The game was less than two minutes old Friday night when Mid-Prairie senior running back Kayden Reinier struck the first time.
Heavy rain had already pounded the field into an adventurous battleground. Footing in slippery grass and sinking mud was challenging. Passing was impossible.
That’s where Reinier and the Golden Hawks massive offensive line stepped in.
Running virtually untouched because of those blocks by his offensive line, Reinier first found himself in the end zone just 1:40 into the game with his first touchdown of the night on a 36-yard scoring run.
Two minutes later, he was in the end zone again following a 67-yard run.
Those were merely the opening acts in a dominating 49-0 district-opening win by the Golden Hawks over Central Lee.
Reinier set a school record by rushing for 316 yards and five touchdowns behind his offensive line. The Golden Hawks piled up 447 yards of rushing offense.
“Yeah, he played well,” Mid-Prairie head coach Pete Cavanagh said of Reinier. “Our offensive line really has come together. It’s nice to see them rewarded with that. They’re never going to get any stats, so it’s good to see that Kayden was able to rattle off those runs.”
Amazingly, on a night when running across the slippery field was about as easy as running across an ice hockey surface, many of Reinier’s runs came in open spaces provided by his linemen. And once he got into that open space, he was gone. He averaged a crazy 26.3 yards per carry.
Clarke Latchem, who rushed for 82 yards on just four carries, and senior lineman Josh Wallington also scored touchdowns for Mid-Prairie. Wallington’s touchdown, during which the 6-foot-2, 230-pounder lined up in an I formation behind quarterback Vinny Bowlin and in front of Reinier, came on a powering run right through the middle of Central Lee’s defensive line. It was a moment that seemed to define the rainy night for the Golden Hawks.
“Seems like every year, we have one of these,” Cavanagh said. “Our offense is capable of that so we prepare for mud games, we practiced outside this week. It’s just what it is.”
Of the 40 offensive plays the Golden Hawks ran (a number that would have been larger except for the running clock in the second half), 38 were running plays. Bowlin attempted just one pass and the only other play was a 35-yard punt by Jake Swartzendruber in the second half.
Defensively, the Hawks held Central Lee quarterback Mason Schau to five completions and 54 yards in 18 passing attempts. Mid-Prairie intercepted him twice. Seven Central Lee rushers combined for negative yardage on the ground.
“They’re kind of a big play offense,” Cavanagh said of Central Lee. “I know it was hard tonight, but in their previous games they had a lot of big plays, so we wanted to shut that down.”
The Golden Hawks’ victory followed two weeks of uncertainty because of the COVID-19 pandemic which has affected student attendance in the school district in terms of positive cases and quarantines, hit the junior varsity football team and resulted in a canceled game on Sept. 4 against Iowa City Regina Catholic.
“Yeah, it’s been trying. Last week was frustrating,” Cavanagh said. “Our guys handled it really well. A lot going on here, we’ve got guys with COVID, we’ve got guys in quarantine, what are we going to with the fans, what are we going to do with this, are we going to play, are we not going to play? It’s a lot for a 17-year-old kid, an 18-year-old kid, to handle. I thought our kids handled it well.”
Friday’s game was played in front of a small crowd due to spectator limitations (each player gets four tickets), plus the wet weather conditions.
But none of this dampened the spirits of the Golden Hawks. Several of them turned water and mud puddles along the sideline into a postgame celebration, diving into the water and sliding down the sidelines.
Rushing: Kayden Reinier, 12 carries, 316 yards, 5 TDs; Clarke Latchem, 4 carries, 82 yards, 1 TD; Vinny Bowlin, 12 carries, 28 yards; Cael Garvey, 4 carries, 12 yards; Josh Wallington, 2 carries, 10 yards, 1 TD.
Passing: Bowlin, 0-of-1.
Defense: Keegan Gingerich, 1 interception; Justice Jones, 3.5 tackles, 0.5 sacks, 1 interception; Michael Kelly, 4.5 tackles; Reinier, 4 tackles.
Next game: Friday, vs. Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont, 7 p.m., Mid-Prairie HS.