Many Iowa high school football playoff fates determined in regular-season finales

Prairie, Kennedy, Marion face win-and-in games

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The end of the regular season comes with a mad scramble for remaining postseason berths and district titles.

A mere victory could be the difference between logging into Hudl and turning in your equipment the following Monday.

Week 9 of the prep football season is filled with marquee matchups that will influence the playoff field as teams make one last push to extend the season.

For the second straight year, Cedar Rapids Prairie (7-1, 3-1) will meet Cedar Rapids Kennedy (6-2, 3-1) to determine the playoff qualifiers in Class 4A District 8. The winner at John Wall Field will be the district runner-up behind Iowa City West and owner of the second playoff berth.

“The thing about it is the hours and hours we spend on preparation for our season and compound that with all the games we’ve played to this point, it’s hard to believe that an entire season boils down to 48 minutes,” Prairie Coach Mark Bliss said. “Everything culminates and comes to a head.

“Winner goes on and loser stays home and that’s where we’re at. I don’t know if our kids would want it any other way.”

Last season, Prairie was the district champion but a Kennedy win by a large enough margin would have put the Cougars in the postseason. The Hawks won, snapping Kennedy’s 11-year postseason run. They could force them out for a second straight year.

“It’s a little bit different this year,” Kennedy Coach Brian White said. “You win, you’re in and that’s the key.

White added, “The only thing we brought up is that we didn’t go to the playoffs. That was the first time in 11 years we hadn’t gone. We haven’t brought up any individual games.

“We bring up the scenario that they have a chance to start a new streak again.”

Prairie won’t conjure up memories of last year’s contest. Bliss said Prairie only returned a few starters and most of the current players weren’t directly involved a year ago.

“Those kids were on the sideline to watch the game as we were able to put things away against Kennedy,” Bliss said. “This is a whole new group of kids and hopefully they will remember what we were able to do, so we can go out and compete with them.”

Kennedy has no margin for error and hasn't for a couple weeks.

“Essentially, the playoffs have already started for us,” White said. “Our approach is we have a sense of urgency. Everything has to be perfect. Practice has to be perfect. Our team meeting (Saturday) morning had to be perfect and that’s what we are stressing, right now. We have to be perfect to beat a very good Prairie football team.”

Both teams lost to returning state runner-up West in the regular season. Prairie has won three straight with its biggest game ahead.

“They understood our mission that we had no choice,” Bliss said. “For us to be in the playoffs, we had to go 8-1. That has been their mission and goal. They’ve come out and prepared weekly and done a nice job. We’re where were at because of their work ethic and approach to preparation.”

Prairie has dominated teams with a potent run game spearheaded by one of 4A’s top rushers in Keegan Simmons. He rushed for 201 yards against Burlington on Friday, giving him more than 1,502 this season.

“We need to figure out how to stop that kid and that’s priority No. 1 for us,” White said. “After that, they have a pretty good defense.”

Bliss said Kennedy is bigger and faster than his Hawks and have to find a way to neutralize their strengths to have a chance to win.

“We’re blessed to be here at this point in time,” Bliss said. “We’re fortunate. We’re hoping to continue to find a way to compete and give Kennedy a game.”

Marion cleared one hurdle and faces another major obstacle in a short week, traveling to Brady Street Stadium to play Davenport Assumption on Thursday. The Indians (6-2, 5-1) can claim the District 4 title with a victory. The Knights and West Delaware also own a 5-1 mark, so a loss likely places Marion on the outside, despite a win over West Delaware Friday.

“This is a playoff game for us,” Lovell said. “The last four weeks have been a playoff game situation for us. The loss to (Dubuque) Wahlert changed what we had to do and how we had to do it.

“(Friday) night, it was kind of a must-win for us to keep playing and this week is no different. We’re excited about the challenge.”

Last season, Marion was in playoff contention going into the final week, but didn’t get the win or help it needed. The Indians have been focused solely on their own progress since the district loss to the Golden Eagles. They are consumed with improvement and approach this like any other game.

“We love the opportunity that we hold it in our hands,” Lovell said. “We have the future right in front of us, if we do the work. It’s not going to be an easy task though. Assumption is very physical and athletic. They have playmakers and get after it. We have our hands full.”

In Class 2A, second-ranked Mount Vernon (7-1, 6-0) hosts Williamsburg (7-1, 5-1) with the District 5 championship at stake. The Mustangs already have a playoff berth locked up, regardless of the outcome. Williamsburg takes the district with a victory, but will have to rely on an at-large berth if West Liberty beats Camanche. The Comets upset previously top-ranked Williamsburg, 14-9, in Week 7.

“I think we knew it would come down to this last game to decide the district, but West Liberty jumped in there and changed those plans a little bit,” Williamsburg Coach Curt Ritchie said. “At the same time, it doesn’t change the fact that it all comes down to this last game.”

The Raiders rebounded with a 62-14 victory against Northeast. The Mustangs provide a much larger challenge with one of the state’s top passers in Drew Adams and a high-scoring offense.

“Their quarterback play is just tremendous.” Ritchie said. “Offensively, we have to understand that we can’t be one dimensional, not only in the pass-run game but mix up who is getting the ball and spread the ball around a little bit more.

“We’re looking forward to it. I’m really happy with the way we bounced back last week in our preparation and feel good about this team with where we’re at, right now.”

Also in 2A, District 4 remains undecided. Cascade (8-0, 6-0) hosts Union Community (6-2, 5-1). Cascade grabs the title with a victory and Waukon (7-1, 5-1) will earn the second postseason berth. Union can claim the district title with a win and Waukon loss. If Union and Waukon win, it will depend on point differential in the three-way tie.

Belle Plaine still clings to a Class A playoff berth in District 5. The Plainsmen (6-2, 5-1) host Hudson (8-0, 6-0). Belle Plaine can make the playoffs with a seven-point win or a victory and a Gladbrook-Reinbeck loss.

DISTRICT DOMINANCE

Cedar Rapids Xavier has captured a district crown each year since making the move to Class 3A four seasons ago. The Saints (8-0, 6-0) continued their dominance, clinching the District 3 title with a 38-0 victory at Vinton-Shellsburg on Friday.

Masked in the four consecutive district championships is how Xavier has had its way with district foes. The Saints have won 21 straight district games, going 24-1 in district competition since 2014. The lone setback was a 7-6 home loss to Western Dubuque on Oct. 3, 2014.

During that stretch, Xavier has 941 points in those 25 games. In their district victories, the Saints have outscored opponents by an average of 31.5 points per game.

The Saints are 37-4 against 3A programs, reaching the state semifinals twice. They close the regular season at home against South Tama (2-6, 1-5).

WEST STANDS ALONE

Ankeny Centennial scored 22 straight second-half points to upset Class 4A top-ranked West Des Moines Dowling, 22-19, on Friday night at Valley Stadium. The Maroons had won 17 straight games and the last four 4A state titles.

The result combined with second-ranked Iowa City West’s 42-7 drubbing of Linn-Mar leaves the Trojans as the lone unbeaten team in 4A. West (8-0, 4-0) has already locked up the District 8 title and closes at winless Ottumwa.

l Comments: (319) 368-8679; kj.pilcher@thegazette.com

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