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West Hancock football team ready to leave its own mark on program's storied history

The football field in Britt is named 'Sanger Field' for a reason.

For over five decades, Bob Sanger headed the charge as coach of Britt, and later, West Hancock. He set the tone, commanding a physical style of football, while developing boys into young men.

A long-standing precedent of success came with it.

When Bob took a step back to focus on his health in 2019, his son, Mark, took over the head coaching duties and led the Eagles to a state championship.

With a 27-0 Class A state quarterfinal victory over Hartley-Melvin-Sanborn on Friday night in Britt, the 2021 West Hancock football team will head back to the UNI-Dome for the first time since that title in 2019.

West Hancock football vs Hartley-Melvin-Sandborn quarterfinals - celebration

West Hancock's Eric Martinez (65) celebrates after winning the Class A quarterfinals against H-M-S in Britt on Friday.

It's also the first time since Bob's death in early 2020 that Mark will coach at Cedar Falls without his father there as part of the program.

"He lived for this time of year," Mark said after the win Friday. "Him and coach Perkins, who's still with us here. Those guys lived for this time of year, playoff football."

"He would have loved it," Mark continued. "It's hard not to have him around. But he would've been very proud of our coaching staff and our kids."

Mark beamed when talking about his team after the win. The top-ranked Eagles did just about everything right in the win over the Hawks.

Senior fullback Mathew Francis rushed for 256 yards and three touchdowns, the defense pitched another shutout and his boys never flinched during the victory.

West Hancock football vs Hartley-Melvin-Sandborn quarterfinals -

Mathew Francis looks back at the sideline after a touchdown run on Friday night during the Class A quarterfinal game against Hartley-Melvin-Sanborn.

"Our team has grit," Francis said. "We figured out that if we just keep hammering, that's exactly what's going to work."

It's the fourth shutout win of the season, and the 11th straight game that the West Hancock defense held its opponent to one touchdown or less.

Keeping teams out of the end zone has become a point of pride for the Eagles.

"Our coaches always preach to have grit and never give up, no matter how hard it is," senior Braden Walk said. "Our defense is one of the strongest parts of our team right now."

West Hancock football vs Hartley-Melvin-Sandborn quarterfinals -

West Hancock's Braden Walk (11) slips past H-M-S during the Class A quarterfinals in Britt on Friday.

The Eagles are led by a large group of talented seniors. All of them were on last year's team that came up one game short of the UNI-Dome in a loss to Grundy Center.

The loss last season only added fuel to the fire for this team.

"It's your turn to show what you can do," Mark said he told his team. "Our turn for these guys to show what they're able to do. They've done a great job, and it's exciting to see."

If West Hancock earns a win in the state semifinals, the Eagles would play in the Class A state championship. Only seven teams in program history have played in the title game, and only three have won it.

It's a big deal.

"It's an honor. Our tradition here goes way back," Francis said. "I'm honored to be able to play on this team and keep that tradition going. Us seniors, we're going to keep it going. We do everything for this community, because they do everything for us."

"We appreciate everything they do," Francis continued. "So we're going to give them a show."

West Hancock (11-0) will play East Buchanan (10-1) in the state semifinals at 10 a.m. on Thursday at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls.

Gunnar Davis covers sports. Reach him via email at Gunnar.Davis@GlobeGazette.com or by phone 641-421-0598.

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