City High coach Dan Sabers looks on against Linn-Mar on Aug. 26. Tork Mason/For Your Prep SportsBy Susan Harman
Your Prep Sports
IOWA CITY – In a game with more big plays than a Shakespeare anthology, City High senior Naeem Smith took the last bow.
Smith’s interception with 36 seconds left finally let the homecoming crowd breathe a sigh of relief in a wild 36-28 victory over Muscatine at Bates Field.
“That was crazy,” Smith said of his interception on Muscatine’s last-gasp drive to try to tie the game.
“We were in a 3-by-1 against their trips. He rolled out. Our corner came up and the wide receiver was wide open, and I just saw he was going to throw the ball and I undercut him.
“That was a great game, though. Last year it was a dogfight and went to the last minute.”
The victory puts the Little Hawks (3-0, 6-1) into the 4A playoffs and gives them a chance next week to play Bettendorf for the 4A District 7 championship. It was also the death knell for the Muskies’ (1-2, 4-3) playoff hopes.
City High senior Naeem Smith
“It’s tremendous the momentum that we have going to the playoffs,” quarterback Nate Wieland said.
City trailed 14-0 after two Muscatine possessions. Alphonso Soko was running over, under, around and through the defense, while quarterback Luke Wichers was exploiting the secondary with speedy wide receiver Drew Greenhaw.
City got one score back on a 74-yard drive but trailed 14-6 at halftime. City coach Dan Sabers swears he cast no magic spell during intermission, but senior Vance Dillon lit the fuse to the comeback by returning the opening kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown. A two-point conversion tied the game.
“At first I saw the left side open up and then I was like no, there was somebody coming right at me,’ Dillon said. “Then I saw the right side open up and I hit it hard. Our team made a bunch of good blocks and I was able to take it home. We needed that.”
“Obviously returning the kickoff was huge,” Sabers said. “That was just the spark we needed.”
City’s defense held and forced a punt. Zach Jones returned the punt 26 yards to the Muskie 39. Three plays later Wieland threw a perfect 31-yard pass to a closely covered Jones for a touchdown and a 20-14 lead.
“I saw it was open and I communicated that to Nate and the coaches, and he just had to find the right time to call it,” Jones said.
“I saw they were playing man-to-man,” Wieland said. “I have tremendous trust in Zach Jones and how great a player he is. So I just threw it up and let him run under it.”
The rest of the third quarter was scoreless, but on the first play of the fourth quarter Soko returned a
City punt 51 yards for a touchdown, breaking tackles the whole way, and Muscatine led 21-20.
Even though City had wrested the momentum away to start the half, the Muskies led by a point.
City responded after a short kickoff and drove 51 yards for a touchdown. Bryce Frantz’s 1-yard run and two-point conversion gave City the lead again, 28-21.
Muscatine began another drive, but after a 21-yard run Soko was hurt and had to leave the game. With the ball at the City 49 and plenty of time remaining the game was still very much in doubt even with Soko on the bench.
City High senior Vance Dillon
But up stepped Jones with a key interception at the City 37. He weaved his way through the Muskies, tightroped the sideline and managed to run 63 yards for a touchdown to put City ahead 36-21 with 6 minutes left to play.
“We were in a cover three and I saw the quarterback look at one of their main guys that he targets, and I tried to make a play,” Jones said. “Coach, in practice he’s on my tail about ‘make your dancing moves,’ but Friday I think you have to make those moves for the team. I had great blocks from Naeem and other teammates.
“It was really big for my team. It was definitely a highlight, one of my career plays.”
Even without Soko the Muskies rallied, marching 57 yards in 11 plays to score a TD, converting one fourth-down play along the way, and cut the lead to 36-28 with 2:53 left.
A perfectly executed onside kick was recovered by the Muskies’ Bronson Brown at the City High 43.
It wasn’t over yet. The Muskies, still without Soko, got to the City 24, but that’s when Smith ended the drama with his interception.
“That Soko is special,” Sabers said. “I’m just telling you, where would we be if he was able to finish the game? I don’t know. That’s a special team. They played their butts off tonight.”
Muscatine City High
First downs 16 13
Rushing-yards 37-149 31-153
Comp-Att-Int 12-22-2 8-14-0
Passing-yards 136 98
Punts-avg. 4-36 2-45.5
Fumbles-lost 1-0 2-0
Penalties-yards 5-40 5-35
Muscatine 14 0 0 14 – 28
City High 6 0 14 15 – 36
MUS – Luke Wichers 10 run (Logan Nugent kick)
MUS – Drew Greenhaw 52 pass from Wichers (Nugent kick)
ICH – Nate Wieland 9 run (kick failed)
ICH – Vance Dillon 99 kickoff return (Wieland run)
ICH – Zach Jones 31 pass from Wieland (run failed)
MUS – Alphonso Soko 51 punt return (Nugent kick)
ICH – Bryce Frantz 1 run (Frantz run)
ICH – Jones 63 yard interception return (Frantz run)
MUS – Greenhaw 14 pass from Wichers (Nugent kick)
Rushing – Muscatine: Alphonso Soko 19-126, Drew Greenhaw 2-11, Jackson Foulk 4-11, Carter Frazier 1-9, Luke Wichers 11-(-8); City: Nate Wieland 16-91, Bryce Frantz 12-61, Charles Johnson 1-1, team 2-0.
Passing – Muscatine: Luke Wichers 12-22-2-136; City: Nate Wieland 8-14-0-98.
Receiving – Muscatine: Drew Greenhaw 7-97, Alphonso Soko 2-46, David Summers 2-14, Derrick Woepking 1-8; City: Zach Jones 2-44, Naeem Smith 2-26, Gabriel Nkumu 2-20, Travis Reyhons 1-7, Vance Dillon 1-(-4).