DUBUQUE, Iowa – The postgame chat with his team was brief and concluded with an emotional exclamation point.
"I got one last thing to say," Cedar Rapids Prairie Coach Mike Morrissey said, as his team rose to its collective feet.
"We came, we saw, and we conquered!" they shouted in unison.
Against a lot of odds, really. Jesse Vizzini had two interception returns for touchdown, part of a pick-six trifecta that allowed Prairie to outlast Dubuque Senior, 30-28, in a Class 4A postseason football opener last night at the University of Dubuque's Chalmers Field.
Prairie (7-3) lost starting quarterback Jace Hanna and backup Trey Beckman on back-to-back series in the second half, but found a way to a Monday second-rounder (or whatever the Iowa High School Athletic Association officially wants to call it) at Iowa City West (10-0). The second-ranked Trojans won the regular-season game, 58-27.
"It was really up and down," said Morrisey, about Prairie's second postseason win since 1981. "I've got to give our guys a lot of credit. Things weren't going their way necessarily. You lose two quarterbacks like that, you get a little nervous."
Hanna missed a game earlier in the season with a bad ankle sprain, and got it rolled up on a third-quarter tackle. Beckman played the next series but was hit hard on a scramble attempt, forcing wide receiver Jarred Edmonds to play QB.
Hanna got his ankle taped and gutted things out the rest of the way, playing with a heavy limp. He completed 21 of 35 passes for 183 yards and a touchdown.
"I'm in a little pain right now," he said. "He just got on top of me, rolled me, and my ankle got caught underneath me. I didn't know at that moment if I'd play again. I just knew I had to come out and try to play for my team. They've been busting their butts, so I knew I have to give it my best."
Hanna threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Vizzini in the first quarter for Prairie's first points, with the junior adding two more scores on the defensive end. He picked off an Austin Clemens pass and ran it back 50 yards late in the first quarter, then essentially salted away this victory by intercepting a Clemens pass on 4th-and-23, running it back 45 yards for a 30-20 Hawks lead with 1:07 to go.
Edmonds intercepted a pass in the second quarter at the Prairie 7 and sprinted down the sideline 93 yards for a TD. Unreal.
"I just tried to read the quarterback, play my zone," Vizzini said. "If they threw my way, I just tried to make a play."
He ended making a few of them. It was a 21-21 game at halftime despite Senior (7-3) controlling most of the play.
The Rams had 16 first downs and a 232-97 yardage edge, owning a nine-minute time-of-possession edge. But Prairie's defense was considerably stiffer in the second half, sans a last-minute Senior drive that brought it within the final margin with 25 seconds left.
Prairie recovered an onside kick, and that was it.
"It was adversity," Vizzini said. "We had to step up as a defense. It was the playoffs, so we had to step up."
"Defense played amazing tonight," Hanna said. "The offense, we only got one touchdown. The defense carried us tonight."