WEST BRANCH — As the ball fell to the ground, so did Cole Cook. The West Branch quarterback’s legs couldn’t support him any longer. When he fell to his knees, they couldn’t do the job either. His facemask dug into the ground has he buried his face in the grass at The Little Rose Bowl.
At the same time the Iowa City Regina defense bolted to their sideline — hands waiving above their head in celebration of the failed two-point conversion. As Cook lay on the ground, hiding the euphoria from his sight, he had nothing to be ashamed of. Neither team did in a 15-13 instant classic where Regina came out on top.
“I’m because I was very, very proud of my nephew,” Regina head coach Marv Cook said of the West Branch QB. “You know I’m just proud of the young man he is and how he handled himself and how you led his team down there and gave his team a chance at the end.”
When Cook finally rose to his feet and walked to the sideline with six seconds remaining in the game, he arrived to the sound of applause from the West Branch crowd. In a game that was six seconds from being final, it could have been a heartbreaking moment for Bears fans. Instead, both sides proudly cheered for their teams, as Regina and West Branch put on a show that soon won’t be forgotten.
“We have very intelligent football people here,” West Branch head coach Butch Pedersen said. “If you see an effort like that out of high school kids, you’ve got to really reward them with the support that we give them. We’re very lucky that this is a football community and we had tremendous support tonight.”
The play that drew the loudest support from those wearing red and black was the touchdown that set up the two-point conversion attempt. With his team down 15-7, Cook roamed in the pocket on fourth and goal from the eight yard line. He back-pedaled, back pedaled some more, then with three Regal defenders draped on his back, he heaved a pass toward the endzone. Senior Austin Hills came down with the prayer with 6.5 seconds remaining, bringing the Bears within two and igniting a celebration similar to that of Regina’s seconds later.
“A guy kind of had me on the back, I just rolled as much as I could and kind of chucked it,” Cole Cook said. “Hills was right there so it was just kind of luck was in our favor there.”
It quickly went out of its favor. The two-point conversion looked doomed from the start — much like the touchdown pass to Hills — and with pressure in his face, Cole heaved another prayer into the endzone. This one was batted away by a Regal defender.
“My heart was beating, then it kind of stopped when it went into the air, then right when it hit the ground I was fired up,” Regina running back Riley Dixon said. “I was ready to go give my teammates a hug, so it was an unbelievable feeling.
The celebration may have never happened without the junior tailback, who finished with 119 yards. Having rushed for 38 yards in the first half, Dixon amassed 81 in the second half. He totaled 65 in the fourth quarter alone. Five of those came from a plunge into the endzone to put the Regals up 15-7.
At that point, Regina had scored 15 unanswered. It erased a first half performance it would like to forget. The Regals totaled 48 yards — 24 passing, 24 rushing. Meanwhile, the Bears totaled nearly 191, yet they only had a seven point advantage. A dropped pass in the endzone late in the second, followed up by an interception highlighted the missed opportunities.
“Yeah, possibly, yeah, we could have been up more,” Pedersen said. “But that’s football. That’s football.”
For the fans in attendance it set up as entertaining a finish as they’ll ever see.
The first half woes were passed onto West Branch.The Bears’ Cade Jones struggled to find any room rushing. After 80 yards in the first half, the running back had just nine yards on four carries in the second half.
In fact prior to its final drive, the West Branch offense ran just 14 plays. Dixon had 17 second half carries by himself.
Meanwhile the Regals awoke from their first-half hibernation on the first possession of the second half. Regina marched down the field, 70 yards on nine plays to make it 7-6. After an offsides penalty on the PAT, Regina went for two and got it.
“First drive of the second half, we knew we had to get something,” Regina quarterback Mark Ward said. “It’s not a must drive because it’s not that (late in the game) but it’s a great thing to get after halftime.”
Once they got it, they never let go recording their 31st consecutive win.
“That’s what high school football is all about,” Marv Cook said. “I’m just glad Regina came out on top and I’m glad the rivalry is back.”