Valley brings down Dowling, 22-21, with fourth quarter comeback


CEDAR FALLS — Dowling Catholic and West Des Moines Valley Football faced off in Friday’s Class 5A semifinal game, and it was the Tigers who advanced to next week’s championship.

Valley defeated Dowling 22-21 and will play semifinal winner Southeast Polk-Johnston.

Valley received first. But Dowling’s defense left the Tigers very few options on the opening run and seemed to set the tone of that game early on. The Maroons offense built on that success, moving up the field at high speed – boosted by a 38-yard pass from Jaxon Smolik to Hank Brown – to score the game’s first touchdown.

The Tigers appeared to have put the pieces together and scored a touchdown of their own in the second quarter, but failed to level the score despite solid chances before halftime.

Dowling Catholic focused a little more on the run to start the second half. This, coupled with a solid field position in front of a blocked punt, allowed the Maroons to extend their lead early on. Dowling maintained a 21-7 lead until the 5:01 mark in the fourth quarter when Damon Head scored to give Valley possession with five minutes to go.

“Our defense, they played their full game, they gave us these chances to keep coming back,” Ayden Price said of Valley’s comeback. “Our O-line, our offense, the message was just like, ‘We’ve got to get them off the field and we’ve got to go for it ourselves.’

“Having offense is one of our better things. So when that happened we had a smile on our face and we scored, our defense got the ball right back and we scored again.”

The Tigers’ defense held Dowling back on the next drive and the Maroons jabbed. Price scored a touchdown with 30 seconds left and Xzavion Robinson caught Michael Provenza’s 2-point conversion pass to give Valley their first lead with half a minute left.

No. 14 seed Valley upset No. 1 Dowling with the Tigers’ last-minute rebound, but that fits right in with the kind of comeback season Valley has had.

“That’s our story,” Price said. “We knew this wasn’t going to be an easy game. I knew there would be 11 players on either side of football. That’s what it came down to at the end of the game.”

Valley came to play

There’s no doubt the Tigers wouldn’t go down without a fight.

When you see what Dowling has accomplished this season — and how the Maroons reacted to their season-opener loss to Southeast Polk — it’s easy to see why Valley were the underdogs in these semifinals.

And the Tigers played with that chip on their shoulder. Michael Provenza and Ayden Price put on a show.

Damon Head robbed Dowling’s running backs of their money. The offensive line created opportunities for Head and gave Provenza the time he needed. Defense limited a dowling offense that had been difficult to stop since Week 1.

It all came together for Valley in the final quarter of the game, just when the Tigers needed it most. It was fast-paced, coming-from-behind football that put Valley back in a position to win.

But this wasn’t a perfect game for the Tigers either, which could hurt them next week.

There were constant problems. Valley tried a few tricks. But the thing about trick plays is that players have to rely on the call and move fast enough for it to be effective. The Tigers struggled both times.

There were the penalties. A 5-yard assault penalty that earned Dowling an automatic first down; the Maroons scored on that drive. Dowling was called out for an out-of-bounds hit, giving Valley 15 free yards, but the Tigers threw it away with a 10-yard holding call of their own on the next few downs. A big first down run by Hendrick Nimely was called back after another holding call.

Dowling Catholic should rely more on the barrel

Look, it’s hard to justify Maroons quarterback Jaxon Smolik going on a scholarship to Penn State after this season. Smolik threw for 205 yards and a touchdown on nine completions.

But Dowling Catholic’s biggest momentum shifters happened on the ground. The Maroons’ first touchdown drive went something like this: 38-yard pass to Hank Brown, a series of runs from CJ Phillip that totaled 36 yards, and then Smolik kept it for the score.

After that game, Dowling switched to passing and Phillip’s stakes dropped. Ra’Shawd Davis also added some yardage on the ground, but the Maroons continued to opt for flashy passing plays. When they returned to some big runs in the second half, it worked in Dowling’s favor.

The biggest selling point here is Dowling’s offensive line. They’re a force to be reckoned with, but they really excel in their ability to create plays. The Maroons’ O-line frequently pushed for extra yardage when a back went to center. The space they create is special, and it makes sense why Dowling can do the things it does both in the air and on the ground.

Ideally, the Maroons offense can have big plays in both areas of the game – and Dowling certainly did, with Smolik’s skills showing to the full. But the Maroons couldn’t put all the pieces together against Valley in the end.

Alyssa Hertel is the varsity sports recruitment reporter for the Des Moines Register. Contact Alyssa at [email protected] or on Twitter @AlyssaHertel.

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