A ‘Dog Day in the Dome

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Sam Martin/DCN Grant Waller (left) and Ross Wesselmann celebrate Van Meter’s 21-0 quarterfinal victory over Ogden on Nov. 8. The Bulldogs will face St. Edmond of Fort Dodge on Saturday at 1 p.m. in the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls. It’s the team’s third trip to the semifinals, but first to the dome.
Mike Ketelsen/DCN  Grant Hoppes breaks up a pass intended for Ogden’s Jake West.
Sam Martin/DCN Parker Suckow (top) and Logan Crawford wrap up Ogden's Austin Lentz for a loss of yards.

Van Meter stiff-armed Ogden 21-0 on Nov. 8 to reach the semifinals this Saturday in Cedar Falls.

It’s the Bulldogs’ third semifinal appearance, and first since 1996, but first trip to the UNI-Dome. Van Meter (12-0) will face St. Edmond (12-0) at 1 p.m.

“It’s pretty exciting,” said senior Grant Hoppes, who did his part with two interceptions, a blocked punt and a touchdown reception. “We’ve been dreaming of it since we were young, and it’s coming true.”

Ogden (10-2) entered the game averaging 375 yards of offense per game, but was held to just 250 by Van Meter. Quarterback Caleb Frye, who threw for 284 yards in the teams’ regular season meeting, was just 11-of-22 for 151 yards in the rematch.

But Van Meter’s crowning achievement came in the fourth quarter, as the defense stopped Ogden four attempts from inside the 1-yard line.

“That’s all guts, there’s no other way to say it,” coach Eric Trudo said. “That’s all guts and giving it your all.”

The offense then engineered a seven-play, 99-yard drive to go up 21-0 and effectively book a trip to Cedar Falls. Cody Blackwell, whose third-down, 43-yard carry took the team to midfield, completed the drive with a 4-yard run.

“I’m kind of speechless over that,” Trudo said. “We were just looking for a first down, Cody made a heck of a cut and got us out of there and we put it together from there.”

Van Meter took a 7-0 lead midway through the first quarter, when Brandon Brittain capped an eight-play, 63-yard drive with his 16th rushing touchdown of the season. The Bulldogs added a second touchdown in the third quarter when Brittain hit Hoppes on a crossing route, who ran untouched for a 60-yard touchdown.

“I dropped a touchdown on the exact same play earlier,” Hoppes said. “I didn’t expect it to come to me (again), but I got it.”

Brittain and Blackwell each topped the 100-yard rushing mark together for the fourth time this season. Brittain ran for 140 yards and was also 7-of-14 passing for 117 yards. Blackwell carried 18 times for 119 yards.

Logan Crawford collected a team-high 15 tackles. Ben Engstrand had seven, and Ben Trent and Spencer Benton each had six.

“We’ve improved all season long,” Trudo said. “You always have that big vision out there, but when you’re in a position to get there, it becomes real.”

Van Meter broke the school record for wins in a season with 12. The Bulldogs won 11 in both 1994 and 1996, the team’s two previous semifinal appearances.

“This was always our goal,” Brittain said. “Not necessarily an undefeated season, but just making it and getting there. We’re finally there.”

Both Van Meter and St. Edmond will be making their UNI-Dome debuts on Saturday. Both schools sport 12-0 records, and both have outscored opponents by an average of more than 25 points this season - the Gaels a 28.8 average, the Bulldogs a 26.6 advantage.

A two-headed rushing attack has paid dividends for the Gaels, who beat South O’Brien 42-3 in the quarterfinals. Senior Vinnie Harvey has run for 1,458 yards and 32 touchdowns, while T.J. O’Tool has run for 1,241 yards and 13 scores.

Blackwell has run for 1,403 yards and 18 touchdowns for Van Meter, while Brittain has run for 1,145 yards and 16 touchdowns.

For the Bulldogs, the approach on Saturday is simple: Do what’s got them this far.

“Just keep on playing like we’ve been playing,” Hoppes said. “Play together, play as a team, and trust that our skills and team work will pay off.”

Defending champion Iowa City Regina (12-0) will face North Fayette Valley (11-1) in the other semifinal beginning at 10 a.m. The Class 1A championship is Nov. 22 at 11 a.m.

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