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Alphonso Soko lifts No. 8 Muscatine past No. 5 Cedar Rapids Kennedy

Football: 3rd-quarter punt return holds up in Muskies' 29-25 triumph

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CEDAR RAPIDS — The superlatives rolled off Brian White’s tongue.

“He’s a tremendous football player,” White said of Muscatine’s Alphonso Soko. “He’s outstanding.”

And when the Muskies needed him most, he was a game-breaker.

Soko returned a punt 83 yards for a touchdown late in the third quarter to put Class 4A eighth-ranked Muscatine in front for good, and the Muskies held on to upend No. 5 Cedar Rapids Kennedy, 29-25, in a non-district football game Thursday night at Kingston Stadium.

“My coaches were depending on me,” Soko said. “They told me to step up, and I was ready for it.”

Soko took the punt on a bounce, missed a couple tackles and followed a couple blocks to the end zone.

“I thought maybe somebody pushed me out of bounds, but I kept going,” he said.

Muscatine (1-0) snapped the Cougars’ 10-game regular-season winning streak, dating back to the last game of 2014. Kennedy was the 4A state runner-up last year.

“Muscatine is a fantastic team, and take nothing away from them,” White said. “But I’ve got to take the blame for this one, because I didn’t have the team ready to play.

“We made mistakes in all three phases of the game. We’ve got to get better at tackling. We’ve got to get better at special teams. And we’ve got to get better at running the ball. The buck stops with me.”

Kennedy (0-1) spotted the Muskies the first 15 points, then roared back to take a 22-15 halftime lead.

Nic Duehr threw three touchdown passes, two to Payton McCarty.

And when Alex Stone hit a 26-yard field goal midway through the third quarter for a 25-15 margin and Kennedy got a stop on the next defensive possession, the Cougars appeared to be in control.

“I liked where we were at that point,” White said. “That’s when you have to take over physically with your offensive line, and we didn’t do that.”

After Duehr threw an interception, Muscatine marched downfield in a hurry, and Soko caught a 26-yard touchdown pass from Luke Wichers to get the Muskies back in it at 25-22.

Two minutes later, Soko was off to the races with the punt return, and Muscatine’s defense made the go-ahead TD stand up.

Soko scored three touchdowns, on a 4-yard run, the reception and the punt return. He ran for 186 yards and caught four passes for 53.

With Kennedy down 15-0 in the second quarter, Duehr located McCarty for a 76-yard bomb to start the comeback. Duehr caught the ball around midfield, spun all the way around, then outraced the coverage.

An interception by Jesse Price ignited the game-tying rally, and Duehr capped it with a 9-yard scoring toss to Carter Krall. B.J. White located Ki Jenkins for a two-point pass on a broken play to make it 15-15.

Then Duehr found McCarty again on a 28-yard score with 26 seconds left in the half.

Kennedy faces No. 3 Cedar Rapids Washington next Friday at Kingston. Muscatine hosts Iowa City West.

l Comments: (319) 368-8857; jeff.linder@thegazette.com

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