EPWORTH, Iowa — There’s little doubt about the No. 1 team in Class 3A now.
Western Dubuque proved its worth.
Calvin Harris ran for a touchdown and threw for two more, and Carter Kluesner recovered two fumbles on defense as the Class 3A No. 1-ranked Bobcats bullied No. 2 and defending state champion Cedar Rapids Xavier, 20-14, on a cold and windy Friday night at Buchman Field.
It was the second signature win this season for the Bobcats, who handled then-No. 3-ranked North Scott, 21-3, in Week 4.
“Obviously, North Scott and Xavier are two really good teams, but tonight was pretty special for us,” said Harris, who threw for 65 yards and ran for 40 in a game controlled by both defenses. “For us, it being homecoming and beating Xavier means a lot to us and the community.”
Western Dubuque (7-0, 3-0 3A District 4) avenged a 34-20 loss to the Saints (6-1, 2-1) in last year’s state championship game, and drastically turned around the 35-0 result from the 2018 regular-season meeting.
It also gives the Bobcats the inside track to the district championship. Western Dubuque’s final two games come against teams with a combined 3-9 record entering Friday.
“We wanted to get this win back,” Kluesner said. “We’ve been training for it all summer. We’ve been working endless hours in the weight room. We’ve been working as a team just bonding together. It feels great that we did this.”
The Bobcats not only handed Xavier its first loss in 32 games, dating to a Nov. 10, 2016 loss to Pella in the state semifinals, Western Dubuque ended Xavier’s regular-season win streak at 43 games. The Saints hadn’t lost in the regular season since Oct. 17, 2014, a 21-7 setback against Iowa City Regina — mere weeks after the Bobcats had beaten Xavier, 7-6.
“We found a way to win ugly,” Bobcats coach Justin Penner said. “We really shot ourselves in the foot in the second half, but you’re not going to blow out Xavier and walk away with an easy win.”
Harris capped the Bobcats’ opening 10-play, 65-yard drive — which burned more than 5 minutes off the clock — with a 9-yard touchdown run.
Harris entered the week as one of just four quarterbacks in the state to throw at least 10 touchdown passes without an interception. But that ended on an ill-advised underhand toss on the Bobcats’ second possession, and Xavier defensive lineman Evan Smith came away with the pick.
“I made a really dumb decision, put it that way,” Harris said
Xavier needed just five plays to cash it in, taking a 7-6 lead with 45 seconds left in the opening quarter. Saints quarterback Tyler Dupont lateraled to receiver Tyler Wilken, who threw up a pass to the end zone that Mac Mahurin caught just before it hit the grass.
The Bobcats burned five more minutes of clock early in the second quarter, moving 56 yards on 12 plays and retaking the lead on an impressive 9-yard touchdown reception from Cameron Kluesner, who broke a tackle 5 yards from the end zone and scampered in for a 13-0 lead.
Harris kept the Bobcats’ final drive of the half alive with a 21-yard run on third-and-long, and Logan Brosius somehow kept his feet on a 24-yard reception that, along with a facemask penalty, gave the Bobcats a first down at the Saints’ 6. WD’s next three plays lost two yards, but coach Justin Penner decided eschew the field-goal try with 20 seconds left in the half and kept the offense on the field.
Harris responded, finding Will Burds in the end zone for a 9-yard touchdown that gave WD a 20-7 halftime lead.
Xavier managed just 48 yards and three first downs in the first half.
Neither team could sustain a drive in the third quarter until Xavier cobbled together an 11-play, 70-yard drive, and quarterback Dupont snuck in from the 1 on fourth-and-goal at the end of the period to cut WD’s advantage to 20-14.
Xavier got the ball back for one last drive with 4:07 remaining, and the first play went for 37 yards to the Bobcats’ 37. A holding penalty moved the Saints back, but Xavier eventually failed on a trick play on fourth-and-15 with 36 seconds left as the Bobcats survived.
“It feels amazing,” Penner said. “All the former players that come down after the game and shake your hand after the game, you feel like they are a part of that thing. So, it’s a big win for us, and it opens the door for us to potentially host a playoff game, so maybe we can start talking about that.”