116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Michael Cunningham insisted he liked playing in the cold and rain.
His reactions contradicted his words, standing in the middle of the field with arms shivering, teeth chattering and breath puffing through his facemask as large, chilly drops fell.
“I love it,” Cunningham said. “I remember when we were kids, this group of seniors played in the rain all the time. This is just fitting.”
Cedar Rapids Xavier’s play proved he was right. The third-ranked Saints scored on their first two drives and closed with two late scores, surviving the conditions and a hard-fought challenge from No. 8 Indianola for a 23-6 win in the Class 4A state football quarterfinals Friday night at Saints Field.
“It was awesome,” Xavier Coach Duane Schulte said. “The hardest one sometimes is the one to get to the Dome. Not saying the ones at the Dome aren’t, but it’s hard to just get there. It was a good win.”
The Saints (11-0) return to the semifinals after a runner-up finish last season. They will play No. 7 North Scott (9-2) at 7 p.m. Thursday in Cedar Falls. The forecast is expected to be 72 degrees and bright inside the UNI-Dome. A welcome change from Friday night.
“I like the rain,” Xavier senior Aidan McDermott said. “I can do it. I’ll be excited for the Dome, though.”
McDermott helped provide a spark in the fourth quarter that helped Xavier shake a pesky Indianola squad. He was able to jump an underthrown pass on a deep flag route — something his coaches had emphasized all week. He showed his athleticism on the return, reaching the Indians’ 22.
“I was toward the middle of the field and he faked the post,” McDermott said. “I kind of went with the post and broke on the flag. I was able to get there. Our defensive line got some pressure on the QB so that helped a lot. He had to just throw it up there and I was able to break on it.
“I know the whole line was blocking on the return. That was big.”
Two plays later, Grant Helmle pounded the ball up the middle for a 12-yard touchdown and a 20-6 lead with 10:50 remaining. Xavier outscored Indianola, 13-0, after halftime, getting a second interception from Maverick Burger and two field goals from Kale Christensen.
“We challenged them at halftime to just be tough and suck it up,” Schulte said. “They came out and they did.”
The elements dictated a heavy dose of the run game for Xavier. Cunningham and his line delivered. The senior running back rushed for 173 yards on 26 carries. He had key conversion runs through the game, including a 22-yard run to move the chains with the Saints on their own 2 and a late first down that led to a third Kale Christensen field goal.
Xavier didn’t attempt a pass until midway through the third quarter when Ronan Thomas hit Brogan Zahn for a first-down completion.
“I knew we were going to have to run the ball,” Cunningham said. “It boils down to the offensive line getting off and doing their thing. Everybody did their job and I just followed.”
None were bigger than his 61-yard scoring jaunt on Xavier’s third offensive play. He ran off right end, slipping through a couple tackles down the far sideline for a 7-0 lead.
“They give me a hole or crease and I’m going to do everything I can to hit it,” Cunningham said. “They’re blocking their tails off for me. At least I can do is run for them.”
Christensen helped the Saints pad their lead, going 3-for-3 in field goals and making both extra points. His 33-yard field goal in the first quarter made it 10-0 after a botched Indianola punt snap resulted in a 27-yard loss and gave Xavier the ball at the Indians’ 29. He added a 29-yarder in the third to put the Saints up by seven and made it a three-score game with 3:58 left.
“It was super easy for me,” said Christensen, praising holder Josef Lemker. “It wasn’t very difficult for me at all. The hardest part was catching a wet ball like that and getting it down perfectly on the tee. They got it down perfectly every time.”
Indianola demonstrated its big-play ability in the opening half. Running back Matthew Edgington had rushes of 27 and 39 yards. Bennett Brueck aired things out, despite the conditions. He connected on pass plays of 26 to Max Flaherty and 35 to Drew Kingery early.
Edgington’s 39-yard run opened the Indians’ scoring drive right before half. Indianola drove to the Saints’ 7 and stalled but a defensive pass interference penalty on a throwback to the quarterback allowed the Indians to convert fourth-and-2. Three plays later, Edgington scored on a 2-yard run off the right edge. The extra-point snap was mishandled, making it 10-6 at the break.
The Saints limited the Indians to 109 passing yards and Edgington to 105 on the ground. Indianola entered the game averaging 229.7 passing yards per game, while Edgington was near the 1,000-yard plateau. McDermott praised the scout team and coaches for the defensive effort.
“We saw their offense all week,” McDermott said. “We knew what was coming. We were ready for it.”
C.R. XAVIER 23
AT SAINTS FIELD
First Downs 8 13
Passing yards 109 52
Total yards 177 304
Fumbles-lost 1-0 2-0
Punts-avg. 4-44.0 4-35.8
Penalties-yards 1-10 6-55
Indianola0 6 00– 6
C.R. Xavier10 0 310 --23
CRX – Michael Cunningham 61 run (Kale Christensen kick)
CRX – FG Christensen 33
IND – Matthew Edgington 2 run (kick failed)
CRX – FG Christensen 29
CRX – Grant Helmle 12 run (Christensen kick)
CRX – FG Christensen 26
RUSHING – Indianola: Matt Edgington 19-105, Bennett Brueck 3-10, Drew Kingery 1-0, Team 1-(-27). C.R. Xavier: Michael Cunningham 28-173, Aidan McDermott 6-35, Grant Helmle 6-29, Ronan Thomas 7-25, Team 3-(-3), Grayson Hartman 1-(-7).
PASSING – Indianola: Brueck 11-29-2-109. C.R. Xavier: Cunningham 1-1-0-31, Thomas 1-3-0-21.
RECEIVING – Indianola: Kingery 3-48, Max Flaherty 1-26, Jack Hilton 1-14, Eli Fox 2-9, Edgington 3-8, Will Shivers 1-4. C.R. Xavier: Maverick Burger 1-31, Brogan Zahn 1-21.