By Chris Umscheid
North Liberty Leader
CEDAR RAPIDS– The West High Trojans survived their greatest threat so far this season, escaping from Cedar Rapids Prairie with a 21-14 win and keeping their record perfect at 4-0.
“Prairie plays us tougher than anybody,” coach Brian Sauser said after the win on a bizarre night. “It’s fun when we get out there and score 50, 60 points. But to gut-out a win in a tough place to play is huge.”
The Trojans had to fight for every inch of ground in a game where the officiating made both sides scratch their heads. West got on the scoreboard late in the first quarter when Nate Boland held onto the ball and scampered into the end zone for a touchdown. Connor Gordon’s extra point kick was good and the Trojans had a 7-0 lead.
Prairie retaliated with a touchdown with 8:44 left in the half and made the kick for a 7-7 tie, which lasted into the third quarter when the Prairie Hawks flew into their orange end zone with a 30-plus yard pass for another touchdown. With the good kick, the Prairie squad had the 14-7 lead and visions of upsetting West to make homecoming even sweeter for the orange and black crowd.
The real drama of the night came with around five minutes left in the quarter. West intercepted a Prairie pass and started a drive for the goal. Boland passed to Anthony Batie, who landed with one foot inbounds before tumbling to a stop on the Trojan sideline. The pass was ruled complete, and then overruled by the side referee as incomplete, incensing the Trojan bench and crowd.
“It was not a hard call,” Sauser said. “Batie caught it, made a football move. The official actually said at first, ‘well, he didn’t have two feet in-bounds.’ I said, ‘sir, it’s high school. He only needs one.’ He said, ‘oh yeah, that’s right.’ So it’s not like I felt we got away with something (when the call was finally reversed back to a complete pass), because he had a foot in-bounds. It was a nice, clean play.”
The drive continued into the final period with Micah Kelsay tumbling in for a touchdown. Again though, the officials had a different view of things. On a second attempt, Kelsay scored again, this time the zebras agreed and the Trojans knotted the game at 14-all.
The Prairie bench had their own officiating dilemma after a touchdown was negated due to a holding call on the Prairie Hawks. West capitalized on this lucky break as the defensive line shut down Prairie’s drive and took the ball over on downs at their own 26-yard line. The good fortune almost became a curse as West’s drive bogged down. A fourth down long bomb gamble paid great dividends though, and bought Sauser’s crew a first down, continuing the drive, which was punctuated by another Kelsay touchdown and the 21-14 lead with 3:12 remaining in the ballgame.
“I’m proud of our kids for getting the win. For us to dig in when everything was kinda stacked up against them: on the road, a tough environment, I couldn’t be prouder.” Sauser added, “(it was) rewarding when our defense makes a stop and we grind out a couple possessions to win the game.” Regarding the officiating, Sauser said, “I’m really proud of our kids for playing through all the mess out there. I’ve never seen those guys (the officiating crew) before… maybe there’s a reason for that. Both ways, it was just a really challenging night. But, that’s just the way it goes.”
The Trojans are on the road again Friday, Sept. 27, as they visit the Rams of Dubuque Senior. West is the only team with a perfect record in the Mississippi Valley Conference Mississippi Division with Cedar Rapids Kennedy, Dubuque Hempstead and City High all with one loss. The Rams are 1-3; Cedar Rapids Jefferson and Waterloo East are both 0-4.