CEDAR FALLS - All good things must eventually come to an end.
Third-ranked Newell-Fonda found that out the hard way here Thursday afternoon.
Making their first-ever UNI-Dome appearance, the Mustangs (12-1 overall) suffered a 56-7 setback to No. 1 Exira/Elk Horn-Kimballton (12-0) in an 8-man football state semifinal.
"I'm very proud of our young men for what they accomplished this season," said 13th-year N-F head coach Brian Wilken. "Unfortunately, what Exira-EHK did (yesterday) was better than what we did.
"This is always the best time of the year and the worst time of the year. The playoffs are obviously very exciting, but only six teams don't end their seasons with a loss. For the guys that may never play football again, hopefully they'll be remembered for more than just this game."
Stymied offensively throughout, the District 2 champion Mustangs were held to season lows in both total yards (161) and first downs (four). Following a pair of costly early turnovers, Newell-Fonda was left trailing 16-0 at the end of the opening quarter. Two of the first three drives for the Mustangs resulted in a fumble at their own 17-yard line and a pick-six.
Newell-Fonda0 0 7 0- 7
Exira-EHK 16 20 13 7-56
Exira-EHK - Drew Peppers (7-yard run), 9:07 left first. Zach Kliefoth kick.
Exira-EHK - Kliefoth (22-yard field goal), 5:53 left first.
Exira-EHK - Bret Johnson (15-yard interception return), 4:52 left first. Kick blocked.
Exira-EHK - D. Peppers (16-yard run), 10:34 left second. Kick blocked.
Exira-EHK - D. Peppers (60-yard run), 4:55 left second. Kliefoth kick.
Exira-EHK - D. Peppers (10-yard run), :52 left second. Kliefoth kick.
Exira-EHK - Nick Peppers (8-yard pass from D. Peppers), 7:07 left third. Kliefoth kick.
Newell-Fonda - Brady Bohe (61-yard run), 6:25 left third. Roberto Torres kick.
Exira-EHK - D. Peppers (1-yard run), :32 left third. Run failed.
Exira-EHK - Jarred Hansen (28-yard run), 6:06 left fourth. Kliefoth kick.
Rushing - Newell-Fonda: Brady Bohe 14-102, Gabe Podraza 10-23, Cole Wise 1-3, Dillon Anderson 1-(minus-2), Brady Dicks 1-(minus-7). Exira-EHK: Drew Peppers 20-182, Trey Sander 17-72, Nick Peppers 5-29, Jarred Hansen 4-27, Drew Buckholdt 3-8.
Passing - Newell-Fonda: Podraza 3-13-1-42. Exira-EHK: D. Peppers 7-9-0-94.
Receiving - Newell-Fonda: Bryce Nielsen 2-33, Anderson 1-9. Exira-EHK: Tate Simpson 2-64, N. Peppers 5-30.
"Turnovers were a huge part of this football game, which put us behind the 8-ball quickly," Wilken said. "We just couldn't ever recover from that."
Brady Bohe provided a bright spot for Newell-Fonda, contributing 102 rushing yards and a touchdown on 14 carries. Bohe spoiled Exira-EHK's bid for its third shutout this fall by breaking free for a 61-yard dash to paydirt midway through the third period. The 188-pound senior tailback finished his standout career with 3,922 yards and 59 scores on the ground - with 2,094 yards and 33 TDs coming this season alone.
As a unit, the Mustangs entered the semifinals third in 8-man in rushing yards (3,676), fourth in total points (651) and fourth in total offensive yards (4,786). Eight times this year, Newell-Fonda registered at least 50 points in a game.
"We didn't tackle or block well enough (Thursday), which are the two things you need to do this time of the year," said Wilken. "(The Spartans) obviously had an idea of what to expect in (the UNI-Dome) atmosphere, but the bottom line was we didn't get the job done."
Dual-threat junior signal-caller Drew Peppers was once again the catalyst for the Spartans, running 20 times for 182 yards and five TDs - from 7, 16, 60, 10 and 1 yard out. Peppers also went 7-for-9 through the air for 94 yards, including an 8-yard scoring strike to his older brother, Nick Peppers.
District 7 champion Exira-EHK, which was playing in its second consecutive state semifinal, accumulated 412 total yards and 14 first downs. Defensively, the relentless Spartans have now kept seven opponents in single digits this year.
Aside from Bohe, Gabe Podraza, Bryce Nielsen, Derek Wolterman, Dillon Anderson, Shawn Thompson, Roberto Torres, Carlos Gonzales, Kirk Weber, Andrew Temple and Dalton Anderson all closed out their Mustang careers on the gridiron. Over the past four years, Newell-Fonda compiled a 41-6 overall record.
"This was a special group of guys that raised the level of expectations for this football program," Wilken said. "We stayed the course and stayed focused on the journey. I could see our football team getting better each week."
With the loss, the Mustangs fell to 10-11 all-time in 11 postseason trips.
Exira/Elk Horn-Kimballton has qualified for the playoffs all four years as a joined program, notching an 8-3 mark.
Co-No. 1 Don Bosco (13-0) now awaits the Spartans in the 8-man title round here Thursday at 10:06 a.m. The reigning state runner-up Dons advanced with a 78-21 drubbing of fourth-ranked and previously unbeaten Adair-Casey.