CEDAR RAPIDS — They’re caught in the middle here, innocent bystanders in what seems to be a political fight.
Iowa City Liberty’s football team just wants those who make decisions to know this: they want an opportunity to continue to play. That’s it.
“We’re doing all the safety protocols, we’re wearing masks everywhere we go,” said Liberty quarterback James McKinney, after his team beat Cedar Rapids Jefferson, 7-3, Thursday night at Kingston Stadium. “We all want to play football. We just want to play football.”
McKinney’s 26-yard touchdown run late in the second quarter was enough for Liberty to win a game as a Class 4A school for the first time. The Lightning carry some momentum into next week, if there is one.
Because the Iowa City Community School District has decided to go online only with classes for its first two weeks, due to a huge COVID-19 spike in the city and Johnson County, athletics and activities at the three Iowa City public high schools will be shut down beginning next week. You don’t conduct classes in person at at all, you’re not allowed to play.
That’s what the Iowa Department of Education and Gov. Kim Reynolds have said, with the Iowa High School Athletic Association and Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union agreeing. It’s quite a shame for a bunch of people who have no control of the situation.
“Football mirrors life,” said Liberty Coach Jeff Gordon. “And to quit on football would be like quitting in life. So I hope they let the boys play. I don’t want to get too political about it, but we don’t go downtown and hang out with the college kids. So let them play some football.”
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Liberty (1-1) lost top running back Max Tafolla to a leg injury in the first quarter, but the quick-footed McKinney stepped up in his absence. He had 112 yards rushing on 19 attempts, most of them off the read option.
On a 3rd-and-4 play at the Jeff 26, he cut toward the middle on the read option and found open space to the end zone. The extra point made it a 7-0 game, those points the only ones Liberty (1-1) has scored in two games.
“We had to get fired up,” McKinney said. “We had to put it in the end zone. That’s what we did.”
“I’m extremely proud of our players and coaches,” Gordon said. “I think this is one of the greatest days in program history. We told the guys struggles will make us stronger. Starting last week until today, it has been a struggle. But we got better at practicing football, and it carried over to the game. I’m proud of the way our kids fought through the peaks and valleys. Defense played great, the offense did just enough. They took care of the ball.”
After McKinney’s TD with 1:31 left in the half, Jefferson got a long, 56-yard run off a jet sweep from Brayden Kindhart to drive into Liberty territory. The J-Hawks had a 1st-and-goal at the 6 in the dying seconds, but a run for no gain and two incomplete passes brought kicker Jacob Cross on for a 23-yard field goal he made to make it 7-3 at the break.
Those three points are the only points Jefferson (0-2) has scored in two games. The J-Hawks were blown out by Cedar Rapids Washington last week, 55-0, but were much better here.
Jefferson’s best chance to score in the second half came midway through the third quarter, when it drove from its 5 to the Liberty 23. But on a 4th-and-16 play at the 36, quarterback Carson Blietz hit receiver Lonny Melvin for 18 yards and an apparent first down that went for naught because Melvin was ruled to have fumbled, with Liberty recovering.
“That was progress,” said Coach Chris Buesing. “That’s basically what I told our kids. We made progress, but there’s still room to go. Live bullets, just watching the game, there was missed efforts. Those are the things ... our team is in a growing process right now. The quicker we can learn, the quicker we can do some things.”
AT KINGSTON STADIUM
11 First Downs 8
45-161 Rushes-Yards 29-134
0 Passing Yards 99
0-7-1 Att.-Comp.-Int. 7-15-2
7-42.0 Punts-Avg. 6-33.0
6-40 Penalties-Yards 8-75
0-0 Fumbles-Lost 2-2
Iowa City Liberty 0 7 0 0— 7
C.R. Jefferson 0 3 0 0— 3
ICL—James McKinney 26 run (Emerson Bennett kick)
CRJ—Jacob Cross 23 FG
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RUSHING-Liberty: James McKinney 19-112, Max Tafolla 8-21, Michael Miller 2-20, Jacob Adam 1-5, Beau Miller 1-2, Darius Willis-Newell 10-0. Jefferson: Brayden Kindhart 3-110, Dkhai Pope 8-36, Josiah Szabo 2-6, Prosper Kapongo 1-4, Dylan Markham 1-0, Justin Burnett 3-(minus) 2, Carson Blietz 11-(minus) 14.
PASSING-Liberty: James McKinney 0-4-0-0, Tye Hughes 0-3-0-0. Jefferson: Carson Blietz 7-15-2-99.
RECEIVING-Liberty: None. Jefferson: Brayden Kindhart 3-37, Prosper Kapongo 1-26, Dkhai Pope 1-16, Lonny Melvin 1-16, Andreas Williams 1-4.
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