Jack Jensen catches a pass against Pella Christian. Jeff Yoder/For Your Prep Sports. By Ryan Murken
Your Prep Sports
IOWA CITY – Regina didn’t get off to the start it wanted this season.
Three months later the finish that Regina always dreamed of is still out there.
After opening the season with just its third loss in the last seven seasons top-ranked Regina will try to win its seventh consecutive state title on Friday when it faces No. 5 Western Christian (11-1) in a rematch of last year’s 1A title game at 11:06 at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls.
“It means a lot to see everything that we’ve been working for right in front of us,” Regina senior lineman Reagan Ries said. “We finally have a chance to go out and accomplish one our biggest goals.”
The loss to open the season was a 35-26 setback at Class 3A second-ranked Cedar Rapids Xavier.
A single-digit road loss to a perennial power two classes bigger than you is hardly a reason to hit the panic button.
Yet in a program that has gone 93-3 over the past seven seasons, won 33 consecutive playoff games and six straight state titles no loss goes over easy.
Rather than get down Regina came back better than ever.
The Regals followed with a 34-0 win over Class 3A seventh-ranked Solon and hasn’t slowed since, taking an 11-game winning streak into Friday’s 1A title game.
“We kind of came out of it realizing that we weren’t where we needed to be to win a state championship,” Ries said. “It showed that we had a lot of stuff we needed to work on together to get to this point where we are. I think we kind of clicked the next week against Solon and that just showed us that we had to focus in more.”
The rugged early season schedule is all part of the plan for a Regina squad that hasn’t lost to a team in its same class since 2009.
All three losses for Regina during its six-year championship run have come in the past three seasons to 3A schools, two to Xavier and one to Solon.
One of those losses was a 29-28 overtime loss to Solon in the 2014 opener. Regina responded that season with 13 straight wins to claim its fifth straight title.
“As much as you want to drill and as much as you want to emphasize things in practice and challenge kids until you line up and you play a quality opponent like that, that really gives you everything that you need and more during the course of a 48 minute games it’s hard to really improve,” Regina coach Marv Cook said. “When you face that kind of competition that is when you expand, that is when you grow and that is when you improve.”
This year the Xavier loss not only fueled Regina it showed them where they needed to improve.
Regina allowed 386 rushing yards to the Saints and standout tailback Maliki Wilson in the opener.
During its current 11-game winning streak Regina is holding opponents to 112 yards rushing and has allowed more than 150 yards on the ground just twice.
“We definitely needed it, you learn more from a loss than you do from a win,” Ries said of the Xavier loss. “It showed where we needed work and it showed what we needed to do to get to where we are.”
After finding itself in an unfamiliar spot coming off a loss in week one Regina is right back where it has been the past six seasons playing for state title.
Regina opened the playoffs with a win over rival West Branch, held off second-ranked Pella Christian 45-43 in the quarterfinals and rolled past third-ranked Denver 42-6 in the semifinals last Friday.
The only thing standing in the way of an unprecedented seventh straight title is the same Western Christian squad Regina downed 35-28 in last year’s 1A title game.
“We’ve had this goal in mind since the summer and we’ve been working for it every day,” Regina senior Jack Jensen said. “So it would be awesome to finish it off.”
Regina will rely on an explosive offense that has averaged 484 yards per game during the playoffs as it attempts to add to its title count.
The Regals are coming off a semifinal performance in which they rushed for 207 yards and threw for a season-high 277 against previously unbeaten Denver.
“When we can do both run and pass we are a really effective team,” Jensen said. “We will be hard to stop if we get both rolling.”