116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Home, home, Dome, Dome.
The snappy catchphrase describes Cedar Rapids Kennedy’s possible postseason path, if the Cougars can close out a special regular season unbeaten.
Class 5A top-ranked Kennedy needs a victory Friday night against Dubuque Hempstead at Dalzell Field to secure possible home-field advantage through the first two rounds and its second unbeaten regular season in school history.
“It is a critical game for us, because if we win we’ll have two games at home,” Kennedy Coach Brian White said. “I think that’s important that you play at home in the playoffs and don’t travel. Obviously, you can’t take anything for granted passed Week 1 but if we have an opportunity to be at home as much as possible then that’s a big game. We’re focused on that and playing well so we can play at home.”
Plenty is at stake against the Mustangs (4-4), a hard-nosed team playing for their playoff lives and fired up for a possible upset and Senior Night.
“One thing we focused on was to match their intensity,” White said. “Secondly, we are playing for our school’s second undefeated regular season in its history. In 54 years this school has been standing, we’ve only been undefeated one other time and that was six years ago.”
The Cougars have returned to form after a 4-4 campaign during the awkward 2020 COVID season. This season resembles the 2019 season when Kennedy went 10-2, reaching the state semifinals. An unblemished regular season will place the Cougars in select company within the program, joining the 2015 state runner-up team.
“It would be great,” senior wide receiver Isaiah Morgan said. “It validates the hard work we’ve put in from back in June. It would a boost of confidence.”
The 2015 season is the best in program history and included top individuals like Shaun Beyer, Dalles Jacobus, Tyler Dralle, Johnson Mator, Mason Jacobs and Jackson Behn. The current Cougars might lack the star power, but their collective effort have been just as successful so far.
“There’s nothing that really sets us apart,” said senior Alex Koch, who leads the team with 5.5 sacks and is second with 45.5 tackles with 32 solo. “We have no one that stands out like that. We just all come together and get the job done.”
Kennedy has had a balanced team, but the defense and pass attack have led the way. The Cougars defense is third in 5A, allowing just 9.9 points per game. They rotate up to 18 players to keep the squad fresh and change formations.
Kennedy allows 199.1 offensive yards per game, holding foes to just 88.3 rushing yards a contest. The Cougars have allowed just three teams to surpass 200 offensive yards.
White said the defense is focused on preventing first downs and doesn’t like giving up yards, let alone points. The touchdown scored by Johnston in a 24-10 victory last week is a prime example.
“They had us on our heels,” White said. “The good news is our kids were not happy. They came to the sideline. They weren’t happy about it. They wanted to correct it. They didn’t want it happen again and that’s exactly what they did. That was the last real good drive they had against us.
“We have kids that take a lot of pride in playing defense fast and they take it personally if someone moves the ball on us. I don’t have to rant and rave, because they get upset enough if people move the ball on us.”
Kennedy has wreaked havoc on opponents’ offenses, making plays on the other side of the line of scrimmage. The Cougars lead 5A with 90 tackles for loss and rank fifth with 15 sacks. They have turned mistakes into points, sitting second with 13 interceptions and third with three defensive touchdowns.
“The reason we have so many is because we trust each other so much,” Koch said. “We play so hard and we play downhill.”
Offensively, the brand has changed. Instead of a run-heavy, pound-the-ball attack, Kennedy has aired the ball out this season. The Cougars have passed for 1,411 yards compared to their 1,085 on the ground. The pass attack averages 201.6 yards per game and ranks eighth in 5A. Seventeen passing TDs is good for third in the class.
“It’s great,” said Morgan. “It’s a nod to the coaches, knowing the talent that they have and adapting.”
Carson Blietz has thrown for 1,371 yards and 16 scores. Jeron Senters leads Kennedy with 430 receiving yards on 26 catches and six TDs. Tight end Brenden Linde has added 23 catches for 402 yards and six scores in his first varsity season. Morgan and Hayden Klett are strong targets as well.
Jazan Williams has 717 rushing yards and eight TDs. He will be crucial in balancing out the offense in the postseason.
“You have to be able to do both,” White said. “You can’t just be a one-suited team and expect to run the table.
“We have to be able to get better running the ball. We’ve worked on it. We know that is going to be key to playoff success.”