CEDAR FALLS, Ia. — Dowling Catholic left no doubt.
The UNI-Dome rematch of West Des Moines’ famous rivalry was always going to the team seeking a Class 4A-record third straight state title.
The top-ranked Maroons shut down and shutout No. 4 Valley in the second half of Friday night’s semifinal, claiming a championship game spot with a 24-6 victory.
“They’re deep, they’re talented at all spots,” Valley coach Gary Swenson said after the loss, “and it’s tough to find a weakness.”
Dowling is already the first team since Valley’s run from 2002-05 to secure a place in three consecutive 4A title games. It’ll play Cedar Rapids Kennedy next week for the unprecedented large-class three-peat.
“We’ve been dreaming about this since we were little kids,” Dowling junior Jacob Zachary said. “It’s hard to explain the excitement. The energy level is so high right now.”
The two-time defending champions took control of their rivals in a decisive third quarter. With strength, size and a skillful knack for converting third-and-fives with six-yard plays, Dowling (12-0) turned two long drives into touchdowns.
Zachary got to finish them with short runs into the end zone, but they were shared celebrations with the offensive line and a defense that allowed the Tigers (11-3) just six yards and six offensive snaps in the quarter.
“I thought we played tremendous defensively,” Dowling coach Tom Wilson said. “Offensively, we did just enough. It was tough sledding there for a long time.”
Dowling’s domination turned the volume down on the traveling crowd. The prime-time head-to-head they expected was one-sided.
“We made a lot of mistakes,” Valley quarterback Rocky Lombardi said. “We killed ourselves.”
The teams exchanged field goals in the first quarter, struggling to establish their run games against aggressive defenses. Dowling’s Alec Hemann made a 30-yard kick after a low snap and bobble turned Valley’s opening drive punting attempt into a sack. The Tigers settled down on the next drive as Lombardi started a string of five straight completions, and Cole Hahn tied the game 3-3 with a 29-yard boot.
“I thought our defense played well enough to keep us in that game,” Swenson said. “But when you never have the ball, they’re going to break down eventually.”
The Maroons made an effort to pull away, like they did with defense in Week 4, but Valley came up with a fourth-down stop and an interception — receiver Michael Zachary threw a lob on a double reverse — on the next two series.
That coveted lead came eventually, after Jacob Zachary and J.T. Brown broke big runs to set up a third-down touchdown toss to senior tight end Stevie Sarcone. The 11-yard pass from Brown beat the Tiger blitz and put the Maroons up 10-3.
“That’s really what we hope to do with our tempo,” Wilson said. “To wear on them a little bit. I think tackling Jacob for a couple quarters wears on you, too.”
Hahn tacked on a 46-yard field goal before halftime, which made up for a 47-yard attempt banging the left upright in the first quarter. The points were a consolation, not a catch-up in a half that Valley was held to 88 yards of total offense.
That was an outpouring compared to the two first downs they managed in the second half.
“We felt good about our drives,” Lombardi said. “We felt like we were going to have a good second half and that we’d move the ball. Obviously, that was not the case.”
Brown split time with classmate Kurt Walding, as usual, but sat in the second half after taking a sideline hit on a 26-yard run. Walding finished with 89 of the team’s 105 passing yards and completed four of his six passes to receiver Tommy Wanek.
Lombardi’s favorite target, junior Austin Hinkle, was blanketed by a rugged Maroon secondary. A promising passing start fell apart once the Tigers had to chase the lead; the 6-foot-4-inch junior completed just one of his final 12 throws.
“At the line of scrimmage … it’s pretty simple,” Swenson said. “We couldn’t get anything moving at the point of attack. They were just better than us up front.”
Dowling won the Sept. 18 meeting over then-No. 1 Valley, 38-21. Friday night also finished with a three-score margin, but the suffocating effort was made more convincing with another championship on the line.
Since 2000, the winner of the regular season West Des Moines showdown is 8-0 in playoff rematches.
Dowling is scheduled to take on No. 3 Cedar Rapids Kennedy (13-0) for the 4A championship at 7:06 p.m. on Nov. 20 back at the UNI-Dome.
Valley 3 3 0 0—6
Dowling 6 3 7 14 0—24
DC–Hemann 30 FG
V–Hahn 29 FG
DC–Sarcone 11 pass from Brown (Hemann kick)
V–Hahn 46 FG
DC–J. Zachary 7 run (Hemann kick)
DC–J. Zachary 1 run (Hemann kick)
Rushing—Valley: Mason 16-45, Lombardi 11-29; Dowling: J. Zachary 30-111, Brown 9-50, Walding 8-49.
Passing—Valley: Lombardi 10-27-77-0; Dowling: Walding 6-9-89-0, Brown 3-4-16-0.
Receiving—Valley: Glinecki 1-19, Mason 2-16, Heald 3-15; Dowling: Wanek 4-65, Sarcone 2-29.