No. 1 Cyclones end Humboldt's memorable campaign

Messenger photo by Britt Kudla: Humboldt surrounds a Class 3A state semifinal trophhy on Saturday at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls. For more photos, visit CU.messengernews.net

CEDAR FALLS — His eyes still red and tearful from the raw experience of a season-ending locker room scene, Caden Matson took a deep breath and tried to express his emotions following Humboldt’s Class 3A state semifinal loss to top-ranked Harlan here on Saturday night.

Matson courageously found words he knew were going to fall short of what he and his Wildcat teammates felt in their hearts. The senior quarterback’s program had hoisted a trophy some 10 minutes earlier on the UNI-Dome field in front of their loyal, roaring fanbase. A standing ovation ensued.

The mighty Cyclones (12-0 overall) had pulled away for a 45-19 victory. But that didn’t at all change the admiration the Humboldt community felt for their 2021 squad — nor did it dampen the spirits of a group who only stopped competing when the competition was no more.

“I really can’t put the feeling into words,” the resilient Matson admitted with a quiver in his voice. “We did everything we could and worked so hard. Even when (the senior class) went 2-7 as freshmen, our goal was always to make it here (to Cedar Falls) someday. We did that.

“We all hate losing and having it end like this, but when you look (down the sidelines) at your teammates and into the stands at this crowd — there’s nowhere else you’d rather be. We’re just thankful.”

Making their first UNI-Dome appearance since the championship campaign of 2006, the Wildcats didn’t go down without a fight in a game that was much closer than the final score indicated. Humboldt (11-1) trailed only 14-6 thanks to a spirited goal-line stand to end the first half, and head coach Derrick Elman’s team pulled within 14-12 right out of the gate in the third quarter when an errant punt snap bounced into the end zone and was recovered by Joe Weydert for a touchdown.

The noise from the Wildcat faithful again reached a fever pitch, much like it did when Matson sprinted up the middle on a quarterback draw for an 83-yard touchdown run barely over a full minute into the contest. Harlan didn’t panic, though, as the Cyclones used big plays on three consecutive third-period possessions to turn a precarious two-point advantage into a comfortable 35-12 edge.

“(Assistant) Coach (Derrik) Clark asked how many of us would take only being down 14-6 at halftime,” said Humboldt senior receiver Jacob Heier, who caught four passes for 93 yards and a score. “We all raised our hands. And then we got it to 14-12, so we were right in it. But they’re a good team and they made big plays when they needed to.

“This was just an awesome experience. Something we’ll always remember. To get to this point after where we started (as underclassmen) is really a testament to us putting in the time and being there for each other on and off the field. It was great to see so many people here and the student section supporting us — they’ve all been by our side every step of the way. I’m just happy we were able to have this moment together, even though it’s heartbreaking to know it’s over.”

The pinpoint passing of Cyclone junior Teagon Kasperbauer was the difference. He was 18 of 30 for 338 yards and four touchdowns, finding Jacob Birch twice — from 9 and 24 yards out in the first half — and Aidan Hall on a short toss that his classmate took 72 yards to paydirt in the third quarter.

The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Hall had also returned an interception 61 yards for a touchdown a few minutes before his offensive score.

The Wildcats forced two turnovers in the first half — one on a booming Will Orness punt that was fumbled away to Corey Dettmann, and another on a Matson recovery — but Humboldt was unable to capitalize on the miscues as the Harlan defense stiffened.

Matson had 169 yards passing and 89 rushing. Tanner McKimmey and Dettmann were the Wildcats’ tackling leaders.

The Cyclones converted eight times in 14 tries on third down. They added a touchdown in the closing minute to pad the final advantage.

“We struggled with some turnovers in the first half,” said Kasperbauer, who has now thrown for 3,034 yards and 44 scores this season. “The defensive came up with some big stops for us again (Harlan hadn’t allowed a point in its last four games before Saturday). We made some mental mistakes, but we got going and the offensive line did a great job providing protection.”

The Cyclones lost in the finals a year ago to North Scott, as Kasperbauer was intercepted seven times. Now they will try to make amends against fellow unbeaten Boyden-Hull/Rock Valley, which routed Solon in the other 3A semifinal, 42-0.

Elman will be losing 19 seniors from this season’s squad: Colby Lane, Nolan Lammers, Sam Numedahl, Christian Alacala, Carson Berte, Jacob Pedersen, Ryder Wickett, Jace Baker, Tracen Troyer, Daniel Illig, Levi Newton, Jackson Fischer, Ben Kuehnast, Casey Westling, Hayden Holm, Matson, Heier, Weydert and McKimmey. Humboldt had gone five consecutive years without posting a winning record before a 5-4 campaign in 2020 helped set the stage for this inspiring — and somewhat improbable — run.

When asked to provide a big-picture view of what his Wildcats had achieved despite Saturday’s setback, Elman smiled.

“There is no ‘perspective’ to put on this,” said Elman, who helped guide Humboldt to its first undefeated regular season since 1990. “(The loss) doesn’t diminish or change anything. This is the best year of football I’ve had in my coaching career, which is such a credit to the kids, my staff and our community.

“We knew coming in that in order to be the best, we had to beat the best. We had some opportunities, but your margin for error against (an opponent) like this isn’t much and we just didn’t have enough to hold them off. But it’s been incredible. All of it. I can’t thank our players, my staff and these fans enough. I know they’re hurt and disappointed now, but someday they’ll look back and realize what they accomplished was incredible — and all of the memories they made because of the chemistry and character they showed makes it even more special.”


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