Calvin Harris ran for a touchdown and threw for two more as he helped provide all the points the Western Dubuque football team needed to defeat Cedar Rapids Xavier, 20-14, but the Bobcats relied on their defense all night to get the season-shifting win on Homecoming night at Buchman Field in Epworth, Oct. 11.
“It means we found a way to win ugly,” said Justin Penner, head coach of the Bobcats, after his team’s win over the team that beat them in the Class 3A state title game last year. “We shot ourselves in the foot in the second half. I mean, you’re not going to blow out Xavier and walk away with an easy win. It’s a big win for us because it opens the door for us to potentially host a playoff game.”
For many programs, a win like this would be considered a signature win or one that carries legendary status, but not for the Bobcats. Yes, this was an important victory to have in terms of what they are trying to accomplish this year, but in the big picture of the season, it was just one of five wins they are looking to earn to win a district title.
“I’m excited for our guys. I love that they get to feel this way because they had to earn it, but I’m super conservative about allowing this celebration to last too long,” said Penner. “(This win) gives us an opportunity to win a district championship. It gives us an opportunity at hosting a home playoff game. There’s a lot of teams out there who will be hunting for us and it’s not going to be easy to beat any of them.”
Xavier presents many challenges on both sides of the football, but one of the keys in Penner’s game plan was to control down and distance while moving the ball down the field to put points on the board. The Bobcats executed that part of the plan almost flawlessly on their opening drive of the game when they went 65 yards on 11 plays and found the end zone when Harris broke the goal line on a nine-yard touchdown run. Not only did it give the Bobcats an early 6-0 lead, but it took 5:23 off the clock.
“I loved that we were able to hang onto the football, drive the football for a five and a half minute drive to start the game. I think that keeps our defense fresh and I think it says more than having an explosive play when you can drive the field on somebody. I think it says that you have the potential to dominate the football game,” said Penner. “I wish we would have done more of that.”
The Bobcats were in control most of the first quarter until Harris threw an interception on an ill-advised pass that was grabbed by Evan Smith, one of Xavier’s defensive linemen. With the ball at the Bobcats’ 20-yard line, the Saints struggled to get into the end zone. They used a trick play from the 6-yard line to score their first touchdown of the game. Tyler Wilken, a wide receiver, threw a touchdown pass to Mac Mahurin who caught the pass just before it hit the ground. The extra point was good and Xavier held a short-lived 7-6 lead.
Harris and the offensive unit went back to work as they marched down the field on a 13-play drive that covered 56 yards. It was capped by a nine-yard pass from Harris to Cameron Kluesner who broke out of a tackle at the five-yard line to get into the end zone. Gabe Ulrichs’ extra point was good for a 13-7 lead and the Bobcats never trailed again.
After a defensive stop, the Bobcats got the ball back at their own 27-yard line with 4:38 on the clock. Hoping to put points on the board before halftime, Harris led another touchdown scoring drive that had three big plays. Harris ran for 21 yards to get a first down on third and 10 from the 27. Another big play was Harris connecting with Logan Brosius on a 24-yard pass play that gave the Bobcats a first-and-goal at the six-yard line after a face mask penalty was tacked onto the end of the play. The final big play of the drive was Harris finding Will Burds for a touchdown on fourth and goal from the eight. The kick was good and the Bobcats held a 20-7 lead with 15.8 seconds left in the first half.
The score remained 20-7 until Xavier finally put together a drive that cut the lead to 20-14 with 1:33 left in the third quarter. Quarterback Tyler Dupont carried the ball the final yard to make it a one-score game with plenty of time left on the clock.
Neither team was able to get a drive going until Xavier attempted to make one final push downfield. The Saints were able to move the ball deep into Bobcat territory after being awarded first down at the Western Dubuque 22-yard line when Bryce Ploessl was flagged for pass interference on fourth down that would have given the ball back to the Bobcats. The Saints had hopes, but the Bobcats’ defense came up with the stop to preserve the win.
“I felt like it was going to be a struggle. I knew they’d be really hard to put away and they were all of that. I didn’t rest easy,” said Penner. “I was excited that we had found a way to put points on the board, but I sure wish we would have done a better job at halftime of figuring ways to put more points on the board. “
Even though the Bobcats’ offensive unit might have had a rough time moving the ball in the second half, the defense was up to the challenge like they had been all season long, especially on the last series of downs just outside the red zone.
“The coaches were telling us our assignments and telling us how we were going to stop them to win this game,” said Jake Hosch about what was being said in the defensive huddle before the big fourth down play. “They didn’t need to say anything to get us hyped up. We were ready.”
“Our whole team, we were in the right place at the right time. We knew we could stop them for four downs,” said Carter Kluesner, who recovered two fumbles during the game. “We take our games one week at a time. Once this week for this game came up, we just worked a little harder, a little longer to make sure we were ready.”
WD’s leaders were: passing — Harris 7-of-11, 67 yards, 2 TDs and one INT; rushing — Hosch 19-for-80 yards, Harris 14-for-47, Ben Bryant 7-for-23, Jackson Burger 1-for-2; receiving — Burds 2-for-24 yards and one TD, Brosius 1-for-24, Cameron Kluesner 1-for-9 and one TD, Bryce Ploessl 1-for-6, Hosch 1-for-4; tackles — Burds and Carter Kluesner 6.5, Garrett Pitz six, Bryant and Hosch 3.5, Will Conlan 2.5, Sawyer Nauman two, Ploessl and Dustin Wille 1.5, Burger and Brosius one, Tommy DeSollar, Collin Hogan, Cameron Kluesner, Jonathan and Tim Althaus 0.5; fumble recoveries — Carter Kluesner two; kickoff returns — Burds 1-for-32, DeSollar 1-for-25, Bryant 1-for-15; extra points — Ulrichs 2-for-3.