CEDAR FALLS — Less than two minutes remained on the clock, and the game was still in doubt.
Third-ranked Cedar Falls was clinging to a 35-32 lead over No. 5 Bettendorf. The Tigers were facing a third-and-nine, and the Bulldogs were out of timeouts. A first down and Cedar Falls would have its second consecutive victory over a Class 4A Top 10 opponent.
During a timeout before that critical play, Tigers head coach Brad Remmert had one message for senior quarterback Cael Loecher.
“He said, ‘Hey, we are running this play and it comes down to you,’” recalled Loecher. “What you want as a quarterback is your coaches to trust you like that, and when he gives you that trust you have to make the play.”
Running a naked bootleg off isolation action, Loecher gained the edge and scrambled 14 yards for a first down, and the Tigers took three kneel-downs afterward to complete a come-from-behind victory.
The most impressive part of the play, according to Remmert, was Loecher’s whereabouts at the end of it.
“He not only got the first down, but he slides in bounds instead of going out of bounds,” Remmert said. “His football awareness has improved so much from last year.”
The 6-foot-5, 195-pound Loecher is in his second season as a starting quarterback for Cedar Falls and his second go-round is starting to look like it will be a special season. That is saying something for a player who helped lead the Tigers to the Class 4A state title game last fall.
Loecher, whose older brother, Luke, is a punter at Oregon State, will carry a 16-1 record as a starter into Friday’s Homecoming game for the now second-ranked Tigers at the UNI-Dome against Dubuque Hempstead.
Both Remmert and Loecher said his confidence has increased twofold over that of a quarterback who completed 61.5 percent of his passes in 2018 for 2,008 yards with 29 touchdowns against three interceptions.
“His confidence of reading the defense has improved so much,” Remmert said. “Before he was just worried about running the play that was called and now he is seeing what the defense is doing. He gets us out of something that might not work and changes us into something better.”
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Loecher’s performance against Bettendorf was his best of the season as he threw for a season-high 251 yards and three scores. In four games, Loecher is 48 of 78 for 696 yards and eight touchdowns with just one interception. He has also rushed for 143 yards and three touchdowns.
For Loecher, his continued growth is largely the product of one thing.
“Confidence,” Loecher said. “Making checks at the line of scrimmage, knowing what to do if the defense shows this or that. The mental part of my game is the biggest part of my jump.”
With his size and athleticism, Remmert says Loecher is becoming an interesting target for college recruiters.
A member of Cedar Falls’ state championship basketball team last spring, Loecher had a tremendous offseason in the weight room and at camps.
“He had a broad jump of 10-feet, 4-inches at the Lindenwood camp this summer and that is exceptional for a high school kid,” Remmert said. “He has a very strong arm. He can make the throws on out routes, curls, the plays that move the chains and is not necessarily just a guy that can hurl it down the field, which he can do, too.”
Loecher, who is also averaging better than 40 yards a punt this season, said he had a visit at Iowa State for the Louisiana-Monroe game, has talked frequently with Drake and is hearing from a lot of Division II schools.
But most of that stuff is tucked away in the back of his mind as Loecher and the Tigers keep their focus on making another run at the Class 4A championship game.
After graduating four Division I players, including all-state players Jack Campbell (Iowa) and Logan Wolf (UNI), there were a lot of questions whether Cedar Falls would be as strong in 2019.
Now, after wins over No. 8 Ankeny and No. 5 Bettendorf, confidence is building within the Tigers, but Loecher says the team is far from a finished product.
“Those two wins show the character of your team,” Loecher said. “We just beat the No. 5 and No. 8 teams and that is a really big confidence boost to build on. But at the same time, we did not play perfect games. There is a lot of room to improve.
“Yes, the way we are performing right now is a lot of fun, but the focus has to remain on ourselves, getting better and not worrying about what people think about us.”