The Ames players left the hardware on the field at AHS Stadium.
The Little Cyclones (8-2) didn't need any reminders that their season had just ended. They had just endured letting a 10-point fourth-quarter lead slip away in a game in which they had the Maroons (9-1) on the ropes and couldn't finish them off.
Ames coach Bruce Vertanen kept his post-game speech brief.
"I couldn't put it into words anything to try and make them feel better, so I didn't want to pretend," he said. "These kids had dreams and goals of winning a state championship, and I can't put it into words now that it's over."
The winning touchdown came with 31 seconds to play when David Zachary scored on a 3-yard run. The Little Cyclones got the ball to midfield, but a deep pass by quarterback Austen Arnaud was intercepted with two seconds left.
Dowling (9-1) will play Ankeny (7-3) in the quarterfinals Monday at McGrane Stadium in Des Moines.
Ames appeared to be on its way to the quarterfinals when it took a 24-14 lead into the fourth quarter. But the bottom fell out in the final 12 minutes as the Maroons took control and made every play they needed to while the Little Cyclone offense couldn't get a first down.
The Maroons cut the deficit to 24-21 on 31-yard touchdown pass from Joey Beltrame to Jimmy Swift on fourth-and-14.
Three plays later, the Little Cyclones punted, and Dowling marched right back down the field behind the running of tailback Warren Batiste and tied the game with a 22-yard field goal by Nathan Feltz.
"We had a 10-point lead going into the fourth quarter at home and were really clicking, so I felt good about things," Vertanen said. "They played clearly a better fourth quarter than us. They were better in big-down situations both offensively and defensively. That sticks with me."
The Little Cyclones were coming off a dominant third quarter in which they had two solid drives into Dowling territory. They came away with points on only one of those - a 2-yard Nathan Greving touchdown run. The other drive stalled at the Maroon 39.
Vertanen chose to punt the ball on fourth down with two yards to go.
Ames easily could have put the game out of reach in the first half, which saw four Dowling turnovers inside their own 35-yard line. Beltrame tossed three interceptions, and Feltz fumbled away a kickoff return that was recovered by Matt Stephenson.
The Little Cyclones took advantage, scoring 17 points off those miscues.
They did, however, waste one opportunity when a field goal was blocked, and had to settle for a 23-yard field goal by Tommy Strehlow on another possession after a penalty wiped out Arnaud's interception return for a touchdown.
The Maroons scored a touchdown late in the first half on a 10-yard run by Batiste and after everything that had went wrong, trailed by only 17-14 going into the locker room.
"We shouldn't have been in the game after the first half we had," Dowling coach Tom Wilson said. "Honestly though, there was never a time where I wondered what I was going to tell the kids after losing."
Arnaud threw a pair of first-half touchdown passes in his last game as a Little Cyclone.
He hooked up with Nathan Greving on a screen pass that turned into a 19-yard touchdown and then found tight end Ben Cotton with an 8-yard scoring strike.
Greving finished with 127 yards on 23 carries. Dowling's Batiste led all rushers with 175 yards on 23 carries.
Arnaud completed 9 of 23 passes for 81 yards and two TDs. He also was intercepted twice.
Arnaud also played defense extensively for the first time in his career. The Iowa State recruit had an interception and was all over the field, recording several tackles.
"(Arnaud) was willing to do whatever it takes, and if that was playing defense, he was ready to do it," Vertanen said. "He's been getting reps on defense in practice all year, and we just decided to use him. He did a nice job."
It was Ames' third postseason loss to Dowling. The Maroons beat Ames in the semifinal in both in 1995 and 1998. The 1995 loss was somewhat similar in that Dowling rallied in the final minutes to eke out the victory.
Dowling 31, Ames 24
Dowling 7 7 0 17 - 31
Ames 7 10 7 0 - 24
A - Nathan Greving 19 run (Tommy Strehlow kick)
D - Warren Batiste 9 run (Nathan Feltz kick)
A - Tommy Strehlow 23 FG
A - Ben Cotton 8 pass from Austen Arnaud (Strehlow kick)
D - Batiste 10 run (Feltz kick)
A - Greving 2 run (Strehlow kick)
D - Jimmy Swift 31 pass from Joey Beltrame (Feltz kick)
D - Feltz 22-yard FG
D - David Zachary 3 run (Feltz kick)
Rushing - Dowling: Warren Batiste 23-175, David Zachary 11-68, Jeff Kline 8-18, Nathan Feltz 3-12, Joey Beltrame 3-(-4); Ames: Nathan Greving 13-127, Austen Arnaud 7-26, Dan Kinker 2-4.
Passing - Dowling: Beltrame 9-15-3-142; Ames: Arnaud 9-23-2-81.
Receiving - Dowling: Swift 5-92, Kline 3-42, Matt Dunn 1-8; Ames: Greving 3-29, Chris Voss 3-29, Ben Cotton 2-16, Scott Lynn 1-7.