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 Class 4A’s No. 2 Bettendorf.
French and his cohorts within one of the state’s top defensive units spent the better part of the evening chasing quarterback Carter Bell all over the UNI-Dome turf. Often, they came 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 a game-clinching interception.
French savored his memorable moment on a night filled with big plays as No. 3 Cedar Falls prevailed, 29-23, laying claim to bragging rights as the top team in 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. He often used his legs to help Bettendorf (3-1) convert eight third downs, and the Bulldogs held possession nearly eight minutes longer than Cedar Falls (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 offensive balance throughout this game.
Logan Wolf, a UNI dual-sport 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 along the sideline. He slipped a tackle and raced into the end zone from 12 yards out with 2 minutes, 2 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.
“We weren’t going to be stopped on that,” Wolf said. “I was getting into the end zone no matter what on that. We finished it out.”
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. Loecher’s leadership helped neutralize the heavy blitzing Bulldogs.
“He was on point all night,” Wolf said of his QB. “He made checks out of things, and he was throwing balls that needed to be thrown. He just played great tonight.”
In a game that featured six lead changes, momentum shifted quickly.
Bell’s brilliant game was book-ended with interceptions as Cedar Falls’ Alexander Paxson returned a pick 35 yards for a score on the Bulldogs’ opening drive.
After Bettendorf took its first lead early in the second quarter, Wolf put Cedar Falls back in front on a 45-yard touchdown reception off a post pattern. Porter answered for the Bulldogs with a 25-yard TD reception for a 17-14 lead 24 seconds prior to halftime.
Cedar Falls opened the second half with a seven-play, 59-yard drive and Bettendorf again answered.
Essentially down to its final possession, Cedar Falls’ offensive line blocked Grosse to runs of 10, 9 and 13 to set up Wolf’s go-ahead touchdown.
“The kids came off to the side and thought, ‘Hey, we have things under control on the inside,’” Remmert said. “They were putting so much pressure on us from the edges that we thought we could get the inside zone going.
“We stuck with it. Bo ran hard and those offensive linemen, they ground that deal out and put us in a position to win.”
Bettendorf was early into its two-minute drill when French came up with the key interception. The Bulldogs did get the ball back for one last play. Bell raced 48 yards before he was tripped up on the Cedar Falls 26.
Bettendorf coach Aaron Wiley felt his team was unable to match Cedar Falls’ physicality at the end.
“We’ve got to get more physical,” Wiley said. “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.
“That’s great high school football, as it should be when you get two top-ranked teams,” Remmert said. “Bettendorf is going to have a great rest of the year and our kids have to build on this and realize it’s a stepping stone along the way. We matured tonight in a lot of different areas.”
Cedar Falls 29, Bettendorf 23
Bettendorf 3 14 0 6 — 23
Cedar Falls 7 7 7 8 — 29
CF — Alexander Paxson 35 interception return (Matthew Cook kick)
Bett — FG Keegan Schmidt 33
Bett — Carter Bell 1 run (Schmidt kick)
CF — Logan Wolf 45 pass from Cael Loecher (Cook kick)
Bett — Darien Porter 25 pass from Carter Bell (Schmidt kick)
CF — Loecher 1 run (Cook kick)
Bett — Bell 3 run (pass failed)
CF — Wolf 12 pass from Loecher (Wolf run)
First downs 14 17
Rushes-yards 38-192 33-141
Comp-att-int 16-25-2 12-20-0
Passing yards 188 185
Punts-avg 5-36 4-38.5
Fumbles-lost 1-0 2-2
Penalties-yards 8-59 3-19
BETTENDORF — Carter Bell 19-127, Austin Kalar 17-62, Darien Porter 2-3.
CEDAR FALLS — Bo Grosse 20-104, Logan Wolf 4-37, Cael Loecher 9-0.
BETTENDORF — Bell 16-25-2, 188 yards.
CEDAR FALLS — Loecher 12-20-0, 185 yards.
BETTENDORF — Porter 5-51, Brandan Tillman 4-26, Noah Abbott 3-69, Austin Kalar 2-22.
CEDAR FALLS — Logan Wolf 9-145, Jackson Frericks 2-31, Jackson Gilbert 1-9.