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Iowa high school football playoffs: 11 area Round of 16 games to watch
Linn-Mar goes to Prairie for the 2nd week in a row
A look at 11 Gazette area Round of 16 games in the Iowa high school football playoffs.
Linn-Mar at Cedar Rapids Prairie
Time and place: 7 p.m. Friday, at John Wall Field
Records and rankings: The Lions are ranked No. 8 in Class 5A. Both teams are 6-3.
Overview: Two games in as many weeks, bridging the regular season and playoffs. Will the sequel go the way of “Empire Strikes Back” or “Caddyshack II?” The Lions won, 28-13, in Week 9. Carter Henderson has surpassed 100 yards rushing in each of the last five games, including 117 yards and three touchdowns last week. Henderson has 712 rushing yards and 12 TDs this season. Makelle Taylor leads Prairie’s attack with 1,061 rushing yards and 12 TDs, amassing 130 against the Lions. Quarterback Cal Sullivan rushed for two scores, giving him 14 total with eight passing. The winner likely gets a rematch with No. 4 Southeast Polk (8-1), which hosts Ames (6-3).
Waukee Northwest at Cedar Rapids Kennedy
Time and place: 7 p.m. Friday, at Kingston Stadium
Records and rankings: No. 6 Northwest is 5-4 overall; Kennedy is 7-2.
Overview: The Cougars closed the regular season with a dominant 41-0 victory over Dubuque Hempstead to secure a home playoff game. Kennedy’s defense leads 5A with 9.1 points allowed per game and 16 fumble recoveries. The Cougars are second with 21.5 sacks and 109 tackles for loss. Kennedy sophomore Vincenzo Gianforte has passed for almost 1,250 yards and 15 TDs. Cyrus Courtney (31-464, five TDs) and Michael Mulherin (15-219, five TDs) have been his biggest targets. Northwest has won five of its last six games with its only blip being a 31-7 loss to top-ranked Ankeny. Sam Johnson leads the Wolves with 1,455 total offensive yards and 15 TDs, including 898 and six passing. Brady Grisham leads Northwest with 828 rushing yards and has added five scores on the ground.
Cedar Rapids Washington at Cedar Rapids Xavier
Time and place: 7 p.m. Friday, at Saints Field
Records and rankings: Washington is 5-4; third-ranked Xavier is 9-0.
Overview: Washington claimed the final spot as an at-large qualifier. Its reward is a rematch with the Saints, who won the regular-season matchup, 38-0, at Kingston Stadium. The Warriors’ Watts McBride has 763 total offense yards and Malik Epps-Keller has a team-high 852 passing yards and six TDs. The Saints defense has stymied opponents all season, allowing just 4.1 points per game with four shutouts. They haven’t given up more than seven points in a game since 14 in the season opener to Western Dubuque. Xavier has tallied 47 tackles for loss and 14 sacks. Thomas Sundell is the Saints’ top tackler with 64.5 tackles, 47 solo and 14 for loss. Michael Cunningham has 1,054 yards and 17 TDs on the ground, while Ronan Thomas has passed for 1,096 and 16 TDs for the Saints, who are attempting to return to the 4A state title game this fall.
Webster City at Iowa City Liberty
Time and place: 7 p.m. Friday, at North Liberty
Records and rankings: No. 10 Webster City is 6-3; fifth-ranked Liberty is 8-1.
Overview: The Lightning make their second playoff appearance and first since 2019. They are still looking for their first postseason victory. Liberty has won six straight games, coming off a 42-7 triumph over Clinton. Lightning quarterback Graham Beckman has been sensational, throwing for 2,127 yards and 27 TDs. He has also rushed for 200 yards with four TDs. Four receivers have more than 300 yards, including Garrett Gregoire (31-666) and Wyatt Williams (25-445). They have combined for 15 TD receptions. Webster City has rushed for more than 3,300 yards. Jaxon Cherry accounts for more than half, rushing for 1,664 and 29 of the Lynx’s 44 TDs on the ground. Ty McKinney has four interceptions for Webster City.
Iowa City High at Johnston
Time and place: 7 p.m. Friday, at Johnston
Records and rankings: City High is ranked ninth. Johnston is sixth. Both are 6-3.
Overview: Iowa City High will attempt its trek back to the UNI-Dome, reaching the 5A semifinals last year before falling to state champion Southeast Polk, which beat Johnston in the first round a year ago. The Little Hawks have won two straight, including a school record 79-0 romp over Davenport Central in Week 9. Johnston has won three in a row and four of its last five. The only loss was to No. 2 West Des Moines Dowling. City High scores at a 45.6-point clip. The Little Hawks lead 5A in scoring and in TD passes (33). They have passed for 2,428 yards. Akili Mattox leads the receivers with 29 catches for 624 yards, while Ronnie Major leads City High with 466 yards and eight TDs on the ground. Johnston’s Will Nuss has passed for 1,573 yards and 16 TDs, including 488 and six to Rex Woodley.
West Delaware at Solon
Time and place: 7 p.m. Friday, at Solon
Records and rankings: Ninth-ranked West Delaware is 5-4; No. 5 Solon is 7-2.
Overview: Both teams overcame slow non-district starts. The Hawks started 1-3 with losses to highly-ranked 4A teams Xavier and Waverly-Shell Rock and 2A playoff qualifier Dubuque Wahlert. The Spartans have won six straight after a close loss to second-ranked, rival Mount Vernon and 2A No. 2 Williamsburg. Both teams have strong 1-2 punches on offense. For West Delaware, it’s QB Brent Yonkovic and running back Will Ward. Yonkovic has 1,417 total yards and nine TDs, including 713 and four passing. Ward has rushed for 1,194 yards with 17 TDs. Solon counters with Blake Timmons and Brett White. Timmons has passed for 850 yards and seven scores, adding 580 and 14 TDs. White leads the team with 806 yards and 11 TDs. White also leads the Spartan defense with 63 tackles with 36 solo.
DeWitt Central at Mount Vernon
Time and place: 7 p.m. Friday, at Mount Vernon
Records and rankings: No. 10 Central is 6-3; second-ranked Mount Vernon is 9-0.
Overview: Mount Vernon posted its first unbeaten regular season since 2002. The Mustangs are not only unbeaten but they have done it convincingly. They have outscored opponents by an average of 35.4 points per game, which is second only to top-ranked Harlan. The passing attack is a big reason. Quarterback Joey Rhomberg is second in 3A with 24 TDs, passing for a 4A-best 2,061 yards. Mount Vernon spreads the ball around with 13 players with at least one catch and seven with double-digit receptions. Evan Brase (536 yards) and Brady Erickson (428) lead the Mustangs with 37 catches apiece and Cade Stimmel (361) has 34. David Harper leads a balanced Central rushing attack with 609 yards on 95 carries and five TDs.
Benton Community at Independence
Time and place: 7 p.m. Friday, at Independence
Records and rankings: Benton is 6-3; third-ranked Independence is 9-1.
Overview: Independence has been one of the hottest teams around, winning nine straight games since a season-opening loss at Davenport Assumption. The Mustangs offense centers on senior QB Mitch Johnson, who has 2,066 offensive yards and 26 TDs, passing for 1,391 and 15 and rushing for 664 and 11. Trey Weber has run for 814 yards and 11 scores. Tate Wood has a team-high 11 tackles for loss for the Mustangs, who have forced 13 turnovers. Carson Bruns has rushed for 921 yards and 15 TDs for the Bobcats. Brennen Blegen leads Benton with 53 tackles and ranks among the 3A leaders with two fumble recoveries. Bobcats senior Will Shaw ranks third in 3A with eight sacks.
Mid-Prairie at Williamsburg
Time and place: 7 p.m. Friday, at Williamsburg
Records and rankings: Mid-Prairie is 6-3; second-ranked Williamsburg is 9-0.
Overview: Williamsburg can make a claim as one of the most dominant teams, regardless of class this season. The Raiders are one of four unbeatens in 2A, leading the class in points per game (50.9) and average point differential (41.1) and holding teams to under 10 points a contest, while forcing 30 turnovers. Williamsburg beat Mid-Prairie, 56-7, in Week 6 thanks to Carson Huedepohl, who threw for 137 yards and ran for 126 with three total TDs. The Raiders’ Clayten Steckly leads 2A with three defensive TDs — all interception returns. Williamsburg has won nine straight games against Mid-Prairie, which won its last two regular-season games. The Golden Hawks’ Braden Hartley has rushed for 1,335 yards and 14 TDs. Cain Brown leads Mid-Prairie in tackles (48), interceptions (4) and receiving (23-417).
East Buchanan at Alburnett
Time and place: 7 p.m. Friday, at Alburnett
Records and rankings: East Buchanan is ranked eighth, while Alburnett is No. 10. Both are 8-1.
Overview: The Buccaneers and Pirates will battle again. East Buchanan returns to Alburnett, where it won 34-27 in Week 4. The matchup is a classic clash in offensive styles. The Buccaneers maintain the ground-and-pound style that has amassed 3,637 yards, ranking second in Class A. They are on the verge of having three 1,000-yard rushers. Tanner Thurn leads the way with 1,218. Ryland Cornell is second with 1,100, while Hunter Bowers has 949. Bowers has nine catches for 286 receiving yards when the team does pass. Alburnett’s passing attack ranks among the class leaders and is led by QB Mason Neighbor, who ranks third in Class A with 1,914 yards and second with 27 TDs. Grayson Carolan and Braydon Osborn are his top targets. Carolan has 667 yards on 31 catches with 10 TDs. Osborn has 37 receptions for 521 and eight scores.
Central City at WACO
Time and place: 7 p.m. Friday, at Wayland
Records and rankings: Central City is 8-1; No. 2 WACO is 10-0.
Overview: Central City has won eight games for the first time since its last playoff appearance in 2018 and just the third time in 15 seasons. The Wildcats are in the playoffs for the third time in program history. Central City earned its second postseason victory with a 46-26 triumph over Tripoli last week. The Wildcats score 44.8 points per game, while WACO comes in at 48.9. Aiden Klostermann leads the way for Central City with 1,170 rushing yards and 20 TDs, while Matt Klostermann has 532 and nine. Aiden also leads the Wildcats defense with four interceptions. WACO allows just 13.7 points per game. The Warriors reached the quarterfinals last season. Isaac Oswald has 1,224 passing yards and 20 TDs and Simeon Reichenbach has run for 1,036 and 23 TDs for WACO.
Other Gazette area playoff games
No. 9 Western Dubuque (6-3) at No. 7 North Scott (7-2)
Crestwood (6-3) at No. 10 Waukon (6-3)
Centerville (7-2) at No. 9 Monticello (7-2)
No. 10 Dike-New Hartford (7-2) at No. 8 MFL MarMac (8-1)
Waterloo Columbus (6-3) at No. 3 West Branch (9-0)
No. 9 Mediapolis (8-1) at Sigourney-Keota (7-2)
Mason City Newman (8-1) at No. 6 North Linn (8-1)
No. 6 Gladbrook-Reinbeck (8-1) at Turkey Valley (7-1)
No. 5 Easton Valley (7-1) at Montezuma (8-2)