CEDAR RAPIDS – The entire season boiled down to just 24 minutes.
Cedar Rapids Prairie Coach Mark Bliss had a little heart-to-heart with his Hawks as their playoff hopes teetered on one half of play.
“Our talk was about seizing the moment, leaving their legacy and some halftime stuff,” Bliss said. “I said it’s an even draw. We have to go out and find a way to claw, scratch, dig and do whatever we can to put points on the board and our kids did that.”
Class 4A 10th-ranked Prairie scored three second-half touchdowns en route to a 32-19 victory over Cedar Rapids Kennedy Friday night at John Wall Field. The victory clinched the 4A District 8 runner-up spot and a playoff berth.
For the second straight year, Prairie (8-1, 4-1) turned Kennedy away in a regular-season finale with playoff implications.
The Hawks iced the game with a Braxton Zimmerman 11-yard touchdown run with 1:22 left, coming a little more than four minutes after Keegan Simmons’ 23-yard scoring run. Handshakes and celebrations began.
“It was a great feeling,” Simmons said. “Everybody was giving me high-fives and stuff.”
The teams were tied, 10-10, at the half. Prairie began to impose its will with its first possession of the second half.
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Prairie produced an impressive 15-play, 67-yard drive that burned 7:15 off the clock. Simmons capped the series with a 3-yard drive. The Hawks delivered exactly what Bliss wanted.
“I made a promise to our defense that we would control the clock in the second half,” Bliss said. “I was praying after that I didn’t stick my foot in my mouth. We did it. We controlled the clock in the second half.”
Prairie wasn’t exposed to the defensive look, but made adjustments in the second half. The Hawks rushed for 187 of their 244 yards after the break, including two scoring drives dominated by the rush.
Simmons finished with 187 rushing yards and three touchdowns.
“The key was to keep moving the ball,” said Simmons, who set a school record increasing his season rush total to 1,689 yards. “Coach told me to keep pounding the ball and to take over. That’s exactly what I did and I owe it to my line. They did great tonight.”
Kennedy (6-3, 3-2) made things interesting, taking a 19-17 lead with 8:57 to go. Rizaiha Maide picked up a lateral and returned it 72 yards for a touchdown, but Prairie answered the following drive and took the lead for good.
Kennedy starting quarterback B.J. White suffered a shoulder injury a couple weeks ago. Although he played, he was unable to throw like normal. Four different Cougars threw passes, but they managed just 35 passing yards on three completions.
“It’s tough to play when you’re one-dimensional,” Kennedy Coach Brian White said. “We tried to mix it up a little bit. We couldn’t complete any passes with what we had and they started shutting down the run game.”
The first half was riddled with errors. Both teams combined for five turnovers, including three straight possessions that ended in two interceptions and a fumble. Prairie capitalized on those miscues better, recovering a pair of fumbles for short fields and 10 points.
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Kennedy’s first fumble gave Prairie the ball at the Cougars 27. Five plays later, Simmons rushed for a 17-yard TD and tied the game, 7-7, with 2:34 to go in the opening quarter.
Prairie took its first lead, taking over at the Kennedy 20 when the Hawks hustled to fall on a muffed punt. Jayce Smith drilled a 34-yard field goal for a 10-7 lead.
Kennedy answered with a clock-melting drive to tie the game at halftime. The Cougars drove 67 yards on 13 plays, erasing the final 5:37 of the first half. Alex Stone nailed a 30-yard field goal into a stiff wind as time expired, knotting the game at 10 apiece.
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