CEDAR FALLS, Ia. — Cedar Rapids Kennedy had to keep grinding.
Locked in a physical, smash-mouth Class 4A semifinal with perennial powerhouse Bettendorf, the Cougars knew only one way to reach their first championship game.
Forcing three turnovers and running downhill after halftime in the UNI-Dome, No. 3 Kennedy powered to a 31-14 win on Friday evening.
“I ran a little angry because we weren’t getting much done in the first half,” Kennedy senior running back Tyler Dralle said. “They were good at stopping the run, but I just knew if we came out and did what we were supposed to do, play the football we can, we could get it done.”
Dralle led a run game that had several points to prove in its first semifinal appearance since 1993.
His 32 carries for 160 yards pushed the Cougars (13-0) past the team that eliminated them last season, showed the toughness they’ve developed on the line of scrimmage and advanced a once-struggling program on the state’s greatest stage.
“Early on, we didn’t think we were doing a good job of setting the line of scrimmage like we normally do and that was our goal,” Dralle said. “Just do what we do.”
Both teams had seven points and 146 yards of offense at halftime. Second-ranked Bettendorf (12-1) had its first drive of the third quarter stopped quickly, and the Cougars rushed the ball eight straight times — five with Dralle, three with star senior Shaun Beyer — and took the lead for good.
The Bulldogs missed quarterback Owen Ridenour, injured in the quarterfinals, even if backup Jacob Wehr was solid until a fourth-quarter pick-six from Kennedy linebacker Brandon Niemeyer. Senior Dax Emerson led Bettendorf’s offense with 124 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Only 40 yards came after halftime.
A strong Kennedy student section confidently chanted, “This is our house!” in the one-sided second half. Even if the Cougars are relative UNI-Dome rookies — Bettendorf made its 21st semifinal appearance on Friday — they’ve earned one more game.
“We were definitely coming in looking for revenge and it feels great to be moving on,” Dralle said.
CRK—Beyer 8 run (Stone kick)
B—Emerson 3 run (Perk kick)
CRK—Dralle 13 run (Stone kick)
CRK—Stone 37 FG
B—Emerson 18 run (Perk kick)
CRK—Neimeier 55 interception return (Stone kick)
CRK—Bailey 10 pass from Duehr (Stone kick)
Rushing—Kennedy: Dralle 32-160, Beyer 10-77, Jacobs 3-9; Bettendorf: Emerson 27-124, Wehr 5-24, Jackson 1-14.
Passing— Kennedy: Duehr 5-16-78-1; Bettendorf: Wehr 8-23-62-2.
Receiving— Kennedy: Beyer 3-72, Bailey 1-10; Bettendorf: Cain 2-25, Donovan 3-17.