Turns out, Tim Lewis was right.
It really is a different team.
Trevor Heitland scored on a 4-yard touchdown run with 1:11 remaining, and Cedar Rapids Kennedy collected six takeaways in an 11-7 upset over No. 8 Cedar Rapids Xavier in a Class 4A first-round playoff football game Wednesday night at Saints Field.
"We played unbelievable defense," said Lewis, the Cougars' head coach, after departing a jubilant visitor's locker room. "We got to this point, and we knew defense was going to win for us. We just wanted to score enough points to win the game."
Kennedy (6-4) won its fifth consecutive game and advanced to face North Scott (9-1) on Monday at Eldridge. The Cougars advanced by avenging a 35-7 loss in Week 1 to the Saints.
"The difference between that team and this team is the way we hustle defensively," Lewis said. "The way we flew to the football ... the attitude and the intensity ... that made all the difference."
That, and turnovers. A half-dozen of them doomed the Saints (7-3).
Xavier appeared to dodge a bullet when Nick Bruns' 41-yard field goal attempt hit the cross bar with 3:56 left and the Saints clinging to a 7-5 advantage.
But on the very next play, the Cougars stripped Jared Volz of the ball and Kyle Lamaak recovered at the 25.
Six plays later, Heitland stretched into the end zone on third-and-goal from the 4. The main objective of the play, Lewis said, was to center the ball for a redemptive attempt for Bruns.
The touchdown was gravy.
Xavier drove to the Kennedy 45 before Jake Losch intercepted Andy Didio with 23 seconds to go.
"We just wanted to stay disciplined," Losch said. "We knew they liked to run a lot of misdirection.
"I've never been a part of a win like this."
The game was played in extremely blustery conditions, a far cry from the nine near-perfect Fridays of the regular season. The teams combined to fumble 12 times Xavier lost four of eight; Kennedy lost two of four.
The first half contained more turnovers (five) than points (two). Kennedy led it, 2-0, on a safety when a high snap in Xavier punt formation went through the end zone midway through the first quarter.
Kennedy had the only deep threat of the first half, but fumbled it away at the Xavier 5 on the drive that preceded the safety.
It stayed that way until Bruns' 21-yard field goal made it 5-0 late in the third quarter.
Xavier opened it up and drove 80 yards in 10 plays for the game's first touchdown. Didio connected with Nathan Even five times in the drive, then hit Alex Ries for the 21-yard touchdown. Up a point, Xavier Coach Duane Schulte elected to kick the PAT for a 7-5 lead.
Neither team generated much offense. Kennedy finished with 148 yards. Xavier accumulated 162, but the turnovers more than neutralized that advantage.
"We just keyed on their dive-option," Lamaak said. "We knew we had to stop Didio and (Pat) Chizek."
The Cougars held Chizek to 41 yards on 15 carries.