CEDAR RAPIDS — You run the football. They know you’re going to run the football.
Yet they can’t stop it.
There can’t be anything more satisfying for an offensive lineman. That, and watching one of his backs break into the open en route to the end zone.
“Pure excitement, that’s all I have to say. Pure excitement,” said Cedar Rapids Kennedy’s Nolan Jacobs. “Because our guys can make a move or two and shake a couple of defenders. If they’re running in open grass for 20 yards, you know that it’s probably going to be six (points).”
Jacobs and his mates have provided Kennedy’s backs a lot of open grass and a lot of sixes this season. The fifth-ranked Cougars go into their Class 4A first-round playoff game Friday night against Fort Dodge at Kingston Stadium as one of the state’s most potent rushing teams.
The Cougars (8-1) rank second in 4A with 2,918 yards on the ground. Only Cedar Rapids Prairie (3,339) and its unique and deceptive single-wing offense has produced more.
Kennedy, contrarily, has thrown for just 755 yards, which is 35th of 42 teams in the class. Defenses throw just about everyone in the box because they know what’s probably coming from the Cougars.
It doesn’t matter.
“We’ve got some great backs, so, of course, that helps a lot,” said Kennedy’s Tyler Harmer. “But that’s what we do in practice. (Defenses) blitzing every play, we see every single look, are put into the worst possible position. It just kind of comes down to driving the person in front of you. And we’re pretty good at that.”
Kennedy has two of the best linemen in the state in left guard Jacobs and right tackle Connor Colby. Senior Jacobs has committed to FCS superpower North Dakota State, while Colby, a 6-foot-6, 280-pound junior, is a 4-star recruit committed to Iowa.
Harmer, a senior, is the team’s center. Bean (6-5, 290) provides more massive size at left tackle, with junior Gavin Bascum holding down right guard. Senior Ethan Sullivan has manned that position down the stretch while Bascum dealt with an injury.
“Going into it, we felt good that we had two really solid kids coming back in Nolan and Connor,” said Kennedy Coach Brian White. “But the other three have been awesome (too). Tyler Harmer hardly had a rep last year at center, and he has really worked his tail off, gained a lot of weight, worked hard in the weight room and has been exactly what you want out of a senior center. The model of consistency, just does his job.
“Nolan is Nolan. Jamison Bean has been a nice surprise, a big kid who was really raw, but who has done a really good job. Gavin Bascum started the end of last season and started the first six games for us this year. Ethan Sullivan filled in for him and did a great job ... Those six guys have been amazing.”
Kennedy’s backs have speed, quickness and elusiveness. Cairron Hendred has more than 1,000 yards rushing despite missing the final two regular-season games with an injury.
Max White isn’t your stereotypical quarterback in that his sweet feet are his bread and butter. He has 792 yards rushing and a team-leading 14 touchdowns.
Brandtley Koske is Kennedy’s unsung hero, a guy who just makes plays. He has averaged a whopping 20 yards on his 32 carries and has 11 TDs.
“It’s just staying on your block the whole play,” Harmer said. “You can be on the left side, and all of a sudden a guy like Koske is darting toward the other side of the field. So you just block until you hear the whistle, because it doesn’t matter what play it is, it might come back to you.”
“I’d say our line has played really aggressively from last year,” Jacobs said. “Last year was kind of a passive attack to it, but I think we figured out that we have threats in the backfield, and the only way to make those threats work is have a really good offensive line up front. It’s not just one or two guys that make it really work. It has to be the whole unit.”
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Here’s the scary thing: Colby thinks his guys can be way better. Or perhaps that’s a good thing for the Cougars, who feel they can make a deep playoff run.
“At moments, we’re really good, have everything clicking,” Colby said. “Some games, little things break down. We’ve just got to figure out how to keep things clicking.
“We are not at our peak, yet.”
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