by Steve Peterson
Practice and snow are two words football teams love to hear this time of year.
Such was the case for Akron-Westfield Head Coach Eric Walkingstick, whose team survived a tough test in a 19-7 First Round Class A playoff game against Prairie Valley, Gowrie before a large home crowd Oct. 24.
“It was the second seed (A-W from District No. 1) against a third seed (Prairie Valley). We knew they would be a quality opponent; they almost beat West Hancock (an 8-6 loss). It was a hard hitting game. Our guys kept battling and overcame a quality team to advance. It’s great to be alive,” said Walkingstick.
A-W notched its ninth win of the season with the victory, and faced West Hancock, also 9-1 record, in Britt in the second round Oct. 29. The Westerners made the second round for the second straight year.
Junior Chance Hoffman caught two touchdown passes from Cory Eskra, the first from 67 yards out that tied the game. Taylor James rushed for 115 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries. Hoffman made three catches all night, but topped 100 yards. His second touchdown catch from 27 yards out sealed the win late in the fourth quarter.
The defense came through big time, forcing turnovers to set up two of the A-W touchdowns. A-W gained two interceptions.
“The team has done everything we have asked and more. They’re great kids, on and off the field and showed a lot of class tonight,” said Walkingstick.
The Warriors scored first on a 27-yard run by their 1,000-yard rusher, senior Mason Gordon. The Point After Touchdown (PAT) made it 7-0 on the second play of the second quarter.
Hoffman caught a Cory Eskra pass over the middle and raced to the Prairie Valley end zone for the game-tying score on the very next play. James added the PAT for a 7-7 tie.
An interception by Cole Oltmanns led to the A-W go-ahead score, a 30-yard run by James with 5:40 left in the third quarter for a 13-7 lead. A two-point conversion run failed.
That loomed large but the A-W defense was more than up to the task. A-W got two more fumble recoveries, one they kept as Chet Willer made the play. Dylan Myers had an interception and the interior defense rose to the challenge of Gordon and Co., a quality 6-3 team. Junior John Wolthuizen had a key late-game sack on the Warriors’ last drive.
Willer’s fumble recovery led to some runs by James and Eskra which set up the acrobatic catch by Hoffman, with just over two minutes left.
West Hancock, the District No. 2 champion, was downing Woodbury Central, 36-20, in Britt. A-W was trying to do on Monday what West Sioux and Gehlen Catholic had failed to do in recent years in the second round, beat West Hancock, which was 9-1 overall.
A-W statistics – season (through nine games):
James had 1,489 yards on 204 yards rushing and 21 touchdowns. He also had 27 punts, for 891 yards, 33.0 average, 71 long. On defense, he had one interception for a touchdown, one fumble recovery, and 58 total tackles. He was 12-for-12 in PAT tries, and had nine kickoff returns, one for a 95-yard touchdown. He also had 12 punt returns for 165 yards, an average of 13.8, 28 catches for 267 yards and a 9.5 average with four touchdowns, with the longest touchdown reception going for 68 yards. He totaled 1,528 total yards in nine games in the regular season. He was even 3-for-8 for 39 yards passing. James totaled 181 total points; 120 via the run; 24 on touchdown receptions; three on a field goal; 12 on PATs; 4 on 2-point conversions and 18 on returns.
Eskra was 91-for-159 passing, 1,127 yards; 112 rush attempts for 476 yards; 1,603 total yards; 7.9 yards per rush-completion, and 15 touchdowns. He accounted for 30 points; 24 on rushing, 6 on returns. On defense, he had 31 total tackles.
Hoffman, in the regular season, had 701 yards receiving on 40 catches; 17.5 yards per reception; with 8 touchdowns for 48 points plus one 2-point conversion. He had 16 tackles total on defense with one for a loss.
Willer, a senior, had 42 total tackles. He had 81 yards rushing in 14 attempts, was 1-for-1 passing for a 27-yard touchdown; scored three touchdowns total and 22 points, including four two-point conversions. He also had two fumble recoveries.
Also contributing big for A-W this regular season:
Senior Oltmanns had 31 total tackles and two fumble recoveries.
Senior Chance Gant had 51 total tackles.
Senior Daniel Beitelspacher had 90 total tackles, 2 fumble recoveries and handled the A-W kickoffs.
Wolthuizen totaled 38 total tackles; had 2 tackles for loss and 2 solo sacks; 4 fumble recoveries; a 14-yard reception for a touchdown.
Senior Myers had 20 total tackles.
A-W chain gang member Gary Tucker had a challenge. The city administrator for Hawarden had a councilors’ meeting at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday to conduct then rushed to the game on time.
Several West Sioux football coaches and community members were there, which was good to see.
Prairie Valley was indeed a tough test for the Westerners. They have a lot to be proud of in a 6-4 season.
Elsewhere Hinton beat Mason City Newman Catholic 40-20 as District No. 1 had a 3-1 record; West Lyon, whom would loom large for a rematch for the Nov. 2 winner from the Britt survivor, won handily. Out east, Lynnville-Sully won its first round game. The Hawks are coached by A-W alum Mike Parkinson. Le Mars, coached by former West Sioux Athletic Director and football coach Gabe Tardive, lost a Class 3A first round game.
There was a great crowd on hand Wednesday, and the weather held up about as well as expected, before Thursday morning’s snow. But no one seemed to mind that, as football season continues.