BELLEVUE, Iowa — Right from the opening kickoff, Bellevue looked out of sorts.
A fumble on the return led to a quick three points for Pella Christian, setting the tone in a 23-21 Bellevue loss in a Class 1A quarterfinal game at C.C. Hammann Field.
All night, the second-ranked Comets tried to overcome that early setback but never found the stride that allowed them to roll through the regular season undefeated.
"We just wish we had one more play," senior Hunter Clasen said. "A hell of a year for everyone. We did everything we could, we grew in the summer, it went through to the season, and now we just wish the outcome was different. I hope no one has regrets from this game."
Clasen finished the night with 39 carries for 195 yards and three touchdowns, finishing his senior season with 33 total touchdowns in just nine games.
Every time Bellevue (10-1) tried to take the game over, Pella Christian (8-3) had an answer. Quarterback Dan Jungling threw for 142 yards and ran for another 110, and Nathan De Bruin kicked three field goals to send the Eagles back to the state semifinals after falling by two points to Iowa City Regina last year.
"Last year, I missed a field goal to lose that game," De Bruin said. "That really motivated me. ... That really propelled us here."
Bellevue actually rallied to take a 14-10 lead before the Eagles drove down the field to retake the lead on a 6-yard run by Jungling, a lead Pella Christian never relinquished.
"It was uncharacteristic to the way we play," Bellevue head coach Chet Knake said. "I don't want to say the moment got too big, but that's the way it looked at times. I think our guys wanted it so bad, they pressed a little bit. I give all the credit to Pella, but if you've been watching us all year, I just don't know if we played our type of game."
Just before halftime, the Comets had the ball at midfield, facing fourth and 2. Instead of punting the ball, Bellevue elected to go for it, only for Clasen to get tackled short of the first down marker.
Pella Christian drove down the field to set up a 31-yard field goal by De Bruin to take a 20-14 lead into halftime.
"All year long, it's what we do. Fourth and two, we've got Hunter Clasen, we've got a play we like to get a first down with 40-some seconds again, I'll do it over and over again," Knake said. "I trusted our defense, I trusted our offensive line. I wasn't going to switch the way I coach because of the moment. I'm won't second-guess that, everybody else will."
Still, the Comets had their chances in the second half to get the lead back but mistakes again prevented them from doing so. Bellevue forced a fumble on the first play of Pella Christian's second-half opening drive, only to fumble the snap on its first play and give the ball right back to the Eagles.
Later in the game, on second and inches, Lucas Tennant was intercepted by De Bruin, leading to the last of De Bruin's field goals to put Pella Christian up 23-14.
Clasen scored his third touchdown of the game with 4:42 left, but the Eagles never gave the ball back, twice picking up key third down conversions on the final drive to run out the clock.
"We just couldn't get the big stops when we needed to in the second half," Knake said. "But our defense played well enough to win. ... We just didn't do it on offense like we normally do."
Though the Comets once again fall short of making it to the UNI-Dome, it's been a strong four years for the senior class. In the last four years, Bellevue has gone 32-10, making the playoffs all four years and grabbing the first two playoff victories in program history.
"It's been the best senior class to come through our program," Knake said. "They've been leaders, they've been great kids helping the younger kids out. Their character is bar none, the best I've ever seen. I just feel so bad for them that they didn't reach their goal. This team could have reached it and that's why it's so hard on them."