CEDAR RAPIDS — It’s half the battle. Perhaps more than half the battle for the Western Dubuque football team, under the circumstances.
Its members truly, 100 percent believe they can win their Class 3A state championship game Thursday night against Cedar Rapids Xavier.
“I don’t necessarily think that’s something our guys feel they can’t do,” Coach Justin Penner said. “If I felt they needed to be talked into it, I would talk them into it. But our guys are confident right now. I think that North Scott win two weeks ago and the way we won, that built a lot of confidence with our guys. We haven’t spent a lot of time talking them into believing in themselves, because I think they do already.”
As they should.
Western Dubuque has rolled past three rated opponents in the postseason, taking out an unbeaten (Solon), the RPI’s No. 1 (Sergeant Bluff-Luton) and a team it lost to in the regular season (North Scott). It has not scored less than 35 points in any of its last five games, all wins.
The last time these Bobcats tasted defeat was in October ... to Xavier, 35-0. It was kind of men against boys that rain-delayed night, the final score truly indicating the Saints’ dominance.
“We had that feeling, and we did not want to have that feeling again,” said WD quarterback Calvin Harris. “Losing and walking back to the locker room like that was tough.”
“It was probably the best thing that happened to us all season,” said Western Dubuque’s Will Burds. “It gave us a wake-up call, kind of put us down to earth. We had to get back to work and keep going.”
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Keeping going was tough. Top running back Ben Bryant went down with a season-ending injury in that Xavier game, and WD (10-2) also has lost two starting offensive linemen along the way.
But here the Bobcats are, playing for a title.
“It’s depth, it’s character, and it’s the process. Our kids believe in it,” Penner said. “They believe in working hard on a daily basis and what that produces. I just think we have resilient kids, and that’s just Western Dubuque in a nutshell. When you think of Western Dubuque, you think tough kids.”
Penner has a laundry list of things his team must do Thursday night it didn’t do in October to spring the upset.
“We’ve got to come out not flat,” he said. “The last time, I thought we came out really flat, lacked a lot of intensity, focus and drive. You wouldn’t think that we would, but we did. We’ve got to come out this time and get after it right away.
“Then we’ve got to execute offensively. On top of executing offensively, we’ve got to be really alert on defense, because they throw so many shifts and motions at you that you don’t have a choice. We were behind the 8-ball early because they had so many tricks and gadgets up their sleeve. We gave up points right out of the gate. We can’t be playing from behind.”
Xavier (12-0) ran the football with great success in the regular-season encounter, quarterback Quinn Schulte and running back Braden Stovie combining for 223 yards and a pair of touchdowns. That ground success led to the passing game opening up.
The Saints are looking to go back to back in 3A, an impressive 37-13 win over second-ranked Lewis Central in last week’s semifinals their 25th consecutive victory. Western Dubuque is an underdog here, a big one.
But we go back to that belief thing.
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“When a group of kids care for one another like these kids do, it’s a lot of fun to coach,” Penner said. “But I also think of a lot other groups we’ve had have given permission to this group to believe in themselves. I look back to 2014, when we upset Xavier, 7-6. Had it not been for teams like that, this group wouldn’t have the right to believe. And they do.”
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