CEDAR FALLS — Cedar Falls defensive lineman Tyson French must have felt like a fisherman running out of bait as he attempted to reel in the big one during Friday night's showdown with No. 2 Bettendorf.
French and his teammates within one of the state's top defensive units spent the better part of this much-anticipated test chasing Bell all over the UNI-Dome turn, all too often coming up empty.
However, with an opportunity to protect a late six-point lead, French reeled in a trophy catch. The 6-foot-5 junior tipped a swing pass to himself for the final big play in a night that was filled with them as No. 3 Cedar Falls prevailed, 29-23, laying claim to bragging rights as the top team on the eastern half of the state.
"Coach always told me to keep contain, and that's what I did," French said. "I saw him turn around, and I just jumped up and grabbed it.
"I never thought anything like that would happen ever in my life. It was just amazing. My teammates were all around me it was just a great moment."
Bell finished with 127 yards rushing and two touchdowns and passed for 188 yards and a score as he often used his legs for a Betttendorf team (3-1) that converted eight third downs and held possession nearly eight minutes longer than the Tigers (4-0).
"Bell is a heck of a player," Cedar Falls coach Brad Remmert said. "He's made plays on his feet this year and last year, and he was a problem.
"We talked to our kids that they've just got to hang in there, and we've got to make big plays when we get the opportunity. Look at the end, Tyson French made a heck of a play."
Cedar Falls found balance throughout this game, as well.
Logan Wolf, a UNI recruit, finished with nine catches for 145 yards and two touchdowns in a head-to-head, two-way showdown on the edge with Iowa State recruit Darien Porter. Wolf's final catch came in man coverage on the edge as he slipped a tackle and raced into the end zone from 12 yards out with 2:02 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Cedar Falls quarterback Cael Loecher completed 12 of 20 passes for 185 yards, while running back Bo Grosse rushed for 104 yards on 20 carries in his second start in place of an injured Sam Gary.
In a game that featured six lead changes, momentum shifted quickly throughout the night.
Cedar Falls' Alexander Paxson ended Bettendorf's opening drive with a 35-yard interception return touchdown before a fumbled punt return by Wolf led to a Keegan Schmidt field goal. Bettendorf took advantage of a Tigers' defense that was on the field for 14 consecutive plays in the first half by taking its first lead on an 11-play, 60-yard drive capped by Bell's goal-line run.
Wolf answered with a 45-yard touchdown reception on a post route before Porter, who finished with five catches for 51 yards, put Bettendorf up, 17-14, with a 25-yard reception over the middle in the end zone 24 seconds before halftime.
After Cedar Falls marched 59 yards on seven plays to open the second half with a score, Bettendorf regained the lead, 23-21, on a 12-play, 80-yard drive capped by Bell's 3-yard run.
Essentially down to its final possession, Cedar Falls' offensive line blocked Grosse to runs of 10, 9 and 13 yards prior to Wolf's go-ahead touchdown. After French's interception on the Bettendorf 30, the Bulldogs got the ball back for one last play. Bell raced 48 yards before he was tripped up on the Cedar Falls 26.
Afterwards Bettendorf coach Aaron Wiley lamented his team's two untimely turnovers and eight penalties, including a pass interference call on Cedar Falls' go-ahead drive.
"We've got to eliminate mistakes," Wiley said. "We do things to put ourselves in bad positions, and you can't do that against a team like this."
The Bulldogs coach looks to find a finishing touch out of his team as they hope to make a return trip to this UNI-Dome destination by season's end.
"We've got to get more physical," Wiley added. "We played a tough physical team and we were fine for the most part, but at the end we weren't physical enough to get them stopped when we had to."
It was a showdown that lived up to the hype.
"This was a great game," Wiley said. "They were what we thought they'd be. They were physical. They were tough and at the end we just didn't have enough to get them."