SIOUX CENTER - The fire and ice Cherokee Braves showed the fire side here Friday night, coming away with a critical 29-25 Class 2A District win over once-beaten Sioux Center to earn a coveted trip to the state playoffs, regardless of next week's outcome against district foe Sheldon in Cherokee.
The big win for the Braves (5-3 over all, 5-1 in district) hinged on a wondrous play by the kick-off return team that launched speedy Chris Campbell on a scintillating 84-yard kick-off return with just two minutes left in the game, following a Warrior touchdown that cast the Braves into a grim 25-22 deficit.
Campbell's fireworks cost the Warriors dearly, as Sioux Center, now with a 6-2 record, missed a playoff berth with losses to Cherokee and Boyden-Hull/Rock Valley, a team Cherokee beat three weeks ago.
The Braves started the scoring with Tyler Jones hooking up with Campbell on a sweet 61-yard TD pass on their first possession. Andy Dawson's PAT kick gave the Braves a quick 7-0 lead. However, Sioux Center answered back in the second frame on a three-yard TD run by Matt Sandbulte to make it 7-6 Cherokee at halftime.
The second half saw the Braves score two third-period TDs and Campbell's gigantic TD in the fourth to ice it. The Braves scored in the third on a nine-yard TD pass from Jones to Michael Boothby, and a 25-yard TD pass from Jones to Matt Koch. Dawson kicked the PAT on the Boothy TD, and Jones hit Koch in the endzone for a two-point conversion on the second.
Sioux Center scored a TD in the third on an 18-yard pass from Aaron Rozeboom to Miles Veltkamp, and added two more in the fourth on a 19-yard pass from Rozeboom to Jason Roskam, and a one-yard run from Sandbulte.
Cherokee's Jones was 33-50 passing for 350 yards, three TDs and two interceptions. Rozeboom was 14-24 for 249 yards, two TDs, and one pick (by Matthew Boothby).
Leading receivers for the winning Braves were Campbell 11 catches for 145 yards, Michael Boothby eight catches for 76 yards, Koch six for 67 yards, Kyle Schuett five for 28 yards, and Mark Johnson three for 34 yards.
Leading defenders for the Braves were Tim Jones and Nick Daum 13 tackles each, Andy Dawson and Ben George 12 apiece, Campbell 11, Josh Mugge nine, and Nick Loughlin eight. Tim Jones also had a huge fumble recovery after a successful fake Sioux Center punt that led to the Braves third TD.
Cherokee had 13 first downs to 11 by the Warriors.
"We're in the playoffs, Baby!" said Cherokee coach Tony Napierala. "We hung in there. Our defense did a nice job adjusting to their running game and our kick-off return team got the job done. All Chris needs is a small opening and he can turn it on. We played hard and showed a lot of guts after last week (49-7 demolition at district champion Central Lyon/George-Little Rock) and really responded. I'm very proud of this team and my coaches."
The Braves host Sheldon (5-3, 3-3) Friday to end regular season.