help be proud of what we’ve done this season,” said Pirates quarterback Jacob Sevening. “Both teams improved a lot since we played last time, and (West Branch) really improved defensively.”
Alburnett held leads of 7-0 and 13-7, but the Bears took the lead for good at the end of the half, then relied on a ball-control offense and a slow-down defense to advance.
After Harger’s second touchdown gave the Pirates a 13-7 with 1:39 left in the half (they missed the PAT), a big kickoff return put the Bears in business in Alburnett territory.
Brandon Young’s 10-yard keeper for a touchdown tied the game with 0:03 left in the half, then Brandon Wasion added the extra point to give the Bears a 14-13 edge at intermission.
The Bears stopped Alburnett on the first possession of the second half, then Jones got loose on a counter for a 72-yard touchdown.
“Garett Lynch made a great block, and there was a lot of green ahead,” Jones said. “Our line made a statement tonight.
“We lost a couple of games early this season, and nobody gave us a chance. But we came back, and we’re going to the Dome.”
Alburnett drove deep into West Branch territory on the next drive, but the Bears held Harger to 3 yards on fourth-and-5 at the 10.
West Branch went on two clock-killing drives from there, a 7 1/2-minute march that ended at the Alburnett 16, then a final dagger that ran out the final 5:32.
Harger finished the season with 2,711 yards and 40 rushing touchdowns, including runs of 1 and 4 yards Monday.
The game featured just one turnover, but it was a key one.
With the Pirates up 7-0, Young intercepted Sevening at the Alburnett 40 and returned it to the 2. Jones dove into the end zone two plays later to knot the game.
“All week, we worked on watching their tight end on a drag play,” Young said. “I saw it coming and I cut in front of it.”
Young rushed for 64 yards and passed for 75, completing 7 of 12 passes.
West Branch 21, Alburnett 13
AT WEST BRANCH
|TEAM STATISTICS||Alburnett||West Branch|
|Rushes-yards||42 - 186||44 - 250|
|Comp-Att-Int||3 - 8 - 1||7 - 13 - 0|
|Fumbles-lost||1 - 0||0 - 0|
|Punts-average||2 - 35.0||2 - 49.0|
|Penalties-yards||1 - 5||4 - 40|
Rushing: Alburnett – Mitchell Harger 26-151 , Colton Martin 10-23 , Jacob Sevening 6-12 West Branch – Cade Jones 19-179 , Brandon Young 15-64 , Bo Bower 5-13 , Sid Thompson 1-0 , Tyler Donovan 1--1 , Team 3--5
Passing: Alburnett – Sevening 3-8-1-40 West Branch – Young 7-12-0-75 , Team 0-1-0-0
Receiving: Alburnett – Connor Frederick 1-20 , Martin 1-12 , Dylan Miller 1-8 West Branch – Bower 5-65 , Eli Elliott 1-14 , Thompson 1--4
SCORE BY QUARTERS
A - Mitchell Harger 1 run (Chaz Sorensen kick)
WB - Cade Jones 2 run (Brandon Wasion kick)
A - Harger 4 run (kick failed)
WB - Brandon Young 10 run (Wasion kick)
WB - Jones 72 run (Wasion kick)