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Rebels run over Akron-Westfield for title

Gladbrook-Reinbeck collects first-ever state football championship a year after runner-up finish

November 29, 2015
ROSS THEDE - Central Iowa Press , Reinbeck Courier

CEDAR FALLS - Now, John Olson, you can talk about championships.

Gladbrook-Reinbeck's head football coach of 10 years has been so focused on the process that he hasn't been able to enjoy the journey. But there, near the 50-yard-line with the Class A state football championship trophy in his arms and his team surrounding him, Olson finally surrendered to the moment.

The Rebels had reached their long-awaited destination.

Article Photos

Gladbrook-Reinbeck senior tailback Eric Stoakes (30) runs away from Akron-Westfield’s Tristin Golden (43) for a 53-yard touchdown run en route to a record-setting performance in the Rebels’ 52-20 Class A state championship win Thursday at the UNI-Dome.
Photo by Ross Thede

Thanks to a 28-point outburst in the opening quarter, seventh-ranked Gladbrook-Reinbeck withstood Akron-Westfield's comeback and then stomped on the gas pedal for a 52-20 victory on Thursday afternoon at the UNI-Dome for the school's first-ever state football title.

"We don't talk about championships, we talk about doing things the right way all the time and I told the kids after the game got over, 'Now we can talk about a championship because we have it," Olson said. "It's there, we can say we're the best. Are we the best team in the state? I don't know ... but we're the best team in this playoff and we're the best team this year, so that feels really good to say that."

Senior tailback Eric Stoakes set the Class A championship game rushing record with 282 yards to go along with four touchdown runs, and the Gladbrook-Reinbeck defense rose to the challenge of facing the state's top passing attack. The Rebels held Akron-Westfield quarterback Cal Eskra to just 191 passing yards, 64 more rushing and a lot fewer points than the Westerners needed to keep pace with a G-R squad intent on erasing memories of last year's title game defeat.

The Rebels (12-2) gained 229 of their season-high 471 yards of offense in the first quarter alone, hitting Akron-Westfield's statistically sub-par defense with one big play after another. Stoakes took G-R's second play from scrimmage 79 yards for the opening score, quarterback Jake Schuman capped the Rebels' second and third possessions with 32- and 45-yard touchdown runs, and Erik Knaack helped turn his interception into a 28-0 lead with a 14-yard TD catch moments later.

Just 9 minutes, 29 seconds into its second consecutive state championship game, Gladbrook-Reinbeck seemed to have redemption in hand.

Against an Akron-Westfield squad averaging 35 points per game, however, the Rebels knew better. The Westerners (11-3) opened the second half by recovering back-to-back onside kicks, Eskra threw a pair of touchdown passes and the unranked gunslingers were quickly within two possessions, 28-12.

A third straight onside kick attempt came up empty, and Gladbrook-Reinbeck made it hurt. Stoakes took the next handoff 52 yards to paydirt, tip-toeing the sideline to put the Rebels back up 35-12 with 5:05 left in the third quarter.

"Olson is always telling us to go on to the next play strong, never quit," said G-R senior fullback/linebacker Josh Cooley. "We did let them score quite a few but in the end we fought back and we scored and made a bigger cushion, but it was intense."

Considering the 596 yards Eskra and company piled up in their state semifinal win over Mount Ayr, the Rebels' lead felt far from safe. But a 12-play, 56-yard drive that absorbed 4:04 off the clock and ended in Walker Thede's 27-yard field goal put Gladbrook-Reinbeck up by three scores, 38-20.

Knaack picked off Eskra's next pass attempt, Stoakes sprinted 53 yards to the end zone two plays later, and the dramatic third quarter had instantly become a distant memory. The Westerners turned the ball over on downs on their next possession, Stoakes went 21 yards around left end for the final touchdown on the next play from scrimmage, and the Rebels were champions at long last.

"It means a lot (to me) and it means a lot to the fans and all the players because we practiced hard and fought hard all year and everybody deserves it and everybody earned it," said Stoakes, who got the bulk of the Rebels' Class A title game-record 384 rushing yards. "We thought we could run on them like we did, but we knew we had good receivers and a good quarterback, and everything was going to fit together in balance so it was good."

Schuman accrued 89 yards rushing and 87 more through the air, going 8-for-13 with a touchdown and no interceptions. G-R's defense held his counterpart Eskra to 17-for-42 passing for 191 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions.

Thede pulled down an interception in the end zone to squelch Akron-Westfield's first possession of the third quarter, temporarily spelling the momentum the Westerners got with their onside kick recovery.

"They run a great defense, they're well coached and they have a great team," Eskra said of the Rebels, who held the Westerners' offense to 104 yards below their average 398 per game. "Their linebackers are all great players, they're a great team. It's a championship caliber team we just went against and they did a good job."

Olson concocted a new formation of three down linemen and two linebackers behind them to slow Akron-Westfield's run game and left the rest of the defense in zone coverage, taking away free space for the Westerners' able-bodied wideouts to roam.

The coverage scheme worked to near-perfection, and certainly well enough to help the Rebels hoist the trophy they wanted to take home a year ago.

"We played pretty well the whole game and got what we came here for so we're going home champs," said senior lineman Tyler Eiffler. "(Last year) got us the feeling of how it is in the Dome and we didn't come to play for second. This year we came back and got the 'W.' I'm just happy we're champs. It's awesome."

"It's huge, it's everything we've ever wanted and we've dreamed about since we were 4," added Knaack, a junior. "It's just the best feeling in the world."

Senior linebacker Colton Dinsdale led Gladbrook-Reinbeck's defense with 10 solo and two assisted tackles. Cameron Murphy had five stops, including two for loss, and a quarterback sack.

"It's exciting for the fans, crowd, parents, we get to put a banner on the wall," Olson said, "all that stuff is so awesome for the community and Rebel Nation, and so I'm just honored and proud to be a coach in the community."

Notebook

Gladbrook-Reinbeck was playing in the state finals for the third time in school history. The Rebels were runners-up in Class 1A in 2004 and last year's runner-up in Class A. ... Eskra finished the season with 3,879 yards passing, the third-best single-season total in Iowa history. Marshalltown's Blake Gimbel threw for 3,979 yards in both 2011 and 2012, and in three fewer games. Eskra's 43 touchdown passes rank fourth all-time as well. ... Gladbrook-Reinbeck's 384 rushing yards and 481 total yards were both season-bests, while Akron-Westfield's 195 passing yards were the most the Rebels allowed this season. ... Akron-Westfield attempted 43 passes in the game, surpassing North Tama's Class A title game record of 42 from 2008. Eskra's 42 attempts matched the record set that same year by Wyatt Hanus of North Tama.

 
 

 

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