By ROGER THOMAS
---- — BLOOMFIELD – Sixth-ranked Albia dominated its first three opponents. They won each game by more than 40 points.
Davis County came into last Friday night’s Class 2A, District 6 matchup with the Blue Demons at 1-2.
None of those numbers seemed to matter as Albia had to score late to pull out the 21-20 win.
All that should have mattered to the southeast Iowa football fans in Bloomfield Friday night was that each team was 1-0 in the district. And, it was Albia vs. Davis County.
The Mustangs started its first drive deep in its own territory. On its fourth play from scrimmage, the Blue Demons’ Bryce Leshen intercepted a pass and returned it all the way to the Davis County 3-yard-line. Ryan Sarver ran it in on the first play following the pick for to give Albia a quick 7-0 lead.
The game featured nine pass completions of 15 yards or more. The Mustangs used the first one to tie it at 7-7 when Justin Utt connected with Connor Young on a 49-yard scoring pass.
Davis County gave up a big pass play on defense from Brett Leshen to Zach Hugen on the next Blue Demon drive. The two would hook up three more times, including on the game-winning touchdown later in the contest. However, the Mustangs held the visitors on to only two yards rushing on five attempts to get the ball back with the score tied at 7-7 before getting its first lead of the night
Davis County would be held on downs and Albia would go up 14-7 on Griffin Osing’s two-yard run for a score. The drive included a highlight reel catch by Hugen for 38 yards.
“A play like that is a real confidence booster not only for me, but for our offense,” Hugen said of his full speed, one-handed grab.
The Mustangs were stopped on fourth down on their next drive, but the Blue Demons fumbled on the very next play to set up a 37-yard field goal by Young pulling Davis County back within 14-10.
Albia’s next drive was a three-and-out. Utt and Young hooked up on the very next play for a 77-yard scoring strike and a 17-14 DC lead.
“We’ve been throwing the ball underneath a lot, but we threw it long more (Friday),” Mustang coach Joe Rasmussen said.
The final drive of the half, a 10-play Albia drive, nearly gave the lead back to the Blue Demons. A touchdown reception was nullified by an offensive pass interference penalty.
One of the major factors that contributed to Albia’s first halftime deficit was the Mustangs ability to limit the Blue Demons to only 32 yards rushing.
“We have been pretty tough against the run up the middle all season,” said Rasmussen. “We felt like we matched up pretty well up front against them.”
"We had to shuffle our offensive line around and I felt like that bothered us,” Albia head coach Jerry Staton added. “But Davis County gave a great effort.”
The scoring, first downs, and yards from scrimmage were hard to come by in the second half.
Albia fumbled on its first play of the second half, but the Mustang scoring opportunity ended with a missed 35-yard field goal.
The third quarter ended with no scoring, so Davis County led 17-14 heading to the fourth.
On the first play of the final period, the Mustangs went up 20-14 on a 27-yard Young field goal.
Ryan Sarver’s 46 yard kick-off return gave Albia the ball at the Davis County 45. The Blue Demon drive stalled, but Brett Leshen's punt rolled out of bounds at the seven to put the Mustangs in a deep hole.
The Mustangs could only pick up one yard on three rushes in the drive that started deep in their own territory.
Albia’s defense held Davis County to less than half the rushing yards in the final half that they had in the first half. One of the Blue Demon defenders who controlled the Mustang rushing was Dalton Folkerts.
“They started the game blocking me a little differently but we made an adjustment that changed my lane to the play,” said Folkerts.
A short Mustang punt and return gave the ball to the Blue Demons at the Mustang 33. On the next play, Leshen and Hugen teamed up on a touchdown pass that tied the game at 20.
“I know that if I throw the ball near Zach, he’s going to go up and get it,” said Leshen.
“I’ve been working with Brett for a long time and I just have to keep running my routes correctly,” Hugen added.
All the visitors needed for the lead was the extra point kick. Justin Bossard delivered his third straight for the decisive point.
“I knew it was good,” said Bossard. “I’ve been kicking since the ninth grade and I just did my job.”
Davis County answered with a 10-play drive that included another big pass play from Utt to Young. The chance to take the lead back ended with just over two minutes left as the Mustangs missed a 37-yard field goal.
The Blue Demons relied on Osing to run out the clock. He gained 34 yards on three carries to seal the hard fought win.
“We changed our blocking a little to make a couple of plays work,” said Osing. “I’ve been pretty good taking care of the ball, so I look forward to the late game carries.”
Both coaches were as drained as the players after the epic battle.
“We talked about no moral victory,” said Rasmussen. “We need to use this to fuel our play for the rest of the year.”
Albia (4-0, 2-0), who moved up to fourth over the weekend in the Des Moines Register’s statewide 2A poll and may do the same in the Associated Press poll this week, made enough plays when they needed to survive the big test handed to them by Davis County (1-3, 1-1).
“It’s good to not suffer a loss and still learn about your team,” said Staton. “We improved our play in all three parts of our game during the game but still have things to work on.”
The Blue Demons return home next Friday to host Bondurant-Farrar, the only team to beat them in the regular season last year. Davis County will head to Osceola to take on Clarke in district play. Both kickoffs are at 7:30 p.m.
No. 6 (2A) Albia 21, Davis County 20
Albia 14 0 0 7 – 21
D.C. 7 10 0 3 – 20
Scoring By Quarters
A – Ryan Sarver 3 yard run (Justin Bossard kick)
DC – Justin Utt 49 yard pass to Connor Young (Young kick)
A – Griffin Osing 2 yard run (Bossard kick)
DC – Young 37 yard FG
DC – Utt 77 yard pass to Young (Young kick)
DC – Young 27 yard FG
A – Brett Leshen 33 yard pass to Zach Hugen (Bossard kick)
First downs 18 16
Rushes-yards 35-91 46-176
Passing yards 177 169
Total Yards 268 345
Comp-Att-Int 8-23-1 4-8-1
Return Yards 8-171 2-9
Fumbles-Lost 4-2 2-0
Penalties-Yds 5-57 7-60
RUSHING – Matt Baker 1-1 yards, Ryan Sarver 14-47 yards, Brett Leshen 7-(-10) yards, Griffin Osing 13-53 yards.
PASSING – Brett Leshen 8-23, 177 yards.
RECEIVING – Hugen 4-106 yards, Luke Sarver 2-35 yards, Baker 1-21 yards, Osing 1-15 yards.
INTERCEPTIONS – Bryce Leshen.
TACKLE LEADERS – Blake Lawless 10, Hugh Sinclair 9, Justin Bossard 8.
RUSHING – Justin Utt 10-43 yards, Spencer Bassett 22-78 yards, Jacob Jones 13-53 yards, Lane Fenter 1-2 yards.
PASSING – Utt 4-8, 169 yards.
RECEIVING – Connor Young 3-161 yards, Jones 1-8 yards.
INTERCEPTIONS – Spencer Bassett.
TACKLE LEADERS – Connor Davidson 11, Isaac Hougland 6, Utt 5.