CEDAR RAPIDS – Any questions Coe Coach Steve Staker had about this year’s Kohawk football team were convincingly answered Saturday.
No starting running back and a suspect defense from last season proved to be no problem.
Coe received three rushing touchdowns from backup running back Gage Mohs and the Kohawks defense kept Monmouth (Ill.) out of the end zone for an impressive 33-3 victory in the season-opener Saturday at Clark Field.
“This was a great opening win,” Staker said. “It gives us a pretty good feeling as to where we’re at and I can’t emphasize enough the defensive effort we had.”
The Fighting Scots led the nation in total offense last year, thanks to graduated Tanney Lands, who played in the Kansas City Chiefs preseason game Thursday before getting injured and placed in injured reserve. A bigger offensive line and a number of returners, including preseason All-American running back Trey Yocum, couldn’t break through the Kohawks defense that allowed only 40 rushing yards and less than 250 total offensive yards.
“This whole week in practice our coaches have been preaching to us to play fast,” Coe’s preseason All-American safety Demetreus Johnson said. “We were able to do that (Saturday).”
The Kohawks (1-0) bent, but never broke, thwarting four Monmouth deep drives. Two were inside the 11 and two reached inside the 25 before Kohawk slammed the door shut. Three of those stops were in the second half when Ben Schmidt forced a fumble recovered by T.J. Trau and two passes broke up by Johnson.
“I just try to get a feel for what the offense is doing,” Johnson said. “I was just trying to key off what they had done throughout the game.
“The quarterback was scrambling a lot because we had great pressure. That made coverage easier for us in the secondary.”
The offense provided enough firepower for a comfortable cushion thanks to Mohs, who saw increased action due to a shoulder injury to Brendan Leiran in an earlier scrimmage. Mohs rushed for 173 rushing yards and added 65 receiving.
He said the performance was a pleasant surprise.
“The offensive line did a great job,” Mohs said. “Without them the running backs wouldn’t do anything. They played really well.”
Mohs helped cap an eight-play, 39-yard drive in the first by running through a defender for a 5-yard TD run, giving Coe a 6-0 lead with 3:02 to go in the first. He also added a 19-yard TD run on fourth down to put the Kohawks up, 23-3, in the third. Mohs slipped through the left side of the line and bounced outside, sprinting to the end zone.
“I think they were in the wrong defense,” said Mohs, noticing the linebackers’ alignment. “I saw it right away. The fullback had a nice block and I just ran it in.”
Mohs sealed the win with a 7-yard score, set up by his 60-yard jaunt, up the middle with less than seven minutes left. The junior from Sumner-Fredericksburg made the most of his opportunity.
“We had to have it,” said Staker, who likes the way Mohs attacks openings. “He’s got to solidify himself in there. With Leiran out, I feel good about our running back situation right now.”
Staker also was high on his quarterback as well. Jared McNutt replaces former two-time Iowa Conference MVP Brad Boyle. McNutt threw for 275 yards and a touchdown, completing 20 of 31 passes.
“He’s never really had an opportunity to start a game and really have control of the ball club,” Staker said. “I’m hopeful that this gives him a lot of confidence. He really played well. I was pleased with how he handled himself.”
McNutt said the offense was sparked by the defense, expecting good field position every time. He said he benefitted from the output from Mohs.
“The run opened up our play-action (pass),” McNutt said. “The play-action gashed them.”
McNutt connected with Jared Kuehner for one of the more exciting plays of the game. With the first half winding down, Staker elected to go for it on 4th-and-8 on the Monmouth 28. McNutt hit Kris Hopkins for a first down.
The next play McNutt threw a jump ball to Jared Kuehner, who snatched the pass and got his tip-toes in bounds for the touchdown, giving Coe a 16-3 lead with 4.9 seconds left before the half.
“It shows a lot of confidence in the offense. We feed off that,” McNutt said about going for it on fourth down. “I knew Kuehner has a mismatch every time because he’s 6-foot-5, so he can jump out of the stadium.”
Coe travels to Mount Vernon next Saturday to face rival Cornell in a Bremner Cup Series contest.