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CEDAR RAPIDS - They held hands and walked from end zone to end zone. A couple of them stopped at midfield and kissed the turf, more than a couple of them jumped up and hung on one of the goal-post crossbars.
Needless to say, all of them were smiling. The last home game for a memorable senior class at Cedar Rapids Xavier ended successfully.
Probably appropriately successful.
"These guys have believed and worked hard their entire careers here," Xavier Coach Duane Schulte said, after his team's 21-0 win over Cedar Rapids Kennedy in a grind-them-out Class 4A playoff quarterfinal last night. "It's a tribute and a reward for them."
Third-ranked Xavier (11-1) scored three touchdowns in the third quarter to move on to a semifinal next Friday at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls against upstart Bettendorf (9-2). With a defense as good as the Saints have, they really only need to score 10 points or so to win games.
This was Xavier's eighth shutout this season, a remarkable number.
"At least they keep us in the game," Schulte said. "Trust me, we're still trying to score points offensively because you never know. But we're just trying to get those guys to execute and do their jobs. They at least give us a chance."
Kennedy played nearly a perfect first half but couldn't scratch out any points, which was key. The Cougars (8-4) posted a seven-minute drive to start the game but came out of it empty, with a Mark Schulz 30-yard field-goal attempt coming up short thanks to a terribly gusty wind that was straight in his face.
Another Cougars drive in the second quarter got to the Xavier 26 but ended when quarterback Derek Jacobus was stopped short on a 4th-and-1 sneak attempt.
"Yep, that hurt when we didn't score in the first half," said Kennedy Coach Tim Lewis. "We felt really good about the way our defense was playing. It was just the short field. We knew we couldn't give them a short field, and we knew that wind would be a factor in the second half."
Xavier took the second-half kickoff and put together its only consistent drive of the night, a 62-yarder that was culminated by running back Brendan Miller's 22-yard TD run off a counter left. Later in the quarter, Jacobus was sacked and stripped by Xavier's Hunter Baldus, with the ball recovered by the Saints' Matt Nelson at the Kennedy 4.
Wes Gardner scored on a run up the middle on the ensuing play for a 14-0 Xavier lead.
"I got to the tackle pretty quick, and I just saw (Jacobus) running away," Baldus said. "I didn't mean to strip him or whatever. I just tried to tackle him and the ball came out. I tried to go after it, pick it up. It worked out, shifted the momentum quickly."
Xavier held Kennedy again on the next possession, forcing a low punt that Gardner fielded at his own 23, ran to his right and found a perfectly set-up wall. The 77-yard return made it 21-0 and officially ballgame.
"The guys blocked it perfectly," Gardner said. "Nelson had a great block at the end of it to spring me loose the rest of the way. Just perfect blocking by them. All the credit to them."
Kennedy was limited to 110 yards, a staggering minus-14 in the second half. Xavier finished with just 183, but those were more than enough.
"Man, that defense is tough," Lewis said. "We started out doing what we do, ran the ball well in the first half. They made some good adjustments at halftime ... They took us out of our game. Our game is running the ball, and when you're down 21, you've got to come up with other ways to move the football. That wasn't what we like to do."
It was a terrific postseason run for the Cougars, who beat Cedar Rapids Prairie and Davenport Assumption. They lose some important players but return several as well, combining with an 8-1 sophomore team.
"Just a whole bunch of guys in this senior class that really loved football," Lewis said. "Loved practicing it, loved meeting about it. That's the hardest part of my job, having to tell them goodbye."