It is a pattern Cedar Rapids Kennedy football coach Tim Lewis would like to avoid.
But, his “Comeback Cougars” or “Closing Cougars” seem to be heading down a familiar path.
Kennedy scored 17 straight points, eclipsing a nine-point fourth-quarter deficit to beat host Waterloo East, 38-30, Friday night at Memorial Stadium. It was the second straight win for the Cougars, who have turned a season with little hope into one with postseason possibilities.
The Cougars have made a habit of starting seasons slow and heating up late. Since 2006, Kennedy, a postseason qualifier the last seven straight years, has closed with at least three straight wins, including four in 2010 and 2006 and six in 2007.
“That’s kind of our trademark,” Lewis said. “I’m not saying I like that, but we start out slow and come on toward the end.
“They’re kind of following suit with the teams have done the last few years.”
The Cougars (2-5, 2-2 Mississippi Valley Conference Mississippi Division) displayed resolve against the Trojans, trailing the entire game until Alex Hillyer’s 4-yard touchdown run with 5:04 left.
The victory might be a sign Kennedy has turned a corner.
“This last one was really good because I think when teams are 1-5 and they’re down by a couple scores that makes it worse,” Lewis said. “They didn’t quit. They didn’t hang their heads and stuck with it.”
Special teams played a big role, blocking a punt and recovering a fumble following the Hillyer score, which led to another Hillyer touchdown that sealed the win.
Hillyer paced Kennedy with 142 yards rushing, and sophomore Terrance Hall added 34 on five carries, including a 13-yard TD.
The passing game made an impact. Riley Fergus kept the East defense from focusing on the run, completing nearly half his passes for 94 yards, including a 29-yard TD pass to Jacob Frazier-Flores.
“It was a combination of a lot of things I guess,” said Lewis, noting the game was the most intense he has seen all season. “We didn’t throw a lot, but enough to get them to back off a little bit. It opened things back up in the running game.”
Lewis said the Cougars received a boost when four players returned after missing the first four games to academic ineligibility. He added that the team is starting to play with more emotion and fire in games and practice. The routine of congratulating teammates and showing excitement was worked on during practice. It has paid dividends in competition.
“One thing we’re doing a whole lot better is playing with enthusiasm,” Lewis said. “This group of kids is not a vocal group by nature. They haven’t been all year, so a lot of them are playing out of their element a little bit.”
The latest win puts Kennedy in position to determine its own fate. Win and the Cougars will overcome another slow start for an eighth consecutive postseason berth. Going 1-1 the next two weeks could still be enough, but that is not the goal for a team who many thought were playing for pride two weeks ago.
“Especially if we were able to end the season with a four-game streak, that would give us a lot of momentum,” Lewis said. “We’re just assuming we have to win out to have a legitimate shot.”
Kennedy hosts Dubuque Hempstead (0-7, 0-5 MVCM) Friday at Kingston Stadium.
Raiders clinch district title
With Williamsburg’s 33-27 victory over Keokuk on Friday night, the Raiders have clinched the Class 3A District 7 championship with two weeks to left of the regular season. Williamsburg is assured of a first-round playoff game against the fourth-place team from another district.
“It’s huge for seedings,” said Williamsburg Curt Ritchie said. “It’s a good thing to get done. We had to fight awfully hard for it.”
Williamsburg (6-1, 5-0 3A 7) has a non-district game against Vinton-Shellsburg (3-4) before the district finale against Mount Pleasant (2-5, 2-2). Washington (Iowa) is one game back, but loses a head-to-head tiebreaker with Williamsburg.
Ritchie said effort and unity have been keys to success, and forcing about 19 more turnovers than their foes has been important. The district crown is the third since moving to 3A in 2004. The Raiders won in 2006 and 2009 to go along with back-to-back 2A titles in 2001 and 2002.
“It’s been the goal for this group,” Ritchie said. “We’ve been fortunate to win a lot of games over the years and make the playoffs, but we haven’t won a ton of district titles since we moved up to 3A.”
The Keokuk game proved the Raiders have work to do and won’t coast the last two weeks. Some more reserves may play to reward their efforts and rest starters.
“We’ll keep trying to find ways to improve,” Ritchie said. “At the same time, we have some guys that needs some breaks.
“We have some guys that definitely need some rest and it will be nice to see some of those others guys get in there that worked hard, getting a chance to perform and see what they can do and add to our team.”
South Tama’s woes seem so long ago. After a 2-7 season in 2011, the Trojans have posted a 6-1 mark, beating Class 3A fifth-ranked Boone, 37-14, in Week 7.
South Tama is second with a 4-1 3A 4 mark, trailing only No. 4 Grinnell (7-0, 4-0). It sets up a Week 9 game between the two teams for the district title. South Tama’s only setback was a one-point loss to Newton.