CEDAR FALLS, Iowa — As Bettendorf’s football team walked off the UNI-Dome turf and up the tunnel to its locker room Friday night, Owen Ridenour clutched the semifinal participation trophy in his left arm.
Ridenour, the team’s starting quarterback, was relegated to spectator in his final high school game after an X-ray earlier this week revealed a fractured collar bone.
Even without their dual-threat signal caller, the Class 4A second-ranked Bulldogs managed to stay afloat with third-ranked Cedar Rapids Kennedy for three-plus quarters.
Eventually, the Cougars had too much firepower and a pick-six from Brandon Neimeier sealed Bettendorf’s 31-14 defeat.
It was Bettendorf’s third straight loss in the semifinals, all by double figures and to three different Cedar Rapids schools — Xavier, Washington and Kennedy.
“We need to finish,” said quarterback Jacob Wehr, who learned Monday night he would be making the start. “We need to execute better. In the last three years, our execution is poor in the Dome, and that’s why we haven’t gotten the results.”
Bettendorf (12-1) had not trailed or been pushed deep into the fourth quarter this season. When it happened, Kennedy (13-0) tallied the game’s final 17 points to secure the school’s first appearance in the title game next Friday.
“Coach just said we need to out-physical them because they haven’t really played in a four-quarter game all season,” said Kennedy senior Shaun Beyer, who rushed for 76 yards and had three catches for 72 yards. “We just had to beat them up front a little bit.”
Tyler Dralle registered 160 yards as the Cougars finished with 231 on the ground, easily the most against the Bulldogs’ starting defense this season.
Kennedy had a 127-11 advantage in total yards through the first 10 minutes of the third quarter to turn a 7-all contest into a 10-point cushion.
“We didn’t get them stopped,” Bettendorf coach Aaron Wiley said. “It was nothing pretty or flashy on their part. They knocked us around a little bit.”
Still, the Bulldogs were in range through three quarters. Set up by a long Carlos Wilson return, Dax Emerson broke a couple of tackles and exploded 18 yards for a touchdown in the final seconds of the third quarter to draw Bettendorf within three.
The defense followed with a three-and-out, and Bettendorf had the ball in Kennedy territory.
And then it went awry. A holding penalty pushed the Bulldogs back, and on third and 18, Wehr was intercepted by Neimeier and he darted 55 yards for a touchdown.
“It was a bad read and a bad throw,” Wehr admitted.
Bettendorf fumbled on its next possession and Kennedy capitalized with a 10-yard touchdown pass to Austin Bailey to put the finishes touches on the win.
“When you get in these elite games and everybody is really good, your margin for error shrinks,” Wiley said. “You’ve got to make plays."
Ridenour racked up more than 2,400 yards and 26 touchdowns for Bettendorf this season. He suffered the injury in the first quarter of last Friday’s quarterfinal game against Iowa City High after being tackled near the goal line. He continued to play the remainder of the game.
Even with Wehr, the Bulldogs were confident since he played in the first couple of weeks.
“We had no doubts he could do it for us,” said Emerson, who led the ground game with 126 yards on 27 carries and both Bettendorf touchdowns. “Nobody had any doubt in him.”
Given the circumstances, Wiley thought Wehr accounted himself well.
“That’s a tough situation for a kid to make his (starting) debut in the semifinals against an undefeated team,” Wiley said. “I’m not going to put anything on Jacob. He played well.
“There were a lot of other things that were problems.”
Bettendorf was penalized seven times for 65 yards and its defense allowed eight runs for more than 10 yards. Dralle and Beyer were at the center of it for Kennedy, which was 3-8 last year.
“When you’ve got an asset like Dralle and an asset like Beyer and a big O-line, we’re pretty fortunate,” Kennedy coach Brian White said.
Afterward, Bettendorf tried to come to grips with another semifinal letdown. The senior class lost just two games in two years, both in the UNI-Dome.
“Everybody hurts,” Wiley said. “I’m not very good at losing. At the end of the day when you reflect back, this group played two UNI-Dome games. A lot of kids never get a chance to come anywhere near this place.
“They upheld the tradition. You wish things went differently, but Kennedy is a great team and made more plays than us.”