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State Football: Cooper DeJean leads OABCIG to thrilling win over Van Meter in Class 1A title game

Cody Goodwin
Des Moines Register

CEDAR FALLS, Ia. — Cooper DeJean walked into the media room underneath the UNI-Dome on Friday afternoon wearing a big smile and holding the Class 1A state championship trophy. The rest of the OABCIG football team let him carry it back.

Makes sense, since he's a big, big reason the Falcons won it.

"Congrats Coop!" one player shouted as DeJean positioned himself in front of a throng of cameras.

He smiled.

"I don't even know what to think right now," DeJean said.

OABCIG beat Van Meter, 33-26, in a thrilling Class 1A state title game here on Friday. The Falcons are now back-to-back state champions. After winning Class 2A last season, the first title in school history, they went 12-0 and won the 1A crown this season.

And DeJean was the primary facilitator, scoring a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns in less than 20 seconds to flip a 26-18 Van Meter advantage into the Falcons' 25th-straight victory. The senior finished with 391 total yards of offense and five touchdowns.

"Great win for us," said DeJean, an Iowa football commit. "We just had to keep fighting, keeping fighting, and make plays to get the win."

DeJean's 19-yard scoring scamper in the fourth quarter gave OABCIG its only lead during Friday's contest, and it will go down as perhaps one of the finest plays in Iowa high school football history. 

The Falcons had just tied it, 26-26, after DeJean scored on a 4-yard run and converted the two-point try with 90 seconds left in regulation. Van Meter fumbled the ensuing kickoff, and on the next play, DeJean took a keeper left, shed one would-be tackler, danced through three more and ran back right across the field to the end zone.

It was like watching someone play with prime Michael Vick in Madden, or Bo Jackson in Tecmo Bowl — and it will be remembered in  Odebolt, Arthur, Battle Creek and Ida Grove and all over Iowa for years and years to come.

"It was actually supposed to go to the running back," DeJean said afterward, "but I kept it. I was looking for an opening, and I found one cutting back across the field. I got some great blocks along the way and took it into the end zone."

Up until then, Van Meter looked primed to win its second state championship in four years.

Van Meter's Dalten Van Pelt (36) runs through OABCIG's Geo Ehrig (80) during their class 1A state football championship game on Friday, Nov. 20, 2020, in Cedar Falls, IA. Van Meter takes a 13-6 lead over OABCIG into halftime.

The Bulldogs, who finished the year 11-1, played ball-control all game to keep DeJean and OABCIG's explosive offense off the field. Behind the tough-running of Dalten Van Pelt — 232 rushing yards, two touchdowns on 39 attempts — Van Meter held the ball for nearly 34 minutes and limited OABCIG to just six possessions through three quarters.

Even more, Van Meter converted 6-of-15 third-down attempts and went 4-of-6 on fourth-down. They had touchdown drives spanning 9, 12, 11 and 8 plays, and each one lasted four minutes or more. Quarterback Jack Petit added 111 rushing yards and threw two touchdown passes, to Ganon Archer and Kobe Richards.

Van Meter's Ganon Archer (7) catches a touchdown pass over OABCIG's Josh Peters (22) to make the score 13-06during their class 1A state football championship game on Friday, Nov. 20, 2020, in Cedar Falls, IA. Van Meter takes a 13-6 lead over OABCIG into halftime.

"Our kids did everything we asked of them," Van Meter coach Eric Trudo said, "and maybe even a little bit more."

OABCIG answered to tie the game at 6-6, and were within 13-12 and 20-18 in the second half. But Van Meter never trailed. For 46 minutes and 30 seconds, the Bulldogs' gameplan worked. 

Then Cooper DeJean happened.

OABCIG's Cooper Dejean (1) escapes a tackle on his way to the go-ahead touchdown during their class 1A state football championship game on Friday, Nov. 20, 2020, in Cedar Falls, IA. OABCIG would go on to defeat Van Meter 33-26.

Van Pelt scored on a 10-yard run with 4:23 left in the fourth quarter, but DeJean burst through the line to block the extra-point attempt — a crucial play that kept OABCIG within one possession, at 26-18.

OABCIG didn't score on its next possession, turning the ball over on downs after failing to convert a 4th-and-10 from Van Meter's 11-yard line. The Falcons did force Van Meter to punt the ball back with 2:36 to play, and they drove 55 yards in 4 plays, capped by DeJean's 4-yard touchdown run and ensuing two-point conversion to make it 26-all.

Van Meter's Kobe Richards (26) tries to grab his fumble on a kickoff during their class 1A state football championship game on Friday, Nov. 20, 2020, in Cedar Falls, IA. The fumble would lead to an OABCIG touchdown and extra point putting the Falcons on top of the Bulldogs 33-26.

Then came the fumble, and the run that will live on for years in Iowa high school sports lore, perhaps the finest scoring play of DeJean's prolific career. The last two years, DeJean accounted for a staggering 9,520 total yards of offense and 132 touchdowns during the Falcons' 25-game winning streak.

"He's just unbelievable," OABCIG coach Larry Allen said. "He wants the ball in his hands at the end, and we have full confidence that he's going to do great things with the ball in his hands. The other kids feed off him and believe in him."

Added Trudo: "A great player made a great play at the end of the game. Just have to tip your hat to him. That was a great football game, with two great teams out there. But when it doesn't go your way, it hurts just a little bit more."

Van Meter's Kobe Richards (26) and Van Meter's Calvin Sieck (8) react to their last minute loss to OABCIG 26-33 during their class 1A state football championship game on Friday, Nov. 20, 2020, in Cedar Falls, IA.

Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.