116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR FALLS — Cedar Rapids Xavier Coach Duane Schulte refused to describe his team with one word.
He resorted to using multiple adjectives like tough, gritty, smart and physical. The only football coach Xavier’s ever had also referenced a motivational message that he feels encompasses this year’s Saints.
“We have one thing painted on our locker room above the door as you go out,” Schulte said. “You get what you earn. They earned it.”
Powered by Coleton Beasler-Weber’s 97-yard kickoff return to open the second half and a rediscovered rush attack led by Michael Cunningham’s 170-yard performance, No. 3 Cedar Rapids Xavier downed top-ranked Council Bluffs Lewis Central, 45-38, in the Class 4A state football final Thursday night at the UNI-Dome.
“We grinded all season,” Cunningham said. “We were just waiting for this moment to get our chance at revenge and we finally got it.”
The Saints won their fourth state crown, avenging last year’s triple-overtime final that included the UNI-Dome lights turning off before the deciding frame.
“When you have something like that, it gives you a little more drive,” Saints linebacker Thomas Sundell said. “A little more want than the other team has. I think that helped us all season, especially the offseason.”
Xavier has reached the UNI-Dome each of the last three seasons, reaching the semifinals in 2020 and placing second a year ago. The Saints wanted to send the seniors out on top with the first title since 2018.
“I’m going to miss all the seniors,” Beasler-Weber said. “I’ve been playing with them forever. It’s just a great experience.
“It was our goal this year. We promised them and we fulfilled.”
Xavier built a 21-point lead on the first play of the final quarter only to see Lewis Central storm back to make it a one-possession game on scoring runs from Jonathan Humpal and Braylon Kammrad with 7:32 remaining.
The Saints produced an 80-yard, 10-play drive that melted almost five minutes off the clock and ended with a 3-yard TD pass from Ronan Thomas to Josef Lemker.
“We found out in the end that we needed every point possible because they’re so dangerous,” Schulte said. “You have to give them credit. They didn’t give up. They came back and are well coached. We just had to keep battling to the end. That was a big score.”
Special teams helped Xavier pad its lead in the third. Beasler-Weber ignited the Saints, running left, accelerating through a lane and cutting across field to beat one last defender for the kickoff return and 24-14 advantage.
“Once I got past the kicker I pretty much knew I was going,” Beasler-Weber said. “He clipped my foot but it wasn’t enough and I kept striding forward until I knew I was all the way to the end zone.”
Beasler-Weber suggested the return left at halftime. He faked up the middle and it turned out as planned.
“If I could take a few steps to fake like we’re going middle and bounce it out that it would work perfectly,” Beasler-Weber said. “It did. I don’t think I would have gotten out as far as I did if it wasn’t for Noah Schmiberg, laying his body out for that block on one guy that was probably going to get me. Then, the left side of kick return got on their guys and stayed with them.”
Lewis Central answered with a 35-yard Boston Hensley field goal and the Xavier run game extended the Saints’ lead on a Cunningham 13-yard TD run.
The rush attack was vital in Xavier’s success after the break. The Titans held Cunningham to just 18 yards in the first half. He pounded the ball, breaking free for occasional big gains to set up scores.
“Our (offensive) line started doing their thing,” Cunningham said. “I felt like I was running soft so I tried not to run soft the second half.”
Special teams struck again, recovery a kick-return fumble and giving Xavier the ball back on the Titans 29. Thomas capped that drive with a 1-yard run on fourth-and-goal to start the last quarter.
“There are three parts to a football game,” Schulte said. “Special teams really came into play tonight.”
The first half had a wild ebb and flow to the game, alternating between track meet and stalemate. The teams combined for 24 points in the first 9:21.
Lewis Central led 14-10 after the opening quarter thanks to big plays. Kammrad hit a wide-open Curtis Witte down the seam for a 48-yard touchdown pass.
On the next possession, Kammrad set up a well-executed screen pass to Humpal, who read the block of a lineman down field and out-ran the defense for a 69-yard score and four-point lead with 2:39 remaining in the first quarter.
Xavier traded early punches with the Titans. Thomas and Aidan McDermott helped the Sants build a 17-14 halftime advantage.
After a Thomas Sundell interception on the game’s first drive, the Saints took over at the Lewis Central 47. Two plays later, Thomas hit McDermott for a 51-yard scoring strike.
“That’s huge to start off the game,” Sundell said. “I have to give a lot of credit to my scout team guys. They’ve been running that play all week and I knew if I got that it was going to come my way.”
The Saints added a 30-yard Kale Christensen field goal before Thomas found McDermott again. This time for a quick-hit, catch-and-run for a 5-yard TD to cap first-half scoring with 9:04 before the break.
The Saints spoiled a monster game from Humpal. He finished with 240 offensive yards, including 136 on the ground, and three TDs, returning a kickoff 91 yards for a score.
Xavier capped a perfect season with a 13-0 mark, adding to titles in 2006, 2017 and 2018.
“That is a perfect way to end a football season,” Sundell said. “It’s great. I don’t know what to say I’m so happy.”
Cedar Rapids Xavier 45, Lewis Central 38
First Downs 19 23
Passing yards 257 135
Total yards 414 413
Fumbles-lost 1-1 0-0
Punts-avg. 2-45.0 3-38.7
Penalties-yards 4-53 7-45
Lewis Central14 0 321 --38
C.R. Xavier10 7 1414– 45
CRX – Aidan McDermott 51 pass from Ronan Thomas (Kale Christensen kick)
LC – Curtis Witte 48 pass from Braylon Kammrad (Boston Hensley kick)
CRX – FG Christensen 30
LC – Jonathan Humpal 69 pass from Kammrad (Hensley kick)
CRX – McDermott 5 run (Christensen kick)
CRX – Coleton Beasler-Weber 97 kickoff return (Christensen kick)
LC – FG Hensley 35
CRX – Cunningham 13 run (Christensen kick)
CRX – Thomas 1 run (Christensen kick)
LC – Humpal 91 kickoff return (Karson Lea kick)
lC – Kammrad 2 run (Hensley kick)
CRX – Josef Lemker 3 pass from Thomas (Christensen kick)
LC – Humpal 8 pass from Kammrad (Hensley kick)
RUSHING – C.R. Xavier: Michael Cunningham 25-170, Aidan McDermott 6-57, Grant Helmle 6-33, Ronan Thomas 11-11, Coleton Beasler-Weber 1-9, Team 1-(-2). Lewis Central: Jonathan Humpal 20-136, Braylon Kammrad 4-27, Parker Heller 1-(-6).
PASSING – C.R. Xavier: Thomas 10-12-1-135. Lewis Central: Kammrad 19-36-1-257.
RECEIVING – C.R. Xavier: Lemker 6-32, McDermott 2-65, Beasler-Weber 1-22, Helmle 1-16. Lewis Central: Humpal 8-104, Boston Hensley 4-61, Curtis Witte 3-65, Heller 1-14, Owen Thomas 1-13, Bryce Juon 1-8, Jack Doolittle 1-(-8).