IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Cedar Rapids Kennedy continues to surge. Iowa City High continues to slump.
Kennedy capitalized on two early turnovers and held City High to 31 total yards and four first downs in a 40-14 Mississippi Valley Conference Mississippi Division rout Friday night at Bates Field.
"We came out with a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of emotion," said Kennedy's Andrew Johnson, who returned one of City High's eight fumbles for a touchdown in the third quarter. "This is the most fun we've had on defense all year."
The Cougars (4-5 overall, 4-2 MVC Valley Division) won their fourth straight game and established themselves as a team will be difficult to eliminate in the Class 4A playoffs.
According to preliminary calculations, Kennedy will be the No. 12 seed on the East side of the state. If so, the Cougars are projected to play at No. 5 seed Muscatine (7-2) in the first round on Wednesday.
"I feel we'll be a tough out, but I always feel that way," Johnson said. "If our defense comes to play, I think we can beat anybody."
While the Cougars are flourishing, the Little Hawks (4-5, 3-3) are floundering. They fumbled the ball away twice in the first two minutes and dug themselves a 20-point hole by the end of the first quarter.
As a result, they lost their fourth straight game and slipped to a No. 14 seed. They'll likely play at third-ranked, third-seeded Cedar Rapids Xavier (9-0) on Wednesday.
Alex Hillyer, the MVC's leading rusher, piled up 216 yards on 29 carries and scored three touchdowns, highlighted by a 79-yard TD run at the end of the first quarter that put the Cougars in front, 20-0.
Afterward, he wore an extremely muddy uniform and a broad smile.
"As a running back, you love nights like this because you know you're going to run the ball a lot," he said. "It's good to get a little dirty, and it's really good to win."
The Little Hawks fumbled the opening kickoff, and within three plays, Kennedy was in front to stay.
Hillyer scored on an 11-yard touchdown run, then -- after another fumble on City's first play from scrimmage -- quatrerback Riley Fergus crossed the goal line on a 1-yard keeper to make it 13-0, less than 5 minutes into the game.
Then, as the first quarter ended, Hillyer broke loose off tackle for the 79-yarder.
"It was a 29 toss, and the inside was wide open," Hillyer said. "One of their guys slipped, and I just kept going.
City's only highlight of the first half came on the ensuing kickoff, a 94-yard return by Tony Perry to creep within 20-7. The Little Hawks seemed to be gaining a foothold on their next possession, reaching midfield. But a snap on fourth-and-2 went awry and quarterback Jake Leohr was sacked for a 28-yard loss.
Fergus connected with Patrick Martin for a 26-yard TD pass, and Kennedy went into the locker room with a 27-7 advantage.
The Little Hawks fumbled eight times, losing half of them. Cody Burke recovered two, Thomas Kaiser snagged one. And Johnson returned his 10 yards for a touchdown that made it 34-7.
Leohr's 3-yard run, set up by a blocked punt, brought the Little Hawks within 34-14 before Hillyer's final TD -- a 24-yard run -- capped the scoring.
The yardage stats were even more lopsided than the final score. Kennedy finished with 351 yards to City's 31. The Little Hawks managed just 16 rushing yards on 38 carries.
Kennedy has established a trend of starting slow, then finishing with a rush. The Cougars are at it again.
"We started 0-5, now we've won four in a row," Hillyer said. "We want to use that to our advantage in the playoffs. We'll come out with excitement and enthusiasm."