How does a team combat the second-leading passer in entire state?
Simple. Beat one quarterback with your own quarterback on defense.
All night long, the pass-happy PCM Mustangs relied on quarterback Nate VandeWall to find his may receiving threats to succeed. While he did connect with several for several yards, Albia’s quarterback/defensive back Brett Leshen was right there to knock several more down.
“As a quarterback, I can kind of read the eyes,” Lehsen said. “If I know where to look and see where their quarterback is looking, I can get a jump on making a play. Playing quarterback really helps me see that on defense.”
In the end, it was one of the passes Leshen didn’t knock down that led the decisive play of the night. Leshen read a short fourth-down pass by VandeWall and stepped in front of the receiver for a 48-yard interception return for a touchdown with 2:34 to go, giving Albia the deciding seven points needed to earn a wild 35-28 Class 2A, District 6 win over PCM on Friday night.
“We knew saw that formation all night and knew what they were looking to run in that situation,” Leshen said. “They did what we thought they were going to do, I watched the quarterback’s eyes, picked up on the pass and took it in for a touchdown.”
“He’s a winner. He’s a real gamer,” Albia head coach Jerry Staton said of Leshen. “He’s great football, but he’s a super human being as well. That’s even more important.”
Whether it was running in the football on defense or offense, stepping in on passes or tossing them himself, Leshen made several big plays to help Albia find the endzone all night. Leshen ran in two touchdowns himself and found Zach Hugen on a 69-yard scoring strike three plays into the second half to keep Albia ahead and keep VandeWall and Mustangs in catch-up mode.
The Mustangs’ offensive gameplan was primarily based through the air. By game’s end, PCM ran the ball just seven times and lost seven yards on the ground.
VandeWall was called on 51 times to pass the ball, completing 24 of those passes for an amazing 403 yards and three touchdowns. The PCM senior signal caller, however, never got completely comfortable as the Blue Demon defense blitzed at will and put VandeWall on the Albia turf several times.
“VandeWall is a fine quarterback with fine receivers. That’s a tough to offense to hold down completely, but I thought our defense did a great job to hold them to what they got.”
“Our line played a heck of a game on both sides,” Leshen added. “They stayed low, they made their blocks and offensively they allowed me to roll out to find receivers while opening holes for our running backs.”
Leshen finished the night with 173 total yards of offense and had two interceptions against VandeWall. His two rushing scores, both in the second quarter, allowed Albia to open a 21-14 lead by halftime before finding Hugen to double the lead in the third quarter.
Ironically, a rushing touchdown got PCM back within one score late in the third quarter as Black McWilliams scored from eight yards out to make it 28-20 heading to the fourth. After being knocked out of the game briefly late in the fourth, VandeWall returned on fourth-and-four from PCM’s 46 looking for a short completion that Leshen took back for a score that put Albia up 35-20.
VandeWall refused to give up, leading PCM on a three-play, 80-yard drive in 37 seconds with Ethan Kain’s 38-yard touchdown and two-point conversion catches cutting Albia’s lead to 35-28. After Zach Uhlenhopp fumbled a punt return with one minute left, Zach Hugen’s fumble recovery gave Albia a chance to run out the clock with PCM lacking a timeout.
Instead, Staton and the Blue Demons (5-1, 3-1) looked for a touchdown that would give them a 13-point lead and a potential edge in the tiebreaker for a district title. The gamble led to a PCM stop with 10 seconds left, giving VandenWall one more chance.
“We just figured with our loss last week at Bonderant-Farrar, getting a 13-point win would help us if we can end up a three-way tie,” Staton said. “We thought it was worth a chance and we were pretty confident our defense could hold them.”
VandeWall connected on a 50-yard pass with Mike Neff, giving PCM (3-4, 2-1) a look from midfield with three seconds left. The final toss was knocked down by Leshen, a fitting conclusion against VandeWall - nephew of former Staton-coached Oskaloosa quarterback Marc Blom.
“I saw Marc before the game. It was good to see him,” Staton said. “He’ll always be one of my guys, even if he did have to root against me in this one.”
Albia 35, PCM 28
PCM 6 8 6 8 — 28
Albia 7 14 7 7 — 35
Scoring By Quarters
Albia — Austin Luse 1 yard run (Tanner Kellogg kick), 10:13
PCM — Ethan Kain 4 uard pass from Nate VandeWall (kick failed), 6:53
Albia — Brett Leshen 4 yard run (Kellogg kick), 11:13
PCM — Michael Neff 46 yard pass from VandeWall (Jade Coleman pass from VandeWall), 6:15
Albia — Leshen 5 yard run (Kellogg kick), :28
Albia — Zach Hugen 69 yard pass from Leshen (Kellogg kick), 10:21
PCM — Blake McWilliams 8 yard run (kick failed), :05
Albia — Leshen 48 yard interception return (Kellogg kick), 2:34
PCM — Kain 38 yard pass from VandeWall (Kain pass from VandeWall), :37
First downs 16 20
Rushes-yards 7-(-7) 57-262
Passing yards 403 146
Total Yards 396 408
Comp-Att-Int 24-52-2 6-17-3
Return Yards 10-90 9-146
Fumbles-Lost 1-1 0-0
Penalties-Yds 11-105 14-110
RUSHING — Blake McWilliams 2-8 yards, td, Zach Uhlenhopp 2-6 yards, Jade Coleman 1-(-4) yards, VandeWall 2-(-17) yards.
PASSING — VandeWall 24-51, 403 yards, 3 td, 2 int.
RECEIVING — Ethan Kain 10-141 yards, 2 td, Mike Neff 3-81 yards, td, Uhlenhopp 6-74 yards, Ricky Reeve 3-51 yards.
INTERCEPTIONS — Justin Beener 1-0 yards, Kain 1-0 yards, Uhlenhopp 1-0 yards.
TACKLES — Hunter Reed 19, McWilliams 15, VandeWall 11, Luke Cummings 10, Brandon Charls 9, sack, Colten Jenkins 8, Beener 7, Uhlenhopp 7, Hayes Applegate 6, Neff 6, Kain 4, Coleman 3, Dillon Bruxvoordt 2, sack, Alex Fraker 2, Carson King 2, Maverick McAtee, Ryan Donahue, Luke Pendroy, Reeve.
RUSHING — Alex Schultz 29-99 yards, Griffin Osing 5-73 yards, Brett Leshen 11-52 yards, 2 td, Austin Luse 10-31 yards, td.
PASSING — B. Leshen 3-7, 121 yards, td, Luke Sarver 3-8, 25 yards, 3 int.
RECEIVING — Zach Hugen 3-117 yards, Sarver 1-12 yards, Osing 1-9 yards, Schultz 1-8 yards.
INTERCEPTIONS — B. Leshen 2-48 yards, td.
TACKLES — Leshen 9, Hugen 8, fumble recovery, Schultz 8, sack, Sarver 6, B. Leshen 4, Shadow Leshen 4, Osing 4, Dalton Folkerts 2, sack, Tanner Kellogg 2, Hugh Sinclair 2, Ben Baker, sack, Matt Baker, Zach Davis, Luse, sack, Jared Gradeless.