CEDAR RAPIDS — This was not a dominating victory for Class 4A’s third-ranked team. Not at all.
It took a touchdown with six minutes left for Cedar Rapids Washington to create a more comfortable lead en route to a 27-14 victory Friday night over Cedar Rapids Prairie at John Wall Field.
Eight more weeks will tell us if this was an outlier for the highly touted Warriors, or if Prairie is better than many expected. The bottom line was not a whole lot separated these teams on opening night.
“Of course, there is always room for improvement, but we still did pretty well for our first game,” said Wash quarterback Bryan Kunde. “But there are a lot of things we need to improve upon.”
Like cramping. Several Wariors (and Hawks, for that matter), fell victim to cramps on a night that was humid but also cool.
This was a 21-14 game early in the fourth quarter, when Prairie took a gamble that didn’t pay off. Eyeing the upset, Hawks Coach Mark Bliss rolled the dice and went for it on a 4th-and-3 play at his team’s own 27.
Back Joe Meyer took the direct snap from center but was met with immediate resistance. Attempting to jump and get over the line to gain, Meyer had the football punched away, with Wash’s Brayden Wright falling on it at the 29.
Kunde eventually scored on a 2-yard run for a two-score lead.
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“I was going to put the punt team in, but I’ll be honest with you, the kids said ‘Coach, we got this. We got this,’” Bliss said. “Sometimes if I get good vibes from the kids, I’ll be a riverboat gambler and do it.”
In his first varsity start, junior Kunde completed 10 of 21 passes for 193 yards and two touchdowns, both to Drew Dostal. The senior receiver caught six balls for 113 yards.
Connor Malcolm had Washington’s other touchdown, on a 22-yard run.
“After that first drive, we were pretty solid defensively,” said Dostal, who also played defensive back and had an interception. “Just getting those jitters out. Offensively, we were pretty good in the first half, then just kept pounding on them in the second half. We kind of had to grind it out in order to get the win.”
“I liked how we responded when the score got to be 21-14,” said Washington Coach Paul James. “We had several stops defensively that we would have liked to have taken advantage of but weren’t able do. Eventually we did.”
Meyer had 74 yards rushing on 16 carries for Prairie. That included a 4-yard TD run that made it a 21-14 game midway through the third quarter.
Dakota Simonsen’s 40-yard TD pass to Levi Usher opened the scoring and accounted for Prairie’s other score. Bliss missed the entire week of practice because his father, Ray, passed away at age 86 after a long bout with cancer in Oklahoma.
In fact, Mark Bliss didn’t return back to Iowa until Friday. His coaches, speficially defensive coordinator and good friend Jim Dostal, took care of game preparation.
“My mind has been everywhere but here, but I felt in my heart that I needed to be here for my kids,” Bliss said. “They did a great job tonight. With the exception of two turnovers that led to two touchdowns, they battled. We’re a lot different team than we were last year. I’m very ecstatic ... We’ve got a different attitude this year, and I’m very proud of the kids. Those guys had to earn everything they got tonight.”
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You thought Prairie’s unique single-wing offense might be able to move the football, especially early, and that’s what happened. The Hawks took over on their own 13 but needed only seven plays to cover the 87 yards.
Simonsen caught a 28-yard reverse pass from versatile back Meyer to take the football into Washington territory. Simonsen faded back and connected with receiver Levi Usher on a beautiful 40-yard pass for the touchdown.
Joel Collett’s extra-point kick eked over the crossbar to give the Hawks a 7-0 lead 3:01 in.
Washington also used the long ball, if you will, to great effect on its opening possession. Kunde hit on a sideline fly pattern to Dostal for 40 yards and eventually rolled left and hit him for 10 yards and the TD.
Andrew Hammer’s extra point tied it with 6:42 left in the first quarter.
Prairie continued to move the ball on its second possession, but a Meyer fumble near midfield was recovered by Wash’s Travis Metzger to foil the potential drive. Washington took the lead early in the second quarter thanks in large part to O’Rien Vance.
The Iowa State defensive end recruit is going to play a little more offense this season and rumbled for 26 yards on a fullback trap and caught a play-action flat pass from Kunde and rolled 30 yards to give the Warriors a 1st-and-goal. After a holding penalty, Malcolm broke loose over the middle on a draw play for a 22-yard touchdown and a 14-7 lead.
An interception by cornerback Tyonchi Johnson set up Wash near midfield later in the quarter. A pass-interference penalty on Prairie helped take it into Hawks territory. On a 2nd-and-8 play, Kunde threw another sideline fade that Dostal was able to haul in for a 26-yard score and a 21-7 lead.
Prairie plays Cedar Rapids Jefferson in the Kolache Bowl next week. Washington plays Cedar Rapids Kennedy at Kingston Stadium.
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