GLADBROOK - The Gladbrook-Reinbeck football team had the defending champions on the ropes.
The Rebels went toe-to-toe with one of the state's best teams, held a halftime lead and were in front of Wapsie Valley for a good portion of the fourth quarter.
But championship teams find a way to win and that's what the Warriors did as Stone Kane scored his third touchdown of the game with 53 seconds left on the clock and second-ranked Wapsie Valley escaped 'The Pit' with a 20-15 victory during a cold and windy Class A quarterfinal contest Friday.
"We knew before the game started that a really awesome team was going to lose and a really awesome team was going to win," said Gladbrook-Reinbeck coach John Olson said. "That is what happened tonight. They made a couple more plays than we did."
Kane finished with 156 rushing yards on 17 carries and Ethan Kleitsch added 131 yards on 26 carries as the Warriors outgained the Rebels 338-267.
The Warriors also caught a break when G-R senior Chase Clark, Class A's leading rusher, went down with a hamstring injury in the first few minutes of the third quarter. Clark finished with a season-low 84 yards on 22 carries.
Kane was the difference-maker though, scoring all three of the Warriors' touchdowns. He put Wapsie Valley up 7-0 with a 4-yard run in the second quarter and then put the Warriors back into the lead two different times in the fourth with an 18-yard touchdown reception and a 1-yard plunge in the final minute.
"We talked about how bad we wanted this before the game," said Kane, who battled some cramping issues in the second half. "The line blocked great all night. When we are in a tough situation, we have a lot of guys we can turn to, I just happened to be that guy tonight. I just wanted to help the team the best I could."
The Warriors (12-0) remained unbeaten on the season, but they got the Rebels' best shot. Wapsie Valley was held 26 points under its season scoring average of 46 and G-R scored nine more points than the Warrior defense had allowed per game this season.
"Our defense was pretty darn good all night long," said Olson. "It just had to be gap integrity. I was proud of the defensive effort. We knew they liked to cut it back. There was nothing tricky about it."
Clark entered the game with 2,038 yards and 25 touchdowns but the Warriors held him in check for most of the night. The senior did haul in a 23-yard pass from Camden Kickbush with 2 seconds to go until halftime.
The touchdown came on a fourth-and-goal from the 23 and Clark's two-point conversion gave the Rebels an 8-7 lead at the break.
The other touchdown for G-R came on a third-and-20. This time, Dustin Dinsdale took the handoff from Kickbush and found a wide open Josh Cooley on the reverse pass. Cooley did the rest of the damage with his legs as he scampered 85 yards for the go-ahead score.
"When you are stopping what they do and they are stopping what we do, you have to go to something different," Olson said of the unconventional touchdowns scored by the Rebels. "When you are a really good football team, you weren't forced to do that stuff all year. We spent tons of time on that reverse pass because we knew at some point in time, we were going to have use it, and we did tonight."
Credit Wapsie Valley though for not giving up after losing the lead for the second time in the game.
The Warriors started their final drive on their own 16 and drove it the length of the field in 14 plays. A steady diet of Kane did most of the damage as the senior fullback gained 30 yards on the possession and capped it off with the game-winning score.
"We had to get the ball to Stone as much as possible," said Wapsie Valley coach Tony Foster. "We didn't get it to him enough before that, but it was his time tonight. It was one of those games that you win and aren't sure how the hell you did it. It is because the kids have a lot of heart. But that team over there is good, too."
The Rebels had one last chance to regain the lead but Kickbush could only complete a 14-yard pass to Wyatt Swanson on the final drive.
Clark returned to the game to play defense in the fourth quarter but Olson said he just wouldn't have been as explosive of a tailback as the Rebels were used to seeing. Plus, G-R has a capable backup in Eric Stoakes.
It just wasn't the home team's night though.
"His hamstring was hurt pretty bad," Olson said. "For him to step on the field and play defense was a big deal for us. He just couldn't go at running back and we have a lot of confidence in our back up. We didn't call anything different because we expect the next guy in to pick up the slack."
The Rebels ended the season at 9-3. And even though the year ended earlier than G-R had hoped, the program took a step in the right direction after reaching the state quarterfinals.
"We wanted homefield advantage for three games," Olson said. "To do that we needed to get a district title which has never happened here. The second step was to win two playoff games and go to the quarterfinals, the step after that is 'hey if we get beat by Wapsie Valley then we get beat by them.' We played a really good game.
"The bad thing is that we seem to lose to the eventual champions or the defending champions or Dike-New Hartford. We just can't seem to get over the hump. The difference I feel is that the hump is moving. It's going the right direction."
The Warriors return to the state semifinals and the UNI-Dome after hoisting the championship trophy last season. Now, the two teams which are tied for second in the latest rankings - Wapsie Valley and BGM (12-0) - will face off at 10 a.m. Friday. The other Class A semifinal pits No. 1 West Lyon (12-0) against fourth-ranked AHST (12-0) at 1 p.m.
"We were a part of that championship team last year and we know what it takes," said Kane. "We knew we would have a target on our backs. That has been our motivation this year."
Foster is just happy the 2013 Warriors get a chance to write their own script.
"I am proud of them. They have heard so much about last year's team, but they want to make their own mark - of course they do," said Foster. "We had a great team stand in our way. (G-R) was fantastic and they played the perfect defense for us."