Special teams power Cedar Rapids Xavier to 3A semifinals

Braden Stove returns 2 punts for TDs in 44-21 win over Davenport Assumption

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CEDAR RAPIDS – The game was truly a tale of two halves.

The first resembled a shootout that resulted in 49 total points and scores in just about any fashion imaginable – punt returns, kick returns, a flea flicker and long runs.

The second was more of what Cedar Rapids Xavier was accustomed to with a dominant defense and a run game that took control.

The Saints used a pair of Braden Stovie punt returns for touchdowns and then sealed the win with his 19-yard score and a safety, eliminating Davenport Assumption, 44-21, in a Class 3A state football quarterfinal Friday night at Saints Field.

Xavier (11-0) advances to the state semifinals for the fifth time in the last seven years.

“Whenever a kid starts playing football at a young age in Iowa your goal is to get to the UNI-Dome,” Xavier Coach Duane Schulte said. “For these guys to achieve it this year, that is a special moment for them. We’re happy to go up there. It’s an honor.”

The Saints special teams made a major impact in the first half. It put Xavier on the board when Stovie fielded a punt on his own 14 and rumbled 86 yards for the score.

“We try to practice all three facets of the game,” Schulte said. “The special teams is part of it and our guys executed. That was good for us.

Stovie and the punt return unit resorted to their same antics in the final minutes of the first half. Stovie returned this one 62 yards for a score, giving the Saints some breathing room and a 28-14 lead that it wouldn’t surrender.

“It’s pretty cool,” Stovie said. “Everyone blocked really well tonight. They just did a good job.”

Sandwiched between those two returns were Quinn Schulte’s 17-yard run and Schulte’s 35-yard TD pop pass to Jacob Hines down the middle of the field on 4th-and-2.

They needed it all because of Assumption’s peskiness thanks to the playmaking ability of Jayce Levy.

Levy bolted for a 66-yard TD run up the middle, answering the first punt return and tying the game, 7-7, on the following possession. He also responded to Schulte’s scoring run with a 95-yard kickoff return, tying it again.

Assumption pulled within seven with 37 seconds left before halftime when Nick Gotilla took the ball on a jet sweep and stepped back, chucking the ball downfield to running back Ryan Wohlers, who out-jumped the defender and fell into the end zone for a 40-yard TD.

Schulte said he wasn’t surprised by the early fireworks.

“I knew they were dangerous,” Schulte said. “They hit a couple big plays. Give our guys credit. We just snuck our nose to the grindstone and plowed away.”

The Xavier defense and rushing game took over in the second half. The Saints defense shut out the Knights (8-3) and held them to 33 total yards after the break. Assumption managed a mere 25 rushing yards in the second half. Xavier even added a safety late for the final score.

“We’ve just been working well together,” Xavier defender Beau Van Berkum said. “It helps when everyone trusts in the process and it all comes together on the field.

“We knew they were going to go hard, they are going to be good and there was going to be a battle the whole time.”

Xavier seemed to wear down the Knights. The Saints drove 70 yards on seven plays, resulting in a 5-yard Schulte run as time expired in the third. Stovie added his third score with 6:09 left, juking a tackler for the final five yards.

Schulte finished with 122 yards on the ground, while Stovie amassed 118.

“It was tough,” Stovie said. “They are a really good team up front. Their linebackers really filled. We were just trying to get some holes and sometimes things opened up.”

Xavier advances to the UNI-Dome for the third time since dropping to 3A four seasons ago. They face a dominant Solon (11-0) team Thursday at 8:21 p.m. The Saints lost to state champion Pella in the semifinals last season.

“We’ve all been waiting for moments like this our whole lives,” Van Berkum said. “Last year, we got cut short. We are trying to go out and work as hard as we can.”

Levy led Assumption with 103 rushing yards.

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

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