CEDAR RAPIDS — The first week of practice went away because of the August derecho. They lost two of their first three games, had to go on a two-week COVID-19 pause in September and got beaten badly in their regular-season finale.
And yet Cedar Rapids Kennedy’s Cougars find themselves in the Class 4A football quarterfinals. It’s all about somehow, someway, right?
“I don’t think people truly understand the effects the derecho had. The fact that we didn’t have a building,” said Kennedy Coach Brian White, after his team’s 45-14 win over No. 9 Cedar Rapids Prairie in a 4A playoff third-round game Friday night at Kingston Stadium. “We had nowhere to meet. Just two weeks ago, we finally got to the point where we could start meeting as a team, watching video as a team, lifting together as a team. All we could do prior to two weeks ago was meet on a computer and practice. That’s all we could do, because we had nowhere to go. We were nomadic.
“Now we’re really starting to jell because we’re getting a little bit back that we lost. The kids have come together as a team. Just really happy for them.”
Speaking of somehow, someway, the way here for Kennedy (4-3) was the rush. A relentless and punishing ground attack produced 435 yards and an unexpected blowout considering the teams played way back in Week 1, with Kennedy winning by a point in overtime.
Quarterback Max White did all kinds of Max White things, running for 251 yards and throwing for another 50. His sweet feet produced a pair of short rushing touchdowns, and he threw a 12-yard TD pass to Reid Pakkebier.
Kennedy plays top-ranked Southeast Polk next week in Central Iowa.
“That’s always just been our M.O., just run the heck out of the ball,” he said. “I mean, I can throw it. But when you don’t have to, you don’t. I think we showed that tonight.”
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Running back Demarcus Ray, who went to Prairie last year, added 131 rushing yards and two scores. Then there was Connor Colby’s incredibly apropos 37-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter.
The University of Iowa signee was one of the big dudes up front who literally muscled their team to victory here. Ray ran for 4 yards on a carry but fumbled, with Colby picking up the loose ball and rolling his way 37 yards to the end zone.
“I was just trying to finish my block there,” Colby said. “The ball just landed on the ground, I scooped and scored. That’s my first ever touchdown, so it’s a pretty good feeling.”
Prairie (5-3) got a 43-yard touchdown run from Nick Pearson to cap off a scoring drive that started this game. But Kennedy immediately responded on its opening drive, with Ray scoring from 5 yards out.
The Cougars actually scored TDs on their first five possessions, opening a 28-14 halftime lead and going from there. Pearson capped a fine career with 188 yards rushing for Prairie.
“They controlled the line of scrimmage on offense, and it was pretty tough,” said Prairie Coach Mark Bliss. “They’ve got some good athletes, some good players. Just one of those things where we just couldn’t get out of our way at times tonight. You compound that with some penalties on crucial downs, and it just seemed like we were chasing our tail.”
“Two weeks ago, I would have been very angry, but now that we’ve had success, I just think it creates a better story to tell,” Max White said. “It just has felt like everything has been taken from you in these times, but we’ve accepted it, accepted it as a challenge. To be able to play great football right now feels good.”