MAQUOKETA, Iowa — With AC/DC's "Back in Black" blaring over the speakers, the Maquoketa football team stormed onto Goodenow Field, sporting black jerseys for the first time in over 15 years.
More importantly for the Cardinals, it looks like winning football might be back as well.
Maquoketa piled up 325 total yards to grab a 29-7 win over Central DeWitt, scoring the final 29 points of the game to beat their rival in the 96th meeting between the two teams.
The Cardinals are 2-0 for the first time since 2012, a welcome start to the year after winning just two games over the last three seasons.
"Everybody's been putting in the work in the offseason, everyone's going hard in practice. We've all been in the weight room. It's just been a lot of hard work," junior quarterback Kannon Coakley said. "Knowing this is a year we can turn it around."
Coakley piled up 228 total yards, 156 coming on the ground and three total touchdowns. After scoring 14 touchdowns all of last season as a sophomore, Coakley now has seven total touchdowns through two games.
It's a sign of the maturation of a team that was incredibly young a season ago.
"We had the ability to win, this year we've gotten a lot more confidence," Coakley said. "Having another year of experience really helped."
Coakley's biggest miscue of the night came in the first quarter, a deep pass that was intercepted by Logan Paulsen in the end zone.
That set up a 96-yard drive, capped by a 5-yard run by Central DeWitt junior John McConohy at the 9-minute, 58-second mark of the second quarter. McConohy was making his first start at quarterback in place of injured Henry Bloom and finished with 47 yards rushing and 71 yards passing but also threw two second-half interceptions.
"I thought he played great. He did everything we asked him to for not having a lot of practice," Central DeWitt head coach Ryan Streets said. "The inexperience got to him a bit in the second half and he made some mistakes, but running the offense the first half, couldn't have asked for a better job."
Maquoketa answered McConohy's score with a long drive of its own, helped out by a heads-up play by lineman Dixie Solomon.
Solomon recovered a fumble on the 3-yard line, keeping the drive alive and allowing the Cardinals to score their first touchdown of the game, a 1-yard run by Connor Becker with 1:22 left in the half.
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"It could have been a huge turning point to get them going but we got it back and it just kept us going," Coakley said. "I was very worried but when I heard he got the ball, there was a lot of relief."
Becker followed up the score with a standout special teams play, sending the opening kickoff down the left sideline. The ball rolled down the line, never going out of bounds, and by the time Central DeWitt corralled it, there was no room for a return, pinning the Sabers at their 2.
A false start backed the Sabers up a yard, and McConohy was tackled in the end zone for a safety to put Maquoketa up 9-7.
"Last couple days of practice, I realized I can do that, pin it right there so I just did it. It became second nature," said Becker, who finished with 119 yards of total offense. "Just a huge momentum swing, we really took control of the game."
After the safety, Coakley hit Becker with a screen pass the Maquoketa running back took 30 yards for a touchdown to put the Cardinals up 16-7 with 15 seconds left in the half, capping a run of 16 points in 67 seconds for Maquoketa.
"The funny part is, you've got to learn how to win, then after that you've got to learn how to handle winning," Maquoketa head coach Kevin Bowman said. "We started off the game pretty flat, but the huge play to me was the safety. Momentum swung pretty hard at that point."
Even with that, the Sabers (1-1) took their first drive of the second half down to the Maquoketa 31 before Ryne Gruenwald had the first of McConohy's two interceptions.
"To me, that was bigger than the ones (in the first half)," Streets said. "Some of that stuff, it just happens, nothing you can do about kids playing hard. But the interception, I thought that really hurt. That would have been a huge momentum swing and everyone would have forgot about (the end to the first half)."
Maquoketa put the game away with a pair of scores in the fourth quarter. Coakley hit Caiden Atienza with a 10-yard slant route for a touchdown at 11:06, then on their next drive, Coakley broke off a 63-yard touchdown run to up the score to 29-7.
Maquoketa will now look to keep this run going next week against Independence. But after the last couple years, the Cardinals are making sure to savor these wins.
"We're going to enjoy tonight," Bowman said. "Unfortunately for me, I'm already starting to think about Independence and that's bad on my behalf. I've got to enjoy this win a little bit more."