CEDAR FALLS – One of Cedar Rapids Xavier’s regular-season setbacks came at the running back position, and not in the loss column.
Senior Cal Stovie tore the anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus in his left knee in the Saints win over Cedar Rapids Prairie in Week 3, but ran the table with a big thanks to a 5-foot-7 junior that stepped in to complement quarterback Reggie Schulte.
Brendan Miller played a big part in trying to prevent the Saints’ only defeat of the season during the 23-17 loss to Ankeny in the Iowa High School Athletic Association Class 4A state champion football game Friday night at the UNI-Dome. Miller rushed for more than 123 yards and two scores, as Xavier finished 13-1 and the state runner-up to the Hawks (14-0).
“He came on strong,” said Xavier Coach Duane Schulte, noting Stovie’s influence. “You have to give Brendan a lot of credit. He stuck with it and ran hard, and did a great job.”
The shifty Miller stepped in immediately in Week 4, and the Saints had the makings of a 1,000-yard rusher. In his first game, Miller ran for 222 yards, including a 64-yard TD, against Dubuque Wahlert. He finished the season with 1,067 yards and 10 TDs this season.
“I had to keep learning,” Miller said. “Week by week, keep getting better. Cal helped me through that. He was there coaching me up.”
Other backs made contributions throughout the year. Wes Gardner and Nick Steingreaber pitched in, but Miller was the top back.
“Brendan stepping up in Cal’s place did a great job all year fighting,” Reggie Schulte said. “Tonight, he was always fighting for the extra yards. He did a great job all year. I’m really proud of him.”
Miller provided some punch for the Saints with two first-half touchdown runs. He helped Xavier grab a 7-2 lead with 3:52 to go in the first with a 10-yard run, stretching for the end zone after diving from the 4-yard line.
Miller led the Saints to a 14-12 lead, capping a 26-yard drive created by Daniel Vega’s fumble recovery on a failed hand-off exchange. He demonstrated his athleticism and quickness, taking the pitch from quarterback Reggie Schulte on the option and cutting to his left and dashing seven yards to the end zone, leaving two Ankeny defenders in cement.
Those runs, and key gains in the second half, were a product of his effort and hard work to improve.
“He had an intensity the last couple weeks the way he’s been running the ball,” Duane Schulte said. “He’s been really intense and focusing on seeing that one hole and making a cut and getting after it. He did that the last few games.”
Miller produced the majority of Xavier’s 169 rushing yards, 107 of the team’s rushing yards came in the second half. The performance didn’t soothe the sting of settling for second.
“No, because I’m about the team,” Miller said. “Our (offensive) line did a really good job getting off the ball, but Ankeny’s a really good team. It’s just it wasn’t enough.”
Miller is expected to be one of the leaders for the Saints rushing attack next season. His coach has confidence Miller will fill that role, and Miller knows what it will take.
“Now, we have to buckle down and do our job and get better and better, so we can get back here,” Miller said. “I just have to keep getting better. Keep getting bigger, faster and stronger.”