By Jon Gremmels Herald Sports Editor
The Clinton Herald
---- — CEDAR RAPIDS — Having Clinton elect to receive the opening kickoff might have been the best thing to happen to Cedar Rapids Xavier on Wednesday night to open the high school football playoffs — besides recording its sixth shutout in nine wins this season, anyway.
Helped by an early Clinton miscue, Xavier’s defense stopped the River Kings in their tracks on the opening possession in the first-round Class 4A game at Saints Field. That turned into the story of the first half for the fourth-ranked Saints, who scored on their first five possessions en route to the 45-0 victory.
”We knew coming in we couldn’t make mistakes,” Clinton coach Lee Camp said. “We had to play real good because we’ve struggled with teams with that much size and strength, and that was the case tonight, especially when we were making some mistakes to give them that short field.”
Xavier (9-1) set the tone right away.
Xavier’s opening kickoff went for a touchback, then its defense took over.
After the Saints were penalized 5 yards for being offside before Clinton ever ran a play, the Saints marched the Kings backward.
They tackled Dustin Caldwell (10 carries, 16 yards) for a 2-yard loss on first down, then were helped by a Clinton miscommunication on second down. Quarterback Eric Maddasion unexpectedly got the center snap as he was looking away, and even though Clinton recovered, it went for 6-yard loss. An incomplete pass on third down forced a Clinton punt, which took a favorable Xavier bounce and set up the Saints at the Clinton 32-yard line.
”A miscommunication, things happen, not too big of a deal,” Maddasion said. “We knew coming in that we were going to have to do a lot, if not everything, correct to put up a good fight versus Xavier. We had a few miscommunications, but those things happen. We got off to a rough start.”
To say the least.
Xavier’s offense responded with a six-play scoring drive — quarterback Quinton Scholer — ran it in from 3 yards out, and the Saints (9-1) led 7-0 just 2 minutes, 47 seconds into the game.
Similar scenarios repeated themselves throughout the first half. Xavier’s defense limited Clinton to 29 total yards in the first half, and its offense scored on its first five possessions — four taking advantage of a short field.
”Their offense is very high-powered,” Clinton senior safety Alex Caldwell said. “They kind of ran the same offense as Bettendorf, and they were just as good or maybe even better. They had good play-calling. Having less than 35 yards on a couple of drives to start the game really puts your defense in a bind on what to call. It’s tough on our defense to keep an offense like that out of the end zone.”
Xavier’s scoring drives covered 32, 34, 70, 32 and 24 yards. Meanwhile, its defense also got in the act as Ben Valentine returned an interception 32 yards for a touchdown that made it 35-0 with 8:33 left in the first half.
”They came off the ball well,” Camp said. “We knew they were a pretty quality team, very aggressive, and they had a couple of big guys up front who were aggressive and used their arms well.”
The combination of playing on a short field almost the entire first half and a continuous clock in the second meant Xavier picked up only 214 total yards.
”Even defensively, I thought, we would do some things real well, then we’d have a breakdown,” Camp said. “That’s really kind of the story of the night.”
That and Xavier’s defense that stopped Clinton cold. The Saints limited the River Kings to 63 yards.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t get much going on offense, but what can you do?” Alex Caldwell said. “They have a real good defense, defensive line. Number 32 (Daniel Vega), wow! He was in our face all night, a real good player.”
Maddasion said: “They’re very sound defensely. They get calls late, they get lined up and they do the right thing. (Numbers) 46 (Logan Clarahan), 32 (Vega) and 84 — the big kid (University of Iowa recruit Matt Nelson) — they’re just hard players and love the game of football. Thirty-two, I’ve never seen someone come off the ball like that all year long, and he was definitely in our backfield, which made it kind of tough to make a three-step drop and pass.”
Clinton finally found an offensive spark on its third possession, advancing the ball from its 20 to the Xavier 41 before the drive stalled and it was forced to punt.
”We mounted a drive there early. We went to a few quick hitters, then once it stopped and they were able to adjust their defense and take it away from us,” Camp said.
“I feel like we were having a little bit more pressure than we expected from the linebackers up the middle,” Maddasion said. “We ran a couple of those quick passes I think twice to Alex on the left side, and he made some moves and made some things happen. I think that was our most productive drive. Some things worked and some things didn’t.”
It was mostly the latter, however.
By halftime — well before that, actually — the outcome was clear. The Saints played many backups in the second half, as did Clinton, even using some of the players called up from the sophomore team.
But, even with the decisive loss, the River Kings were happy for the chance to play in the playoffs.
”For sure, making it to Week 10 is always your goal,” Alex Caldwell said. “From the end of school your junior year all the way up to now your goal is Week 10, maybe Week 11. But you can’t get to Week 11 if you don’t get to Week 10, and that’s what we did. I’m really proud of our guys for making it this far and putting a lot of sacrifice in.”
CEDAR RAPIDS XAVIER 45, CLINTON 0
Clinton 0 0 0 0 — 0
Xavier 21 21 0 3 — 45
X — Quinton Scholer 3 run (Ryan Persick kick), 9:13
X — Brendan Miller 26 run (Persick kick), 6:57
X — Miller 1 run (Persick kick), :15
X — Jay Kortemeyer 7 pass from Scholer (Persick kick), 9:24
X — Ben Valentine 32 interception return (Persick kick), 8:33
X — Bryce Grimm 9 pass from Bryce Schulte (Persick kick), 5:21
X — FG Persick 36, 8:39
RUSHING — Clinton (26-20), Dustin Caldwell 10-16, Alex Caldwell 6-13, Austin Peters 3-13, Isaiah Bailey 2-1, Eric Maddasion 3-minus-12, Team 2-minus-11; Xavier (42-144), Brendan Miller 9-69, Christopher Ball 10-32, Bryce Schulte 3-12, Jay Kortemeyer 3-20, Quinton Scholer 2-4, Ryan Williams 2-9, Adam Steffensmeier 2-4, Taylor Malloy 1-4, Edward Krouse 1-3, Levi Miller 1-2, Andrew Steffensmeier 2-minus-5, John Hovda 3-minus-4, Team 3-minus-6.
PASSING — Clinton (6-18-2-43), Maddasion 6-17-2-43, Johnny Sullivan 0-1-0-0; Xavier (8-9-0-80), Scholer 7-7-0-71, Schulte 1-1-0-9, Sam Tursi 0-1-0-0.
RECEIVING — Clinton, A. Caldwell 3-28, Brady Ernst 1-15, Zach Pope 1-5, D. Caldwell 1-minus-5; Xavier, Bryce Grimm 3-23, Matt Nelson 2-32, Frank Hill 2-18, Kortemeyer 1-7.
Young Kings get a chance/3C