MOUNT AYR — In a game where the average scoring play came from 33 yards, Mount Ayr pulled away from Central Decatur in the second half on its way to a 41-24 victory here on Friday.
“It was a hard-fought game on both sides,” Central Decatur head coach Jon Pedersen said. “Both teams were able to make some good plays, and they just happened to make more than we did.”
Mount Ayr improved to 7-0 overall and 4-0 in Class 1A District 7 play, while Central Decatur fell to 4-3 and 1-3.
Coming into the game, Central Decatur looked to take away one half of the explosive passing duo of junior quarterback Jacob Sobotka and senior receiver Braydee Poore. The Cardinals elected to try shutting down Poore, and held him to just one catch for 2 yards.
“He’s a game changer. We knew we were going to have to be aware of him,” Pedersen said. “They are able to hit all parts of the field, so we tried to focus on taking Poore away and keeping Sobotka under wraps as best we could. That’s not an easy task. They did a great job.”
Sobotka, a dual threat quarterback finished the game 12-of-19 passing for 143 yards and two touchdowns, to go with 144 rush yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries.
Mount Ayr co-head coach Delwyn Showalter expected Central Decatur to take Poore out of the passing game, but felt confident in his other options at receiver.
“We felt like that was going to open up some other receivers, and we’ve got a lot of guys that can catch the ball,” Showalter said. “If they’re going to commit two and sometimes three guys to Braydee, that’s going to allow some other guys to get open. I thought Jacob was real patient in the pocket and did a nice job of looking to other receivers.”
The big-play scoring got started when Sobotka scored on a 67-yard touchdown run with 6:09 remaining in the first quarter.
Central Decatur answered back at the beginning of the second quarter, when Bryson Durrow returned a punt 65 yards for a score. After a missed extra point, the score remained 7-6.
After Sobotka and Erik Freed connected on a 14-yard touchdown pass to go up 14-6, Dalton Gilbert rushed for a 13-yard touchdown to cut the lead to 14-12.
Mount Ayr added another big scoring play before the end of the half, as Sobotka hit Shane Swank for a 59-yard touchdown pass to go up 20-12 with 5:53 remaining.
The Raiders quickly scored to start the second half, on a Cody Stackhouse 2-yard run less than 1:00 into the half.
Central Decatur answered back with a 16-yard touchdown pass from Gilbert to Wyman Reed, cutting the lead to 27-18 with 5:35 left in the third quarter.
Sobotka added another rushing touchdown with :57 left in the third quarter, scoring from 7 yards, giving Mount Ayr a 34-18 advantage.
Gilbert finished Central Decatur’s scoring with a 67-yard punt return in the fourth quarter, cutting the lead to 34-24. Mount Ayr’s Lincoln Martin put the finishing touch on the game with a 21-yard touchdown run with 5:29 left.
“We have two pretty good returners,” Pedersen said of Durrow and Gilbert. “We were just able to get an edge and get it up the sideline.”
Mount Ayr’s physical defense held the potent Central Decatur rushing attack to 140 yards.
Gilbert totaled 111 rush yards on 22 carries to lead the Cardinals.
“We’re a running team,” Pedersen said. “We were able to get that done at times, but they kept us in check most of the time. We were able to get a few touchdown runs, but for the most part, they kept us in check.”
Showalter knew stopping the Cardinal rushing attack would be a difficult task.
“They do a lot of different things on the offensive side,” Showalter said. “They do a great job of faking. They’re a team that’s kind of tough to defend. I thought they were effective with what they did. We tried to make them as one-dimensional as we could, and I thought we did a good job of that.
“They’ve had some injuries that have limited them offensively,” Showalter continued. “It was a good battle. It was a physical game. I thought they played well. It was the kind of game that you expect at this time of the year.”
Even with those injuries, Central Decatur still clings to playoff hopes. The Cardinals currently sit in fifth place in the district, one game behind Pella Christian in the standings.
“If we win the next two convincingly, and Mount Ayr takes care of business against Ogden and Pella Christian, we have a decent shot.”
The Cardinals have district games against Des Moines Christian (1-3 in District 7) and Ogden (3-1 in District 7) remaining.
“It’s been a tough year for us, because we were pretty excited about this year,” Pedersen said. “We knew we could be really good this year. We’ve had some things go against us, but we overcame that pretty well, and we’re in a situation now where we just play well and hopefully we’ll have an opportunity to keep playing.”
The Cardinals could receive a boost from the return of injured quarterback and safety Austin Wells, who is practicing currently after breaking his leg in the season opener.