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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR FALLS — They turned out the lights, but the party wasn’t over.
Thursday night’s Class 4A state championship football game had a ton of interesting things happen in it. One of those games that will take a while to digest.
The most interesting thing to happen was when the lights at the UNI-Dome went out just as Cedar Rapids Xavier and Council Bluffs Lewis Central were about to begin their third overtime.
A delay of 20 minutes ensued. Lewis Central got a touchdown and two-point conversion run when things resumed, then stuffed third and fourth-down quarterback sneak attempts by Xavier’s Alex Neal at and inside the 1-yard line, respectively, to come away with a 32-24 victory.
“That’s something you never see,” Neal said. “It’s crazy. It hits you differently, I guess. The tension just builds, it’s as simple as that. Everybody is getting so antsy out there. Our student section moved over (to the end of the field where the OTs took place), their student section moved over. All the hype got up. It was special, made it quite interesting. I actually liked it.”
The dome lights were set on a timer by the University of Northern Iowa, with no one anticipating, apparently, that four title games that began Thursday at 9:30 a.m. might not conclude at 10 p.m. That’s the exact moment they went out.
Once they were turned off, the quartz lights had to cool down enough to be turned back on and work again. Thus, the lengthy delay.
Fans on both sides of the dome turned their cell phone flashlights on and sang to several songs played over the public-address system. Players milled about in the semi-darkness (the scoreboard, advertising signs around the field and press-box lights remained on), jogging around to try and stay warm.
This was seconds after Lewis Central QB Braylon Kammrad hit Brayden Loftin with an 11-yard touchdown pass on third down and Boston Hensley kicked the extra point to make it a 24-24 game. Just a totally surreal scene.
“I mean, we pride ourselves on having more in the tank at the end than them, so we were ready to keep going, didn’t want to give them a rest,” said Xavier linebacker Thomas Sundell. “But you just have to come out with the mindset of don’t let that faze us. Come back and keep going as hard as we did during the whole game.
“I was pacing. I don’t know if you saw me, but I was pacing. Just keep moving around.”
There were so many plays here that will forever be discussed.
The two unsuccessful Neal sneaks in triple OT. Xavier players insisted Neal hit the goal line on the second one.
The near interception prior to Kammrad’s touchdown pass in the second overtime. Kammrad threw a ball that deflected off the hands of a teammate, but safety Aidan McDermott couldn’t secure the deflection when he had that chance.
The two airmailed punt snaps in the fourth quarter by Lewis Central that didn’t cost it. Both times Titans punter Lane Feirfeil was able to retrieve the ball near his end zone and get off punts.
The second one came in the final 20 seconds. Instead of having the ball deep inside Lewis Central territory, Xavier took over at its 29 and ran out the regulation clock.
“We had our shots on those two punts that went over their heads,” Sundell said. “Our defense held there early in the game, throughout the game, kept us in it. Our offense pulled through at the end and got us to OT. That’s all you can ask for in the end.”
Lewis Central took a 10-0 lead late in the second quarter, Xavier drove for a Trysten Vasquez field goal at the end of the half, and eventually tied the game on Neal’s 15-yard scramble run with 4:39 to go in regulation.
Neal was the epitome of toughness all night, rushing for 72 yards and two TDs and throwing 158 yards and one more. He took some big-time shots from Lewis Central’s defense but just kept getting back up.
“Alex was tough,” said Xavier Coach Duane Schulte. “I told all these seniors that they’re going to go down as legends. Did you see how much bigger Lewis Central was than us? They were faster than us. When you really think about it, we had no business being on this field with those guys. Our seniors, the way they were able to lead our team tonight, was legendary. And Alex’s performance was one of the best performances in Xavier football history.”
This was Lewis Central’s first state football championship. For Xavier, it was a third runner-up finish to go with three titles.
It certainly had to be as gutting as last season’s 17-10 overtime loss to eventual champ North Scott in the 3A semifinals. And that 2016 3A semifinal, in which Pella scored on a touchdown pass on the final play of the game to beat Xavier, 34-30.
This was the 11th state title game to go to overtime, just the third to go to multi-OTs. The others were in 2000, when Clear Lake beat Harlan for the 3A championship, 23-20, in three overtimes, and when Paton-Churdan toppled Sanborn, 20-14, in a four-overtime Class A final.
“I loved playing with every single one of those guys,” said Xavier fullback-linebacker Christian Stanek. “We came a long way, have a lot to be proud of. But right now, we’re a little hurting.”
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