CEDAR FALLS, Iowa | Marcus-Meriden-Cleghorn's dream football season has carried over into the Iowa 8-man state championship.
The seventh-ranked Eagles soared to a 61-22 victory over No. 4 Exira-Elk Horn-Kimballton in a semifinal battle of unbeatens Thursday at the UNI-Dome.
MMC, now 13-0, will play third-rated Gilbertville Don Bosco in the title game next Thursday at 10:06 a.m. No. 3 Don Bosco (12-0), outlasted Murray 78-76 in overtime in the highest-scoring 8-man playoff game ever in the other semifinal.
Tanner Utesch and Andrew Hoefling scored three touchdowns apiece for the Eagles of first-year Coach Kyle Oswald, who scored on the second play from scrimmage, then opened things up with a 28-point second quarter.
In the end, it appeared that MMC's speed was too much for Exira-EHK.
"We're a pretty fast team, the weight room is definitely paying off," said Utesch, who rushed for 102 yards and passed for 107. "This is so surreal I can't even believe it, it's been a very fun year. We're still pumped for next week, we're going to come very prepared for it."
Utesch ran his season totals to 988 rushing yards and 1,865 through the air.
Sawyer Leavitt, a former teammate who was killed in an automobile accident last fall, is never far from the minds of the MMC players. Leavitt, 16 and then a junior on the football team, died on Sept. 18, 2011. The Eagles have referred to Leavitt as the "ninth man" this season.
"We know that he has been with us every step of the way," Utesch said.
After the long breakaway by Utesch, Exira-EHK answered with a 19-yard touchdown run by Nick Peppers, but it was all MMC the rest of the contest.
"Our defense made some good adjustments and it's just the kids' spirit," said Oswald, who played 8-man football at Allen (Neb.). "They out executed the other team. Exira was a great team, but we were able to execute, follow our blocks, make good blocks and open up some good holes.
"We seem to always get off to slower starts, but we knew we'd bust out in the second quarter," said Hoefling, who has now rushed for 1,522 yards. "Speed is a key in 8-man and when we dropped down we knew we had the speed to make a run at it."
After the short flip from Utesch to Spieler, Hoefling's 25-yard scoring run and a 5-yarder by Utesch, the Eagles had upped their lead to 34-7 at halftime.
"I don't know, but for some reason we came out a little lethargic, maybe it was the atmosphere," Exira-EHK Coach Tom Petersen said. "MMC, though, has one heckuva a football team. Their QB is exceptional, he looks off receivers and finds the open guy. He can cut on a dime and we were flying out of control. Our tackling wasn't very good.
"But we got beat in the trenches. This is the first time this year the other guys were more physical."
Drew Peppers, a sophomore quarterback, rushed for 108 yards while older brother Nick, a junior, had six catches for 85 yards and a touchdown and also rushed for a score.
MMC 6 - 28 - 7 - 20 -- 61
EEHK 7 - 0 - 7 -- 8 -- 22
MMC: Tanner Utesch 63 run (kick failed) 11:11
EEHK: Nick Peppers 19 run (Zach Klieforth kick) 6:57
MMC: Andrew Hoefling 59 run (pass failed 11:11
MMC: Dylan Spieler 9 pass from Utesch (pass failed) 7:40
MMC: Hoefling 25 run (Utesch run) 5:38
MMC: Utesch 5 run (Jacob Meehan pass from Spieler) :28
EEHK: Drew Peppers 2 run (Klieforth kick) 8:23
MMC: Hoefling 1 run (Spieler kick) 3:28
MMC: Utesch 6 run (pass failed) 11:25
EEHK: Nick Peppers 48 pass from Drew Peppers (Nick Peppers pass from Drew Peppers) 10:03
MMC: Jacob Meehan 39 run (Spieler kick)
MMC: Conner Holmes 8 run (Spieler kick) 1:39
First downs - MMC, 18 ; EEHK, 17; Rushes-yards MMC, 43-341; EEHK, 49-233; Passing yards- MMC,117 ; EEHK, 101; Total plays-yds - MMC, 59-468; EEHK, 77-334
RUSHING: Marcus-Meriden-Cleghorn - Andrew Hoefling 19-138, Tanner Utesch 10-102, Jacob Meehan 9-85, Conner Holmes 3-9, Josh Kach 2-7;
Exira-Elk Horn-Kimballton - Drew Peppers 26-108, Nick Peppers 10-62, Trey Sander 11-59, Jarred Hansen 2-4.
PASSING: Marcus-Meriden-Cleghorn - Tanner Utesch 9-15-0-107, Andrew Hoefling 1-1-0-10; Exira-Elk Horn-Kimballton -- Drew Peppers 8-21-0-101, Nick Peppers 0-1-0-0.
RECEIVING: Marcus-Meriden-Cleghorn - Isaiah Peterson 6-71, Lee Huser 1-19, Tanner Utesch 1-10, Dylan Spieler 1-9, Jared Gross 1-8; Exira-Elk Horn-Kimballton -- Nick Peppers 6-85, Trey Sander 2-16.