TRURO — The one-two punch of running back Mason Cassady and quarterback Brayden Egli led Interstate 35 to a 34-25 victory over Mount Ayr Friday.
Cassady carried 26 times for 160 yards and four touchdowns, taking his season total to 1,139 yards and 16 TDs. Egli added 81 yards on the ground in addition to completing 12 of 18 passes for 185 yards and a touchdown.
The Roadrunners finished with a 7-2 record and a five-game winning streak after losing the first two district games to playoff qualifiers Pella Christian and Pleasantville. I-35, Pleasantville and Woodward-Granger all finished in a second-place tie in Class 1A District 5 with 5-2 marks, but Pleasantville's 34-0 win over Central Decatur Friday clinched the Trojans' hold on the runner-up spot with a point differential average of 9.00.
I-35 was third with a 5.57 point differential, and was not selected as one of the two wild card third-place teams in the Class 1A playoffs. Those teams were Belmond-Klemme of District 2 (7-2, 5-2) and Sigourney-Keota (coached by former Creston/O-M quarterback Jared Jensen) of District 4 (5-4, 5-2). Their point differentials were 8.14 and 7.43, respectively.
Still, it was Interstate 35's best record in 11 years, and coach Mike Stuart, a 2004 graduate of I-35, said the 10 departing seniors had a big part in the program's revival.
"When they were freshmen we had just won our second game of the year in week nine and we were celebrating like we'd won the Super Bowl," Stuart said. "Each year we did a little more — 5-5, 6-3 and now tonight we won a game to finish 7-2 and we're a little disappointed, because we're not in the postseason. That's how far those young men have led us."
Egli is one of those seniors and he directed the first scoring drive of the game in the second quarter, capped by Cassady's first TD jaunt from 1 yard.
But, as with four other I-35 touchdowns, Mount Ayr answered with its own scoring drive. The first one covered 96 yards as Brad Phelps scored the first of his two touchdowns on a 2-yard run. Phelps finished the game with 108 yards on 16 carries and was the leading tackler on defense with three solo stops and 10 assisted tackles.
The Raiders continued to fight, scoring on a 6-yard pass from Dawson Frost to Lucas Wurster with only six seconds remaining. They covered 82 yards in 1:43, exhausting their timeouts along the way. If the attempted two-point pass had connected, they would have been within an onsides kick and one score short of the Roadrunners.
Co-coach Delywn Showwalter said the game was a microcosm of the team's 3-6 season (2-5 district).
"I was just really proud of the way we fought," Showalter said. "They are very resilient. Tonight was kind of a miniature view of our season. There were a lot of points in our season where we probably could have said the heck with it, and our guys didn't. They did the same thing tonight. A lot of times tonight we looked like we were dead in the water. We fought, right down to the bitter end."
Co-coach Derek Lambert said I-35's big-play ability from both Cassady and Egli made it tough to keep up with the Roadrunners on the scoreboard.
"We didn't have the speed to break a big play and they did," Lambert said. "We knew when we got the ball, we were going to have to grind it out. I'm proud of our guys for putting together some of those good drives."
Stuart was pleased with his team's offensive production, but said his team's defense had trouble containing the Raiders' rushing attack that frequently rotates in fresh players.
"Offensively we played well," Stuart said. "Defensively, they ran right at us. We knew what Mount Ayr would do. They've been doing it for the last 20 years. I told our guys they're going to keep coming at you, and that's exactly what they did."
The Raiders' dual-quarterback system was not employed Friday, as junior Myles Greene suffered a back injury during the days leading up to the game. Frost, a sophomore, took all of the snaps and finished 8 of 19 passing for 74 yards and running for 35 net yards.
I-35 held a 13-6 halftime lead after Egli had passed to Carter Bussanmas for a 43-yard scoring strike in the final two minutes.
Cassady's second touchdown halfway through the third quarter opened up a 20-6 I-35 lead, but the Raiders didn't fade, outscoring the Roadrunners 18-15 the rest of the way.
"Our last three games, I felt we played our best ballgames," Lambert said. "We practiced well and we played well. Hopefully, that's a good taste for our younger kids to work hard in the offseason."
Cassady's last touchdown was a 35-yard run up the middle from the wildcat formation after he took over at quarterback when Egli suffered a late hip injury while tackled near the home sideline.
Raider junior lineman John Shields missed the second half with a sprained wrist. He had four solo tackles and four assisted tackles in the first half.
Mount Ayr seniors are Marcus Daughton, Brayden Swank, John Young, Zach Murphy, Elan Adams, Cauy Bickel, Kole Paxson, Hunter Wilson, Mitchell Lutrick, Dylan McAlexander, Jacob McCreary, Craven Martin, Russell Holmes, Bradley Wurster, Lucas Wurster and Phelps.
Seniors finishing their Roadrunner careers in addition to Egli are Darian Brown, Spencer Pontolilo, Bridger Hutton, Ryan Cross, Jacob Steinlage, Chris Godfrey, Wyatt Jones, Jake Hutton and Cole Stewart.
I-35 34, Mount Ayr 25
MA 0 6 7 12 - 25
I-35 0 13 7 14 - 34
I-35 — Mason Cassady 1 run (Carter Bussanmas kick), 11:19
MA — Brad Phelps 2 run (Bad snap, run failed), 6:58
I-35 — Bussanmas 43 pass from Brayden Egli (Kick failed), 1:43
I-35 — Cassady 2 run (Bussanmas kick), 5:56
MA — Phelps 7 run (Craven Martin kick), :32
I-35 — Cassady 2 run (kick blocked), 7:21
MA — Hunter Arends 6 run (kick wide), 3:48
I-35 — Cassady 35 run (Egli pass from Tanner Daniels), 1:51
MA — Lucas Wurster 6 pass from Dawson Frost (pass failed), :06.
Rushing: MA - Brad Phelps 16-108, Brayden Swank 9-72, Dawson Frost 12-35, Hunter Arends 5-16, Zach Murphy 4-10, John Young 4-5, Keelan Klommhaus 1-5. I-35 - Mason Cassady 26-165, Brayden Egli 10-81, Bridger Hutton 1-5.
Passing: MA - Frost 8-19-0 for 74 yards. I-35 - Egli 12-18-0 for 185 yards; Joey Bregar 1-1-0 for -3 yards.
Receiving: MA - Bradley Wurster 2-33, Lucas Wurster 4-21, Young 1-21, Phelps 1-7. I-35 - Tanner Daniels 6-97, Carter Bussanmas 2-54, Cassady 2-29.
Tackles (solo-assists): MA - Phelps 3-10, Payton Wheeler 2-8, Swank 3-6, John Shields 4-4, Jacob McCreary 4-3, Russell Holmes 0-6, Isaac Grose 1-4, Kolben Klommhaus 3-0, Young 0-4, Hunter Wilson 1-2. I-35 - Joey Bregar 9.5, Wyatt Jones 5, Chris Godfrey 5.
Tackles for loss: MA - Shields 1, Mitchell Lutrick 1, Swank 1. I-35 - Godfrey 2.