CEDAR RAPIDS — Cedar Rapids Kennedy created plenty of chances.
Capitalizing and converting didn’t occur as often as the Cougars would have liked or what they needed to topple a power like West Des Moines Valley.
What Kennedy didn’t seize the Tigers did.
Class 4A top-ranked Valley scored on three straight series, including two off turnovers in the final quarter, to beat No. 8 Kennedy, 28-14, in a non-district prep football slugfest Friday night at Kingston Stadium.
“You can’t make mistakes against elite teams and that is what separates the teams that are playing in the UNI-Dome and the teams that want to play in the Dome that are good,” Kennedy Coach Brian White said. “We had a three-play span where we snap it over the quarterback’s head, they house one 70 yards the next play.
“Next series on offense, we have 10 guys on the field, throw in a tailback and he fumbles.”
The series White noted was a key swing in momentum with the game tied, 14-14, and Kennedy driving.
On fourth-and-3 from the Valley 21, a high snap was recovered at the 39. The next play, Jayden Williams bounced to the outside and bolted down the far sideline for a 61-yard score. Valley took the lead for good with 9:10 remaining.
“It was a hard-fought game,” veteran Valley Coach Gary Swenson said. “I thought both teams really battled. We were on our heels for about 2 1/2 quarters, then we got the turnover and the big run out of Jayden Williams and I thought that was the difference in the game tonight.”
Valley padded its lead a little more than two minutes later. Kennedy fumbled on the first play of the next series and Valley recovered again at the Kennedy 28. Five plays later, Creighton Mitchell ran in from 7 yards for a 28-14 advantage.
Kennedy had its opportunities to score or even pull away, but stumbled at times. The Cougars lost a fumble on their first possession of the game after reaching the Valley 27. They advanced to the Tigers 8 right before halftime. A penalty and poor clock management pushed them back and squandered a chance to break a 7-7 tie.
“We’ll fix it,” White said. “The great news is it’s the third game of the year. When you line up against a Valley team and you feel like you have a pretty good team of their own, you would hope it would come down to the last possession but we didn’t quite get it there.”
The Cougars rush attack proved it could move the ball against the Valley defense. Kennedy amassed 226 yards on the ground, including 186 from Cairron Hendred, who had both touchdowns.
Hendred provided a big spark and gave the Cougars their only lead early in the third. Kennedy stopped Valley on the first drive of the second half, which ended in a missed 33-yard field goal. Hendred then raced for a 74-yard TD run, busting up the middle and out-racing defenders to the goal line.
“(Kennedy assistant) Coach (Kyle) Knock said keep knifing in there and something will open,” Hendred said. “I kept running hard. Eventually things opened. It went in our favor.”
Hendred’s first score was a 5-yard run that came on the heels of Kennedy’s first forced turnover of the season — a fumble by Mitchell — and set up by a key 11-yard run by Cade Parker on third-and-7 from the 15.
Hendred was a consistent spark.
“I thought Cairron ran hard tonight,” White said. “He was on a mission. The kid ran hard. I’m proud of him and I’m proud of all of them.”
Valley took advantage of great field position to get on the board first. The Tigers used nine plays to march 42 yards. Nate Willcockson punched it in from the 1 for a 7-0 lead with 8:55 left in the first half.
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They also tied the game and started the scoring streak late in the third with a 26-yard TD pass from Braeden Katcher to Matthew Mahoney, who was wide open in the end zone due to a blown coverage.
Kennedy’s defense battled a potent Valley offense, despite allowing 195 rushing yards. The Cougars pressured Katcher, who had just 83 passing yards, and played fast and furious nearly all game. Four Kennedy players registered sacks.
“I feel like we took a really big jump from last year,” Kennedy senior Nolan Jacobs said. “I think we showed all we’ve got, but there is always room to improve.”
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