CEDAR FALLS — Only two teams can play in the final 8-player football game of the season.
Don Bosco has made it a habit of being one of them.
For the sixth time in the eight seasons since the Dons converted to the 8-player game, they will be playing for the state championship Thursday at 10 a.m. in the UNI-Dome.
“It’s a testament to my coaching staff and our kids,” said Don Bosco head coach Colby Yoder, whose program is 94-6 in 8-player after last week’s 50-6 beatdown of No. 2-ranked Turkey Valley in the semifinals. “We just try to play the game the right way.”
Fourth-ranked Audubon (12-1) is the last obstacle in the Dons’ path to a fourth title. It’s the first trip to the finals as an 8-player team for the Wheelers, who were a Class 3A program when they last played for a title in 1977.
“They’ve got a lot of skilled players, and they’re well-coached,” said Yoder. “It’s responsibility football. You’ve got to find a way to lock down a few guys. They are run-oriented. They spread you out and they’ve got a couple of really good runningbacks.
“They use a little trickery with those guys, too. They keep you on your toes for sure.”
Audubon has averaged 46.5 points, 238 rushing yards and 117.9 passing yards per game. The Wheelers gain 6.9 yards per play. Defensively, Audubon has allowed 21.5 points per game and has 24 takeaways (17 interceptions).
It’s another challenge for a Don Bosco defense that has surrendered an average of 8.8 points per contest while piling up 36 takeaways, including 23 interceptions.
Eight opponents have managed a touchdown or less against the Dons.
“All year we have been a very defensive team,” said standout runningback and linebacker Thomas Even. “We take pride in shutting teams down and not letting anything happen.”
The Dons are pretty effective on offense, too. Audubon will have to stop a multi-dimensional attack that averages a state-best 63.1 points per game and 426.8 yards, including 321 rushing per outing. Don Bosco averages 10.3 yards per play and 9.7 per rush — both tops in Iowa high school football.
“I like where we’re at, for sure,” said Yoder. “I do think we consistently have been getting better every week and I think it shows. Defensively, we’ve turned up the heat on some teams and we shut down some teams late in the year. Offensively, we’ve been steady.
“Hopefully we can stay on track.”
Most of this year’s Don Bosco seniors are in the finals for the third time. It’s a special group of athletes.
“These guys have been in that situation a few times,” noted Yoder. “They’ve been at the pinnacle in multiple sports.
“This group might be the most tight-knit group I’ve coached since I’ve been at Bosco. They really do get along with each other. It’s fun to watch and fun to coach them. They’re extremely respectful kids, too.
“I think last year’s loss in the quarterfinals has really, really driven this team to excel. They’re just an all-around good group of kids who want to excel in everything they do, not just football.”