Prep Football

Western Dubuque fueled by 2018 state championship game disappointment

Bobcats open No. 1 in 3A after pushing Cedar Rapids Xavier in last year's title game

Western Dubuque quarterback Calvin Harris scrambles against Cedar Rapids Xavier during last year's Class 3A state championship game at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls. (The Gazette)
Western Dubuque quarterback Calvin Harris scrambles against Cedar Rapids Xavier during last year's Class 3A state championship game at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls. (The Gazette)
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EPWORTH — Calvin Harris estimates he has watched last year’s Class 3A state football championship game 30 times.

The Western Dubuque quarterback admits that might even be on the low end.

It doesn’t get any easier to relive. Harris guided the Bobcats to a halftime lead over juggernaut Cedar Rapids Xavier, but left the game with a concussion during the second half and watched the Saints come back to win their second straight state title.

“It sucks,” Harris said. “It’s definitely something I remember. It was something that was really tough for me.”

Western Dubuque enters this season as the No. 1-ranked team in Class 3A and will attempt to make its way back to the UNI-Dome. The Bobcats were 10-3 a year ago and open with at Clinton on Aug. 30.

“It left a sour taste in my mouth and the rest of the team,” Harris said. “It’s something we certainly haven’t forgotten throughout the offseason. It’s something that we’ve always remembered working toward this season.”

Harris was a catalyst in the Bobcats’ resurgence and postseason run. He had his hands in nine touchdowns in the first three playoff games, throwing for 285 yards in a first-round win over Solon and rushing for 117 against North Scott in the quarterfinals.

In the final, Harris threw for 137 yards and a TD, adding 70 rushing yards and a score, for a 20-17 lead at the break. The complexion of the game changed when Harris was sidelined on the initial possession of the second half.

Training staff had to hide his helmet as he tried to get back on the field.

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“I wanted to go back in,” Harris said. “I obviously wasn’t healthy enough.”

Harris demonstrated his competitive nature and his team-first attitude.

“He’s a fierce competitor,” Western Dubuque Coach Justin Penner said. “I know it and he’s proved it time and time again.

“He’s not a me guy. He is a team guy.”

Harris was one of the top passers in 3A last season. As a junior, he ranked third in the class with 2,280 passing yards and 2,774 combined yards. His 27 passing touchdowns were good for second among 3A quarterbacks.

The Bobcats will rely on his leadership, strong arm and his ability to run. According to Penner, the impact extends beyond the field, as well.

“As good of an athlete as he is, he’s an incredible young man,” Penner said. “We’re blessed to have him here in this community.”

Penner praised Harris for being a multisport standout who resists the temptation to specialize. Harris is a highly-touted national baseball prospect who has signed to play at Ole Miss and has played in Perfect Game’s All-American Classic, which feature’s the top 50 incoming seniors across the nation.

Harris has a knack for being a leader, serving critical roles as a catcher in baseball and calling signals on the gridiron. He has always held those positions.

“You’re forced to step up and be a leader,” Harris said. “It’s something that my parents have always preached in sports or anything else in life.”

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Western Dubuque returns much of its offense from last season. Harris is joined by running backs Jake Hosch and Ben Bryant. Hosch rushed for 878 yards and 11 TDs. Bryant added 749 and seven scores before missing the final six games due to injury.

The graduation of wideout Drake George leaves a big hole to fill. George led 3A with 1,165 yards and 15 TDs on 74 catches, accounting for more than half of Harris’ totals. Payton Quagliano is the top receiver back with 357 yards on 30 receptions and six TDs.

The Bobcats have four linemen with starting experience on an offense that averaged almost 38 points per game. The balanced attack average about 193 passing yards and 191 on the ground.

“We feel we have a lot of guys who can step up and fill those positions,” Harris said. “They can do a really good job. We feel confident with what Coach Penner wants to do with the offense and we’ll execute it to the best of our ability.”

All-state defensive back Will Burds highlights a strong secondary that includes Collin Hogan and Bryce Ploessl. Hosch is a stalwart linebacker for a defense that graduated its starting defensive line and linebackers Jason Simon-Ressler and Ben DeSollar.

Penner said the Bobcats have to avoid complacency after last year’s strong postseason run. The goal is to be focused on the daily process instead of the weekly results.

Western Dubuque has a leader unsatisfied with pushing the two-time champs to the brink and motivated to get back for another shot at a title.

“The great ones take those lessons to better themselves,” Penner said. “I would consider Calvin in that grouping, as well as a lot of our young men. We have talented young men here. We can take the pats on the back or we can take that loss and let it fuel us. Hopefully, we’ll have the latter.”

Western Dubuque Bobcats

Coach: Justin Penner (15th season, 78-67)

Last year: 10-3, Class 3A state runner-up.

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Top returners: QB Calvin Harris, RB Ben Bryant, RB/LB Jake Hosch, WR Payton Quagliano, OL Will Conlan, OL Joe Loffa, OL Garrett Pitz, OL Tim Althaus, LB Carter Kluesner, DB Will Burds, DB Collin Hogan, DB Bryce Ploessl, K Gabe Ulrichs

Keys to making the playoffs: Avoid injury and rely on senior leaders. The Bobcats have the talent to be one of the top 3A teams and compete for a state title.

Games to watch: Oct. 11 vs. Cedar Rapids Xavier in a rematch of last year’s state final. Oct. 18 at Marion could determine district placement or playoff berth.

Schedule

Aug. 30 — at Clinton

Sept. 6 — Williamsburg

Sept. 13 — at Decorah

Sept. 20 — No. 5 North Scott

Sept. 27 — at Dubuque Wahlert

Oct. 4 — at Center Point-Urbana

Oct. 11 — No. 2 Cedar Rapids Xavier

Oct. 18 — at Marion

Oct. 25 — Maquoketa

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