CEDAR RAPIDS — The numbers have been crunched, and they’re in. Believe it or not.
Not many would have believed before the prep football season began that Cedar Rapids Prairie would qualify for the Class 4A state playoffs, but that’s exactly the position the Hawks are in after a 42-7 win Friday night over Burlington at John Wall Field.
Win next week against Cedar Rapids Kennedy, and they’re a district champion, too. Who’d have thunk?
“We’re 7-1, have just kept it going,” said Prairie’s Levi Usher. “Nobody thought we’d be here, so it’s just nice to prove everyone wrong. We don’t really listen to what other people have to say. Just play our game the way we like it. That’s pretty much it.”
How they played it Friday night was with a strong defensive effort and a balanced offense.
Running backs Zach Ganske and Joe Meyer did what they’ve done all season, combining for 164 yards rushing and three touchdowns. Quarterback Dalton Rayner made his first varsity start and threw for 172 yards and two TDs, both to Usher.
Rayner is Prairie’s man moving forward, as Dakota Simonsen suffered a torn ACL and MCL in a win last week against Linn-Mar. By first appearances, he’s more than prepared for the role.
“We definitely throw the ball a little more than with Dakota, because Dakota is a bigger kid and more of a run guy. I trust my arm a lot more than I do my legs,” said Rayner, who completed 10 of 16 throws. “I’ve been playing receiver all year and just kind of been backing up Dakota whenever it was needed. Dakota is a great leader, really helped me prepare for this season, just in case he ever went down. Unfortunately, that happened. But I’ve always felt like I was ready to step in.”
Prairie outgained Burlington (3-5) in the first half by a 219-13 margin, getting touchdown runs from Ganske (40 yards on its initial play), Meyer (3 yards) and Rayner (19 yards), and a 17-yard TD pass from Rayner to Usher. A 60-yard bomb to Usher early in the third quarter got the continuous clock going.
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Ganske added a 5-yard scoring run early in the fourth. Burlington averted a shutout with a TD run with 2:51 to go against Prairie’s reserves.
“We’ve got a lot of good kids, and they’re fun to coach. They really are,” said Coach Mark Bliss, whose first Prairie team went 4-6 last season. “They bought in and have done everything I’ve asked of them since my first day on campus. This second go-around this year has been a lot of fun.”
“That’s what we’ve had drawn up all year. It feels pretty good to do it,” Rayner said. “Everyone had us rated kind of down on the list. Coming out and surprising everyone, fighting for that top spot, it feels pretty good.”
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