CEDAR RAPIDS – Cedar Rapids Washington Coach Paul James tried to gauge the potential of this Warrior football team before taking the program over for a second time.
The Washington staff seemed to be right on the money. Kind of.
"I asked some of the assistants what they thought what they thought this group was capable of, and they said 6-3," James said. "You don't think of a 6-3 season quite the way this one played out, but all the great plays and performances the kids through these last six games, there are a lot of memories there."
The Warriors handled Dubuque Wahlert, 31-13, in a Mississippi Valley Conference Valley Division game Thursday night at Kingston Stadium. The win was the sixth straight and clinched the MVC Valley Division crown with a 5-1 mark. It marks the 19th conference title in 57 seasons of Washington football.
James said the unlikely title trek is a special feat for the Warriors. They were winless for the first third of the season, gaining confidence after a close loss to Cedar Falls and the first win over Linn-Mar.
"It's always something you think you can accomplish," Washington quarterback Reid Snitker said. "We didn't really have our minds set on that when we were 0-3. We just wanted to get our first win."
The regular season finale wasn't pretty, but the Warriors continued to find a way to win, overcoming four first-half turnovers and rushing for 244 yards in the game. They have improved, winning when they are not at their best.
"This team has grown a lot from the beginning to the end," James said. "I'm just so proud of them."
The Jekyll and Hyde first half opened with alternating turnovers and touchdowns. The Warriors found success with the rush attack. Eight Warriors carried the ball with half surpassing the 40-yard barrier.
"Everybody was getting carries and we were all running phenomenally" said running back Caleb Smothers, who rushed for 58 yards, including a 5-yard TD to put Washington up, 14-0, in the second quarter. "That's something you want. A good run game is something you need."
Johnny Dobbs also had 58 rushing yards for the Warriors, amassing 31 on the first scoring drive. He capped an 80-yard drive with a 1-yard TD run on the seventh play for a 7-0 lead.
The Warriors capitalized on miscues on top of making their own. Washington forced a fumble on the kickoff following Smothers' run and Reid Snitker increased Washington's lead to 21-0 with a 1-yard quarterback sneak with 7:30 left before halftime. Snitker led Washington with 61 yards on the ground, adding a 7-yard run in the fourth, and 131 passing. The production was more balanced.
"Reid didn't have to carry us as much tonight with his running ability," James said. "I think that was good to get the other kids some touches and help with the linemen's confidence."
The defense was just as impressive as the flashes shown by the Warriors run game at times. Washington forced four interceptions, including two from Clayton Bjornsen. Landen Akers also blocked a first-half field goal. Washington allowed 173 total yards.
The Warriors showed they were capable of being opportunistic, creating turnovers.
"They've been doing it a lot of the season," James said. "Maybe it shows up a little more because their confidence is even better."
The season which started rough has resulted in a home game to open the postseason. The expectations is to improve and advance in the playoffs.
"We're a good team," Snitker said noting they have to fix errors. "If we can correct those, I think we can do pretty well."