By Matt Heinrichs
CEDAR FALLS -?Coming into the 2010 football season, there was a lot of talk about what the Armstrong-Ringsted football team had lost.
The Armstrong-Ringsted Mustangs celebrate after winning the 2010 8-man State Championship.
EDN photo by Matt Heinrichs
Now, at the end of the season, there will only be talk of what the Mustangs have won - a second straight state championship.
The Mustangs rebounded from a seven-point halftime deficit to defeat the top-rated Lenox Tigers on Friday in the 8-man Football State Championship game, 42-33, ending their season a perfect 14-0.
"It feels amazing," said A-R quarterback Spencer Clausen, who wrapped up his stellar career with his second state championship in four trips to the big game. "Being in the championship game all four years is something. Winning the last two kind of takes the bad taste away from losing the first two. We played a dang good football team and we were able to finish and get it done. Not many people thought we would be able to do it again, but we stuck together and we did it."
Clausen was named the Casey's Player of the Game after accounting for 374 of the Mustangs' 395 total yards of offense, with 174 on the ground and 200 through the air.
A-R Head Football Coach Robert Zotz couldn't say enough about his signal caller.
"Spencer is a fantastic athlete," said Zotz. "He had a great game in the championship last year and this year was really his year to shine. That kid is going to excel at whatever he chooses, whether he does football or basketball in the future. He's just a great kid and an absolutely great captain."
The Mustangs struggled to put together any offense against the Tigers in the first half, but eventually scored with just 44 seconds remaining in the second quarter as Clausen connected with Rezac on a 17-yard touchdown pass.
"That late score was big for us,"?said Zotz.?"If we would have went into the locker room down 14-0 it would have been unnerving a little bit, but we got the score and that gave us confidence."
The Mustangs made several key adjustments in the second half, but the most important proved to be in the passing game.
A-R used short passes over the middle to Tyler Feddersen to move the chains and took several shots down the field to Travis Hantelman that paid dividends.
"At halftime Coach Zotz said that we're just going to keep passing," said Hantelman. "We had a lot of changes that we made at halftime and we ended up getting them deep a couple times. It was a good call by Coach Zotz."
"Their linebackers were starting to play zone,"?said Feddersen. "So to get me open we started running crossing routes where I?could get the ball in space and make a move and it worked out for us."
"Our dangerous offense this year was the passing game and last year it was running," said Zotz. "So we didn't quite know how they were going to match up against us. They usually just like to man things up, stop the run and take their chances with man-to-man coverage. They switched some things up on us and confused our kids a little bit. At halftime we just settled them down, put the plays on the board, walked them through the adjustments and that's what it took in the second half."
The two teams battled back and forth throughout the second half as the lead changed hands five different times.
A-R led 34-27 with under five minutes to play before Lenox threatened to tie it up once again as Austin Christensen ran it in from six yards out to pull the Tigers within one point at 34-33.
Unfortunately for Lenox, kicker Landon Maynes missed his extra point attempt for the second time in the game and A-R held a one-point advantage that they would not concede.
The Mustangs scored again with just over two minutes remaining on the clock as Clausen took it in from 17 yards out and after Brett Thackery's extra point attempt split the uprights, the referees called a roughing the kicker penalty.
Zotz elected to take the penalty, moving the ball half the distance to the goal, and attempt a two-point conversion to put his team up two scores.
Fortunately, Dakota Odermann plunged into the end zone from a yard out to put the Mustangs up nine points with 2:04 left to play.
If the Mustangs were not successful on that two-point conversion, it would have only taken a touchdown and an extra point for Lenox to tie the game, but that was a gamble Zotz was willing to take.
"We did that all year long,"?he said. "In our quarterfinal game (against Graettinger-Terril) it was fourth-and two and we could have kicked an extra point and tied it, but we went for it and that's why we're here. You just don't tempt fate. If that's our destiny then that's what we're going to do."
On their ensuing possession, the Tigers went to the air and the Mustangs knew they had to make a defensive play to end the threat.
"The coaches kept telling us whoever has the ball last is going to win," said Odermann. "Whoever makes a big play on defense is going to win. We knew we had to make one big play. Last year's championship game it was one big play that swung momentum and that was (Brett) Thackery's interception. We knew we had to make one big play and we'd be good."
On third-and-28 with 1:09 on the clock, the junior linebacker did just that as he snagged a deflected pass and returned it to the Lenox 6-yard line before being tripped up.
"That was crazy," he said. "We knew we had two more plays and we would win it. It bounced of the receiver's hands and I was just in the right place at the right time. I wanted to get it in the end zone but we knew it was game then."
A-R then ran out the clock to earn the victory.
The underdog theme resounded throughout the postgame locker room for the No. 2 rated Mustangs.
"It feels amazing,"?said Odermann. "We had to face a good team. Not too many teams have won state back-to-back. The best thing of it all is that no one thought we could do it at the beginning of the year. Everyone doubted us, no one thought we could do it. To come back with this team, the coaches, those fans, it means a lot to us. Last time was good, but this time is better."
"It feels great," said senior Bryson Rezac. "The first one was great, but this one feels that much better just because of the fact that most people thought we couldn't do it and we came out and we did it and we did it undefeated."
Zotz echoed his players that this championship was a little more enjoyable.
"The first one was a great relief because we were here two years and we didn't get it," he said. "The first one was a great relief, this one is just a great joy. I came into this game not quite as tight as a drum because we've won one and we felt good about that. The monkey was off of our back so now we can just celebrate.
"You have two quality coaching staffs, two quality programs and both teams deserved a state championship this year. We were just fortunate that we got the breaks and we got the win."
A-R seniors playing in their final high school game were Clausen, Rezac, Hantelman, Clint David, Keith Mathine, David Leach and Nick Larsen.