WILLIAMSBURG — Despite an 0-3 start to the prep football season, Williamsburg Coach Curt Ritchie was confident that the start of district play would bring about a different outcome.
The Raiders were outscored by a total margin of 111-34 in three losses to ranked foes across Classes 3A, 2A and 1A. In its last five games — including four Class 2A District 6 contests — Williamsburg has won all five by at least 20 points, held its last two opponents scoreless and outscored the opposition 237-52.
“We definitely thought this could happen,” Ritchie said. “We jokingly said we could lose our first four games and still win the district. I don’t think we thought that would happen by any means, but we think it’s a pretty good group and we knew it was a little tough non-district. … Proved how the group that could overcome an 0-3 start, it’s this one. They just play hard together, believe in each other, don’t quit.”
Williamsburg (5-3, 4-0 District 6) can win the district outright with a victory on Friday at Eddyville EBF (5-3, 3-1). A Williamsburg loss would open the door for Albia (4-4, 3-1) to earn a three-way tie with a win at Mid-Prairie.
In the event of a three-way tie where each team split the two meetings against the other two, all three teams are crowned district champions and qualify for the 16-team playoff field. Albia already owns a victory over EBF, while Williamsburg blanked Albia, 41-0, on the road Friday night.
“They are kind of a district pick down in that area coming in,” Ritchie said of EBF. “They have a good senior class, a very good quarterback. We’re going to have to go on the road again and find a way to make things happen.”
The Raiders continue to “make things happen” with senior tailback Gage Hazen-Fabor, who is second in 2A in rushing yards with 1,309 after ranking third in the state across all classes last season with 2,388 yards.
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As defenses began to focus their attention to Hazen-Fabor, opportunities opened up in the passing game. Senior quarterback Jordan Martin has thrown for 1,100 yards and 11 touchdowns with three interceptions.
“This year we’ve been spreading out some of our offensive stuff and we’ve been throwing the ball a lot more,” Hazen-Fabor said. “Which is definitely nice, so we can keep people from stacking the box as much. It’s been nice to be able to diversify our offense.”
The Raiders found their footing this season during the last non-district game on the schedule against perennial 1A power Iowa City Regina. Williamsburg responded to a 17-14 halftime deficit with 27 unanswered points in a 37-17 triumph on Sep. 14.
“That was a big win,” Ritchie said. “That was a tough time of the year to be 0-3. We question things and it’s hard to keep believing, but to get that game was really big just to give us a springboard going into districts.”
The Williamsburg defense features an experienced secondary led by junior Kaden Wetjen and seniors Cedric Kuesel and Leighton Jones. The move of senior Mathyan Powell from outside linebacker to inside has also provided a boost.
All in all, there are a lot of familiar faces from the group that reached the 2A state championship game last season.
“A lot of these guys played on that team and got good experience and saw it happen,” Ritchie said. “I think that gives them belief that it can happen again.”
Win and you're in
While area teams like Iowa City West, Solon and Waukon have already clinched playoff berths with a district title, a host of squads will be involved in de facto district championship games this Friday.
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Class 4A No. 9 Cedar Rapids Prairie (7-1, 4-0 District 3) will host third-ranked Cedar Falls (8-0, 4-0), while in Class A District 5, eighth-ranked Edgewood-Colesburg (7-1, 4-0) will travel to Clayton Ridge (3-5, 3-1).
Iowa City Regina (5-3, 4-0 Class 1A District 6) will host No. 1 Dike-New Hartford (8-0, 4-0) on Friday. The Regals have won 57 district games in a row, a streak that is tied for the third longest in state history across all classes.
“It is obviously going to be a huge challenge,” Regina Coach Marv Cook said. “They’re playing so well and they’ve been playing so well all year. It looks like they’re averaging about 50 points and giving up 3. They’ve been, for the most part, extremely dominant all season long.”
In each of the three games, the winner is in the playoffs as the district champion. The loser will need to earn an at-large bid via the first-year RPI system.
In Class 3A, Decorah and Cedar Rapids Xavier can both earn outright district titles with a win on Friday, as can Union Community and West Liberty in 2A and Iowa Valley in the 8-Player class.
While plenty of area teams are still in contention for a playoff berth, the following will need a win on Friday plus some help to claim a share of the district crown — Cedar Rapids Kennedy in 4A, 3A schools Clear Creek Amana, Independence, Marion and Western Dubuque, 2A teams Benton Community, Mount Vernon and Tipton, plus Cascade and West Branch in 1A and 8-Player teams Central City, HLV, Midland and Turkey Valley.
One for the Cardinals
While Maquoketa will not see its name when the playoff field is announced later this week, the Cardinals will have something to build on for 2019.
Maquoketa sophomore quarterback Kannon Coakley threw for 366 yards, ran for 116 and accounted for six touchdowns as the Cardinals (1-7) snapped an 18-game losing streak on Friday with a 55-48 victory at Dubuque Wahlert.
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