CEDAR FALLS - Never before in school history has the Newell-Fonda football team played a game inside the comforts of the UNI-Dome.
That will all change today when the third-ranked Mustangs (12-0 overall) battle No. 1 Exira/Elk Horn-Kimballton (11-0) in an 8-man state semifinal.
Kickoff is set for 12:06 p.m.
"Our kids have worked extremely hard and have been very committed and dedicated," said N-F head coach Brian Wilken, who has a 109-35 record in his 13 years at the helm. "We are an unselfish group that just plays with a tremendous amount of heart.
"What really stands out about this team is that we've had our backs against the wall a number of times, but this group just refuses to give in and keeps fighting, clawing and scratching. Hopefully, now we can scratch out a couple of more (victories)."
During its current playoff run, Newell-Fonda ousted Remsen St. Mary's (55-8), Graettinger-Terril/Ruthven-Ayrshire (52-26) and seventh-ranked and defending state champion Marcus-Meriden-Cleghorn (46-38). The Mustangs have outscored their opponents on the season by a lopsided combined margin of 651-197.
Outside of their quarterfinal triumph over the Eagles, Newell-Fonda has prevailed in every contest by at least 16 points.
As a unit, the District 2 champion Mustangs rank third in 8-man in rushing yards (3,676), fourth in total points and fourth in total offensive yards (4,786). Eight times this fall, explosive Newell-Fonda has registered at least 50 points in a game.
"I think it's pretty critical to get off to a good start in any football game, but we tell our kids that football games are long and playoff games are even longer," Wilken said. "The most important play you will have is the next one, so you need to give it your all on every play."
Brady Bohe, a 188-pound senior, has been the offensive catalyst for the Mustangs, producing 1,992 rushing yards and 32 touchdowns on 227 carries - numbers that rank fifth, eighth and seventh among all 8-man players. Quarterback Gabe Podraza, another senior, has added 874 yards and reached paydirt 18 times on the ground.
Podraza has also completed 41 of 70 passes for 977 yards, including 20 scores and five picks. Senior Dalton Anderson (25 catches, 563 yards, 11 TD) and twin brother Dillon Anderson (13-345-6) form a reliable receiving tandem for the blue and silver.
Defensively, Newell-Fonda has pitched one shutout and managed 29 takeaways - 16 interceptions and 13 fumble recoveries. Bohe has collected a team-high 132 tackles and two picks, while Dalton Anderson has notched five interceptions and recovered three fumbles.
Meanwhile, the District 7 champion Spartans easily downed CAM-Anita (65-0), Coon Rapids-Bayard (44-20) and No. 9 Glidden-Ralston (41-0) en route to Cedar Falls. Tom Petersen's Exira-EHK squad, which is making its second consecutive state semifinal appearance, is fifth in 8-man in rushing yards (3,576), seventh in total yards (4.621) and ninth in total points (563).
Junior dual-threat signal-caller Dalton Peppers has combined for 2,882 yards of total offense - 1,858 rushing and 1,024 passing - and 51 touchdowns.
"Offensively, they are led by a very talented young man and exceptionally good football player in Dalton Peppers," said Wilken of the Spartans. "His brother (Nick) plays middle linebacker and leads the defense. Those two young men raise the level of everybody around them."
Trey Sander, a senior, has chipped in 842 yards on 82 attempts, while finding the endzone on 13 occasions. Classmates Nick Peppers (17-426-6) and Tate Simpson (15-347-5) supply Exira-EHK with a pair of quality downfield options.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Spartans have forced 28 turnovers and held six foes to single digits, including two shutouts. Their closest game all season was the second-round triumph over the Crusaders.
Newell-Fonda sports a 10-10 mark in 11 all-time postseason trips, with eight of those coming since 2005.
Exira/Elk Horn-Kimballton has qualified for the playoffs in all four years as a joined program, accumulating a 7-3 record.
"What an exciting time for our kids, coaches, parents, school and community," Wilken said. "The great thing about high school athletics, especially in small towns, is how everybody gets behind us. I can't thank the fans enough."
Today's winner advances to face either co-No. 1 and last year's state runner-up Don Bosco (12-0) or fourth-ranked Adair-Casey (12-0) in the 8-man championship here Thursday at 10:06 a.m.