West Des Moines, Ia. — What does victory smell like? On Friday, the scent was burnt popcorn.
No. 10 Valley beat Dowling Catholic 78-67 despite a distracting 20-minute delay when a popcorn machine sent clouds of smoke pouring into the area outside Valley’s gym.
Fire alarms buzzed, and a crowd estimated at 2,700 was evacuated.
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Players were going through layup drills preparing for the second half when the alarms sounded. Valley’s players started heading out of the gym when they encountered caramel corn that had turned to something resembling charcoal.
“We looked through the doors, and it was smoky and foggy,” said Clint Boffeli, who scored 21 points. “We just had to wait until it was over.”
The Tigers (12-3) handled the break without stress. The players went to the locker room and waited for the fire marshal to let them back onto the court.
“We were all hanging out,” Valley guard Peter Nixon said. “We were all smiling and joking.”
Valley returned and scored 45 points in a second-half shooting display that was — well, smoking by any standards.
Peter Jok poured in 25 points after halftime and finished the night with 37 in the CIML Western Division game.
In perhaps the biggest game for the teams all season, a crowd that paid $7,000 in admission fees was ushered out of the stands.
A TV crew featuring Larry Morgan and Wade Lookingbill paused their tape-delayed broadcast while the gym was cleared. Two radio stations and a newspaper reporter also interrupted their duties.
In the school hallways, fans lingered or stepped outside in an orderly, if slow fashion.
“By law, you have to have evacuate everyone,” Valley activities director Brad Rose said. “As soon as we could let everyone back in, we did.”
Most of the fans returned to their seats.
The popcorn meltdown wasn’t a first for Valley.
In 1992, a girls’ game was derailed by an overheated machine.
In 1993, a boys’ game suffered the same fate. Both games resumed and were completed.
Nixon said the alarms had been tested at times during practice, so the noise was familiar to the players.
At first, they thought it might have been another test, he said.
Dowling (11-4) also adjourned for the smoke break.
The team outscored Valley 24-22 in the fourth quarter. Dowling made five 3-pointers in the final period. Jack Green sank four of them.
Green finished the game with 15 points, all on 3-pointers. Jon Wisnieski led Dowling with 17 points. Peter Odia added 16.
Jok scored 12 points in the third quarter. He made three 3-pointers during that span, including a four-point play when he was fouled.
The Iowa basketball recruit made all nine of his free-throw attempts in the game.
Valley made 13 free throws in the fourth quarter.
Boffeli scored eight of his points in the final period. Jok had 13, including all eight of his free-throw tries.
“We really came together as a team,” Nixon said. “When we got to the free-throw line, we made it count.”
Valley sank 12 3-point baskets in the game. Jok made six, Boffeli three and Luke Umble three.
Dowling also had a hot hand when it came to 3-pointers. The team made eight of them.
Umble finished with 11 points.
Thanks to Prep Rally for the heads up.