CEDAR RAPIDS — Cedar Rapids Prairie had a signature win in its hands, but Cedar Falls wrestled it away.
Down 21 points at halftime, the Class 4A fifth-ranked Tigers came all the way back to beat the Hawks, 41-30, in a Mississippi Valley Conference Valley Division football game Friday night at John Wall Field.
Cedar Falls (6-0 overall, 4-0 division) blocked a punt for a touchdown and forced four turnovers in a frantic second-half rush.
“The punt block (by Nicholas deBuhr) was really a spark,” said Cedar Falls’ Randolph Bryan. “We really struggled in the first half, but that got us going.”
Jake Buck rushed for 185 yards and Nick Clark added 113. The duo combined for 211 yards after halftime as the Tigers came back from a 28-7 hole.
For Prairie (3-3, 1-2), it was the third shot at ranked team this season. The first two were mismatches.
This was a homecoming heartbreaker.
“We built so much confidence in the first half, building a lead like we did,” said Prairie Coach Mike Morrissey. “To let it slip away, it’s very disappointing.”
Everything was rolling Prairie’s way through the first half. Jace Hanna passed for three touchdowns and ran for another and the Hawks rolled up 324 yards before intermission.
Then, everything changed.
DeBuhr blocked a punt and returned it 12 yards for a touchdown to bring the Tigers within 28-14 midway through the third period. Then, the visitors started chewing up chunks of yards with their ground attack and the Hawks began making mistakes.
“We started pressuring the quarterback, and he couldn’t get anything off any more,” Bryan said.
The result was a 27-point fourth quarter.
“They really started taking advantage of their size, on both sides of the ball,” Morrissey said. “They started putting pressure on Jace, and they really started making plays.”
Nick Clark scored on a 10-yard run on the first play of the final period to make it 28-21.
The Hawks got a reprieve when they blocked a punt of their own for a safety to pad the lead to 30-21, but the respite didn’t last.
A fumble put the Tigers in business at the Hawks 22, then Buck scored on a 6-yard burst to bring CF within 30-28, then Buck’s 61-yarder gave the Tigers the lead, 34-30, with 5:54 left.
Isaac Boettger returned a Hanna fumble 36 yards with 4:34 left for the clincher.
Prairie finished with a 419-368 advantage in net yards, but the four turnovers — and the punt block — was their undoing.
Hanna passed for three touchdowns and ran for another as the Hawks sprinted to a 28-7 advantage at intermission.
He hooked up with Kentral Smith for a 26-yard score to get the Hawks even at 7-7 late in the first quarter, then concluded a drive with a 2-yard scoring keeper to put Prairie in front, then unloaded a 93-yard bomb to Jarred Edmonds along the right sideline. His 7-yard TD pass to Demetrius Harper with 19 seconds left made it 28-7.
Edmonds caught seven passes for 226 yards. But, that turned out to be merely a sidenote to the Tigers’ comeback.
Cedar Falls hosts Dubuque Wahlert next week; Prairie is at Linn-Mar.