WYOMING - As a program who has regularly been in the playoffs each of the last six years, ending the season with a win is a tough proposition for all but six teams in the state of Iowa.
So, when Midland football coach Lennie Miller was weighing the pros and cons of playing a make-up 8-player football game with Dunkerton Thursday, Oct. 22, the chance to end the 2020 campaign with a win was one he and his team just couldn’t pass up.
“At the end of the day, that played a major factor in us deciding to play this game,” said Miller, as his team did indeed close the campaign with a coveted triumph, rallying for a 24-20 victory over the Raiders.
“Being a playoff team for as long as we have, it’s been quite a while since we’ve ended a season with a win, and I wanted to give these boys a chance to do that, and they took advantage. That, and we only had two home games this year and I also wanted to give the guys a chance to play on their own home field one more time.”
The win over the Raiders, a game that was scheduled to be played in Dunkerton, but was moved to Wyoming due to heavy rains in that area, allowed the Eagles to walk away with a season-ending victory for the first time since the program stunned state-ranked Springville back in 2012, taking a thrilling 30-29 decision closing a 6-4 campaign.
“That’s a good feeling to have heading into the off-season,” Miller said. “And I’m so happy for the kids to have been able to get it done. It may not have looked too good on the stat-sheet, but the boys made plays when they had to. We also get to end the year with a .500 record. To me, that’s huge too.”
The game itself got off to a slow start, for both offenses as the two teams tallied just one touchdown each in the entire first half, ending with Midland and Dunkerton in an 8-8 tie.
“The fact that we came out slow on the offensive end was also not a surprise,” Miller said. “Each and every game this season has required an emotional capital to carry us through, and for a game that pretty much had no meaning, I knew it might take us some time to get back on our feet emotionally and finish the season with a win. Once we got through the first couple of quarters of play, and once we adjusted to a new quarterback too, things seemed to get back to normal and we went out and played Midland football in the final two quarters.”
It was the Raiders who struck first scoring on a 28-yard pass play on their second possession of the game before Midland answered back with Caden Ballou, taking over the quarterback duties for Carson Hunter, who left with a knee injury.
“Caden responded to his opportunity and played a good game,” said Miller, as Ballou raced 41 yards through the Dunkerton defense and into the end zone as the horn sounded ending the first quarter.
“I thought Caden was the breakout player of the game. We played to his strengths, which is running the football, and he did his job and did it well. Caden runs with a certain viciousness and he was able to find that for us and delivered with some big plays.”
After Ballou added the two-point conversion, the game was tied 8-8 and stayed that way through a scoreless second quarter.
The Raiders opened the scoring in the second half as well to once again take a lead (14-8), but the roller-coasted ride was on as Ballou ended a six-play, 37-yard drive with a four-yard touchdown plunge. After a Cayden Miller two-point conversion run, the hosts led 16-14 at the third quarter horn.
Again, it didn’t last.
Dunkerton added another score with 8:41 to play in the game taking a 20-16 lead they hoped would be enough to win.
It wasn’t, and was extremely short-lived.
“I thought during the course of the game Caden did a great job of finding his rhythm as a play-caller and a passer,” Miller said. “He delivered the game-winner for us in the fourth quarter.”
A mere 10-seconds after the Raider touchdown had the Eagles in a four-point hole, Ballou drilled a perfect strike to receiver Jamisen Dodge for a sensational 38-yard passing score.
After Jake Arnell hauled in a huge two-point conversion, Midland was back out in front with a four-point lead.
This time, it would stick.
“Our defense has been so good all season long, I knew they weren’t about to give up this late lead,” Miller said. “Our offense made the plays they needed to make and our defense did what they always do. This was a great way to end the year.”
The Eagles were held to a mere 152 yards of total offense, with Ballou leading the ground game rushing for 88 yards on 18 carries while also completing 4-of-6 passes for another 79 yards through the air.
Midland closes the 2020 campaign with a 4-4 overall record.