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Xavier Returns to Championship Game

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CEDAR FALLS No one had to rub their rosary beads or light a prayer candle unless they really wanted to do so. There was no "Immaculate Recovery" this time.

"That's a good thing," laughed Hunter Baldus.

Mostly Baldus and his Cedar Rapids Xavier teammates did Friday afternoon at the UNI-Dome what they have done with regularity the past two football seasons. That'd be their jobs, as they so often put it.

A 31-7 conquest of Bettendorf in a Class 4A state playoff semifinal at the UNI-Dome was so typical Saints: workmanlike overall and smothering defensively.

"I said I wasn't going to do this," said an emotionally broken-up Xavier Coach Duane Schulte, whose father, Greg, passed away over the summer. "My mom and dad were married 60 years, and they prayed for us all the time. I'd like to think they had a part in this (win), too. But all the credit goes to our kids. They played hard."

Definitely hard and well enough to reach the 4A championship game for the second time in as many years. Top-ranked West Des Moines Dowling (13-0) is the opponent, another high-flying offensive team from the Central Iowa Metro League (or whatever district they're in), a la last year's title game.

Xavier (12-1) lost a close one then to Ankeny. Will it be able to turn that around next Friday night?

"We've done our jobs up to now," Baldus said. "Now we've got to finish it."

This was the first time Xavier and Bettendorf played since their classic 2006 semifinal, a game Xavier won on a 95-yard fumble return for touchdown late in the fourth quarter. Hence, "The Immaculate Recovery."

But three unanswered touchdowns from Wes Gardner made certain something like that wouldn't be needed again. The senior running back-defensive back jumped a wide receiver screen pass late in the second quarter for a 17-yard 'Pick Six' that put Xavier on top at halftime, 14-7.

He added a 4-yard touchdown run off tackle on the Saints' first offensive possession of the second half and ran back his second punt in as many games, this one 62 yards, to end the third quarter. Quite the individual performance.

"Wes is Wes," Schulte said. "That's what we say. Wes is Wes."

"Pretty incredible," Gardner said. "No credit to me, though. My teammates came out ready to play."

Baldus ran a tight end screen pass from Quinton Scholer 73 yards for a TD three and a half minutes into the game. Ryan Persick's 37-yard field goal in the final minute provided the final margin.

"I had two or three blockers out in front of me," Baldus said of his first touchdown, which came immediately after Schulte had called timeout because Baldus and fellow tight end Matt Nelson were mistakenly in the game at the same time. "They opened it up nicely, and I just ran."

Cyle Cox's 34-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Scheib early in the second quarter tied it at 7-7 for Bettendorf (10-3), the first and thus far only points Xavier has allowed in four postseason games. But Cox completed just 10 of 40 throws for 119 yards.

Though Scholer threw for 171 yards, Xavier was unable to get any sort of running game established, which must be a tad concerning leading into next week. The Saints finished with just 36 yards on 38 attempts.

This was frankly a punt-athon, with each team kicking eight times.

"On film, they (looked like) a great team," Scholer said. "Coming out here and playing against them is a whole different thing than watching them on film. They were really fast, really big. All the credit to them. They're a great defense."

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