West Marshall advances in comeback fashion, 36-19

STATE CENTER – When West Marshall needed a big play, Duncan Ferch was there to provide it.

The Trojan senior scampered for 271 yards and five touchdowns, forced and recovered a fumble, and sealed West Marshall’s fourth straight opening-round win in the Class 2A state football playoffs with a fourth-quarter interception, spoiling Clarinda’s upset bid with a 36-19 victory Wednesday night.

The surprising Cardinals (4-6) caught No. 8-ranked West Marshall off-guard with their spin back offense but could not keep the momentum going after taking a 19-14 lead into the halftime locker room. Clarinda quarterback Blake Luna rushed for 155 of his season-high 183 yards in the first half, as West Marshall’s defense rose to long-time head coach Ken Winkler’s challenge after the intermission.

The Trojans (9-1) bristled after the break, surrendering just 86 yards and four first downs after getting gouged throughout the first half. Only five days removed from a decisive, 40-14 loss at Gilbert to end the regular season, West Marshall got back into form against Clarinda by simply executing the same plays they failed to finish in the first half.

“We played with a little bit of enthusiasm,” Winkler said of his team’s second-half resurgence. “It wasn’t anything we haven’t done before, we just needed to do it.

“I asked them at halftime if they were participating or competing. If they’re going to be competing then they’ve got to play better. We didn’t do anything different.”

The most repetitive part was running the ball, but doing it with a little more force. The Trojans’ inside runs were eliminated by Clarinda’s twin towers – 6-foot-2, 300-pound junior Jared DeVoe and 6-2, 280-pound senior Dakota Calfee – but a better effort on the edge, according to Winkler, opened the door for West Marshall’s all-state standout to do what he does best.

And boy, did he.

Ferch turned a third-and-2 run into a 65-yard touchdown to put the Trojans on the scoreboard first, and his 44-yard dash on fourth-and-1 answered Luna’s 58-yard scoring run.

But early-down struggles led to turnovers on downs for West Marshall’s offense, and Luna’s group capitalized with its mix of misdirection runs and a couple big passing plays. Jett Kettwick capped a 10-play, 76-yard drive with a 10-yard drive to paydirt, and the Trojans were held off the board in their next two possessions.

The Cardinals’ Troy Aldrich nailed field goals from 26 and 28 yards, the latter coming with 9.2 seconds left in the first half and sending Clarinda into the break with a 19-14 lead.

“I don’t think there’s even a lot of people on our side that thought we would be (ahead at the half),” said Clarinda coach Mark Schilb. “I think our team was just a little too satisfied.

“That Duncan Ferch is a heck of an athlete. Their offense is hard to measure and they’ve got some great skill guys. We couldn’t tackle No. 32. He’s faster and stronger than us.”

Ferch’s season-high 271 yards came on just 17 carries and his second-half touchdowns covered 25, 42 and 1 yards. The offense remained mostly unchanged for West Marshall, but the defense’s second-half shutout made all the difference.

“We were getting beat up front, we weren’t hitting the holes and their line was blocking better,” said Ferch. “They’re kind of big up front and we couldn’t move those two guys. We were running the same stuff (in the second half) but we did a better job, the line was blocking better.”

After scoring on four of their five first-half drives, the Cardinals were stopped twice to open the second half. After Ferch’s 42-yard touchdown run put West Marshall ahead 29-19 just 50 seconds into the fourth quarter, Ferch stripped Luna of the pigskin and recovered the loose ball himself.

Ten plays and 60 yards later, Ferch finished off the last scoring drive with a 1-yard plunge across the goal line.

In desperation mode, Luna’s deep pass into Trojan territory was picked off – by Ferch – and West Marshall ran out the clock from there.

Ferch also went 3-for-5 passing for 73 yards, helping to replace the void left after starting quarterback Matt Van Metre was knocked out of action with a concussion in the loss at Gilbert in Week 9.

Elijah Streeter added 25 yards rushing as West Marshall finished with 301 yards on 39 attempts. Nolan Sinning’s second pass reception of the year went for 35 yards, and Sam Sheer’s first catch was a 19-yard gain. Nick Juel had a 17-yard reception.

Trojan sophomore linebacker Jared Johnson led the defensive unit with 17 total tackles, helping West Marshall overcome its first-half surprise with a second-half shutout.

The victory earned West Marshall a trip into the second round and a rematch with Kuemper Catholic of Carroll. The Knights knocked the Trojans out of last year’s playoffs one game short of the semifinals and a second consecutive march to the UNI-Dome, winning 22-13 in State Center.

Monday’s 7 p.m. second-round pairing will be played at Carroll. The top-ranked Knights are 10-0.

“They beat us a year ago and they’re rated No. 1 in both polls, so hopefully our guys look at is as a really good opportunity,” said Winkler.