By J.O. Parker
The talent, drive and heart of the Montezuma Braves may have been under-estimated by most this year.
The Braves, who were returning for the third straight year, entered the 2021 Iowa Boys’ State Basketball Tournament as an underdog and a 7 seed in Class 1A.
The ranking didn’t detour them, it actually fueled them.
The Braves rolled through the tournament, beating the 2 seed, Lake Mills Bulldogs, 64-61, in an overtime thriller in the quarterfinal round. They went on to beat the number 3 seed, Grand View Christian Thunder, 49-35, in the semifinal round.
It all came down to the state championship final against number 1 seed, North Linn, who was in the title game a year ago.
The Braves, who fed off the support of their teammates, parents, family, community and fans, pulled off the upset, beating the Lynx, 44-41, and captured the school’s first state basketball championship in 31 years.
“It is something that we have been dreaming about since we were young,” said Trey Shearer, who was the leading scorer in the game with 13 points and named the Class 1A All-Tournament Team Captain. “It’s a great feeling that we got it done. It is a really big deal to us, to the team and to the seniors.”
Senior Cole Watts, who finished the game with 10 points, said the key to the victory was the teamwork and playing together as one.
“Honestly, we were unselfish, played as one and we wanted it for each other,” said Watts.
Junior Eddie Burgess, who one announcer referred to as the quarterback, came back from an early game injury to grab 12 rebounds and 8 points, including two late game-sealing free throws, to help the Braves get the job done.
“I knew I needed to work on my free throws,” said Burgess. “I knew the other team would foul me after seeing my percentages, so I worked on it in practice on Thursday. Obviously, it worked out for me and the team.”
Burgess, who suffered a knee injury in the state football playoff game in November, was able to get on the court to play with the Braves right after Christmas break.
“With me being hurt early in the season it brought more passion for the game,” said Burgess. “Sometimes you take it for granted how easy something you love can be gone. It showed me how much I love the game and kept me pushing on and working hard.”
Senior Cam Johnson finished the game with 6 points and has been a big part of the team’s success all year long, also making two late free throws along with Burgess to secure the win.
“I'm very proud of how our boys played this year, coming together,” noted Braves Head Coach Derrick Dengler, who has coached the Braves for four years. “We overcame early injuries and had lots of guys settle into roles and just battled all season. I’m happy with how the guys came together and played hard, particularly defensively.”
The Braves last won a state title in 1990 under then Head Coach Al Rabenold. When asked for his thoughts on the game, Rabenold said he was looking forward to seeing the 2021 State Champion picture being the first to be hung on the wall in the new North gym.
“And I was reminded at the Friday night welcome back celebration (and pep rally) that I need to update the sign in my yard – adding 2021 BOYS STATE BASKETBALL CHAMPIONS to it.”
“Winning the state championship hat was really cool since they are so hard to come by,” said Shearer.“That was a really cool experience for all of us to win those hats.”
Watts and Burgess were named, along with Shearer, to the Class 1A All-Tournament Team. Shearer also received the prestigious Jim Eekhoff MVP of the Tournament Award.