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Chroniciling our history since the day we stepped on the field as J-Hawks

The Womochil Years ~ 2001-2011


The son of dairy farmers in rural Vinton, Womochil knew from personal experience what work ethic was. He played defensive back at UNI for Terry Allen, after-which he immediately went to work at Williamsburg High. Over the next decade, he would lead the Raiders to the playoffs three times, including the playoff quarterfinals in 2000.

The J-Hawks opened the season against an acknowledged MVC dark horse, Hempstead. Junior running back Ashton Northern immediately burst upon the scene, finding pay dirt three times, in a tightly contested rock ‘em, sock ‘em affair. In holding on for a 21-14 win, the Womochil regatta was launched from a safe harbor.

But calm water quickly gave way to choppy waves when a hungry Kennedy team blew into Kingston Stadium like a storm the next Friday. Inability to hold onto the ball would prove an early stumbling block. The J-Hawks fell, 28-7. The offense sputtered again during a week three contest against an athletic and physical West Waterloo squad. Jefferson turned the ball over seven times, providing the Wahawks a short field far too many times during a 17-0 defeat. Unsavory punishment, and turnovers, continued the next week when the Xavier Saints visited Kingston, leaving victorious, with a 28-15 verdict.
Fortunately, Womochil’s troops chose to defeat their frustration. Turnovers turned into triumph against a Linn-Mar team that rolled over early. The J-Hawks pounded the Lions 42-0. Jeff easily found the end zone in each of its first four possessions.

The next game offered Womochil and staff their first chance to match wits with Jeff’s longtime rival Washington. Jefferson had beaten the Warriors three of the last four years, and twice in a row. Womo’s troops continued the recent trend, making it three in a row, cruising to the 27-10 victory. With back-to-back victories secured, the team was trending upward. But it was clear, the upcoming battle for southwest side bragging rights would require extreme focus and undivided attention. The P-Hawks had not beaten their west-side rival in three years, and they were anxiously seeking redemption.

A measure of revenge is what Prairie earned, cruising effortlessly to the 35-7 verdict. It was time to heal, refocus and go on the road to Dalzell Field for a chance at righting the ship against Dubuque Senior 28-14.

With the slate evened up at 4-4, it was hoped Jefferson could put together three consecutive winning seasons for the first time since the Fisk era. It would be a tall task as No. 1 ranked City High stood squarely in their way. The Little Hawk defense had been ruthless to their opposition all season. In the season finale, the Hawklets locked down once again, shutting out the J-Hawks 27-0. Over the next three weeks City High would make a return to the 4A state finals. With Womochil’s first season concluded, a 4-5 mark was registered.


Could Jim Womochil avoid the sophomore jinx? An opening-night win against Dubuque Wahlert could go a long way to building confidence, knowing the home stretch of the season was loaded with MVC powerhouse teams. The J-Hawks slid by the Golden Eagles 23-20.

Week two, Xavier’s defense was ready for the Jeff ground game, limiting the J-Hawks to just 49 yards rushing. The losing verdict was 14-7. Next, MVC stalwart Cedar Falls. The Tigers came into the game ranked No. 2 in 4A. The 45-14 final score told the tale as the boys in blue didn’t score until the fourth quarter.

The J-Hawks dug another early hole the following week against Washington. Despite a furious fourth-quarter rally, the J-Hawks dropped the 24-17 verdict. For the second season in a row it was test of courage time. What direction would the team choose to go? A 21-14 win over Linn-Mar proved positive, but costly, when Araf Evans was lost for the season due to injury. In a scheduled double header, the Friday night Jefferson-Kennedy tilt kicked off at 5:30 in order for two varsity games to be played at Kingston Stadium. The “old grey lady” was celebrating her 50th anniversary of the inaugural prep football season.

Finding themselves behind at halftime, the J-Hawks rode a third quarter burst to a 27-23 victory as Blue rallied to down Green. That satisfying outcome evened the record at 3-3 mathematically keeping them in the playoff picture, if they ran the table. But prosperity faded fast as the Little Hawks from City High prevailed the following week, 27-20, leaving the final two games to be played for pride alone.

The J-Hawks surveyed a “level” playing field for what appeared to be a winnable game with Dubuque Senior in week eight. The visiting Rams frolicked in the mud dominating time of possession, losing 14-6. Playoff bound West High of Iowa City then used the J-Hawks as a springboard to a terrific post season run, dominating Jeff in the season finale, 40-14. In assessing the 3-6 crusade after the contest, Womochil summarized, “This could have been, in terms of wins and losses, a much better season.” Like Bill Calloway and Dave Jacobson before him, he, too, was not spared the regression of the sophomore season jinx.


The third year of the Womochil era followed the same schedule as the previous season, but with home and away reversed. There is no denying, Womochil did some soul searching with his staff during the offseason. “We’ve got a sour taste in our mouths,” Womochil said. “We just weren’t competitive, and that’s the goal this year.”

The seniors had been working under Womochil’s system for three years, but there were too many open positions being filled with green troops who had never been on the field with the bullets flying. To make matters worse, they opened against a Wahlert team hellbent on revenge from the season tipoff loss in the Key City a year before. Womochil recounted the 45-20 loss, “We thought this was one we could get. We’ve got a young team, a lot of guys who don’t have much playing experience. Our defense played hard, they just had their back to the wall.” In the next six games, the J-Hawks were outscored 263-24. In each game they were jumped on early, shooting themselves in the foot with an ever increasing number of disastrous turnovers. Xavier bested Jeff, 28-3. Cedar Falls won, 42-14, and Washington blanked the J-Hawks, 34-0.

In what may have been the final time the 50-point mercy rule was invoked on a Jefferson team, Linn-Mar sent those assembled home early, with a 51-0 pasting in week five. Charitably, most everyone agreed, 2003 was the final year of the game ending mercy rule. The lopsided losses mounted as Kennedy and Iowa City High steamrolled the J-Hawks, 41-7, and 47-0, respectively.

It wasn’t until week eight the team sensed a chance at a win. The season highlight occurred against a hapless Dubuque Senior Rams squad that had only won once, and that, courtesy of winless doormat Waterloo East. It was the lone victory, 47-18, of an otherwise long and discouraging season.

After the season-ending loss to Iowa City West, 48-7, Coach Womochil tried to put the three-month ordeal into perspective, “It has definitely been a tough year. I thought our kids played very well last week and gained a lot of confidence. I’m disappointed we weren’t more competitive this season. I really thought we could have been, but we were not.”


The eight lopsided losses from the previous season took a toll on the J-Hawk program. Now at risk of being labeled one of the conference’s whipping boys, they were desperate to simply prove they could be competitive in the minds of their opposition.

In the opener against City High, the Little Hawks did more damage than simply beating Jeff, 31-3. They did the worst thing imaginable to the fragile J-Hawks. They took out Ben Crosby. He was the acknowledged leader of the team and would not return due to a season ending knee injury. It was an emotional loss the team never recovered from until the seventh game of the season.

Perhaps Jeff’s defense suffered the most. Opposing offenses took advantage of the floodgates swinging wide open. Washington cruised, 36-7, Dubuque Hempstead followed, 31-7, Kennedy jumped onboard, 48-21, Linn-Mar chipped in, 42-29, and Xavier earned a goose egg, 38-0.

Unable to prevent any of the first six opponents from running up the score, the mission was simply to survive any more injuries during the first two-thirds of the season. By the time week seven arrived the J-Hawks were mired in a deep rut, having lost 17 of their last 18.

Said Womo, “The injuries have been awful. We lost our senior captain in the opener (Crosby). He was the best thing that happened to our defense and was supposed to be one of our offensive weapons. He was the heart and soul of our team. At one time or another we’ve been without seven of our starters. I do see some good things that point in the right direction. That may sound funny, but I’m encouraged. All that stands out is wins or losses, we have to overcome that. They’re not taking the scoreboards down. I believe in our guys. Even with all the injuries we can still compete. That’s all I’ve ever asked of our kids.”

Opportunity finally arrived in the form of woefully-hexed Waterloo East, a team on a negative streak of its own. The Trojans had not won a game in the last 43 contests, proving the perfect tonic for Womochil’s wounded warriors. The J-Hawks ensured the long East skid remained unbroken, breezing to a 35-6 win. There was one more highlight of the 2004 season awaiting in the season finale against two-win Dubuque Senior. Quarterback Josh Faaborg and receiver Josh Haines hooked up for three touchdowns and the 30-20 moral boosting victory. The J-Hawks checked in their gear for the 2004 season after writing 2-7 in the record books.



For the first time in several years, the preseason player prospects for Jefferson included several linemen. Could the J-Hawks stay healthy and learn to play some defense? If so, it was felt they could compete in the always-brutal MVC.

The opener against City High left contusions and a few scars. Jeff scored once in absorbing the 34-7 opening night setback. But after that, the boys in blue were in every game, with the exception of Xavier. In fact, they led in certain games only to let it slip away in the final stanza— or, in coming from behind, they would stage a furious rally but ultimately fall short.

A physical battle ensued the following week when Washington defeated their blue-clad rival for the fourth year in a row, 21-7. At Dubuque Hempstead, Travis Bennett threw for 186 yards and two scores, and added a six-yard TD run. However, the Mustangs held on late, edging the J-Hawks, 31-25.

Down two scores in the fourth quarter against the Cougars, the J-Hawks staged yet another furious rally. Green prevailed, by a whisker, 28-21. We are left to wonder what may have been, if the J-Hawks hadn’t gifted five turnovers to their northern rival.

At Armstrong Field, Linn-Mar reigned the next Friday, 24-14. A return to Kingston Stadium didn’t feel much like Homecoming against a rip-snorting Xavier defense and quick-strike Saint offense. Jeff absorbed their sixth body blow, losing, 35-21.

The highlight of the season was, once again, beating winless Waterloo East. In that feel-good win, 35-0, everything clicked. The continuous clock ran for the first time in favor of a Jefferson football team. The J-Hawks led at halftime, 14-10, before ultimately succumbing to Iowa City West, 23-21. The final game against Dubuque Senior epitomized the hard luck season for Jefferson. The J-Hawks led for over 46 minutes of the game, 3-0. But with just over a minute to play, Jeff surrendered the lead, losing 7-3.

The bottom line was Jefferson finished 1-8, for the second time in three years. A closer examination reveals they were, indeed, a competitive team who earned the respect of their opposition. They led in games with Linn-Mar, Iowa City West and Dubuque Senior, but could not quite hang on. They scratched and clawed, coming from behind to put the fear of God into Washington, Hempstead and Kennedy.


Ask any team that has not produced a winning record in six years, if they would accept being 4-2 with three games remaining. That is precisely where the 2006 Jefferson football team found itself. During this era of prep football, a 7-2 mark qualified teams for the playoff field every time, while 6-3 would most years. The J-Hawks did start out 4-2, holding fate in its own hands, for the first time during the Womochil era.

An opening win over Linn-Mar was anything but easy. The J-Hawks were ahead 14-3 at half. But it was a rollercoaster affair after the intermission. Jeff relinquished the lead, only to come storming back for a 24-17 victory. The opening win paved the road for a long-awaited battle with Prairie. The intense P-Hawk and J-Hawk rivalry was renewed after taking a bizarre five-year hiatus due to schedule rotations. Prairie broke open the tightly-contested affair in the final quarter, scoring an avalanche of four touchdowns in winning, 35-7. The Waterloo West matchup in week three pitted two evenly matched teams. The boys in blue prevailed, 14-7, courtesy of Wahawk miscues. Against Washington, the J-Hawks and Warriors celebrated their 50th renewal of the regular season crosstown rivalry. Tightly contested for a half, the J-Hawks capitulated after intermission, yielding easily to their eastern nemesis, 44-14.

A quick mental flushing was needed, and Jeff regained its footing at the expense of Dubuque Senior, 21-13. For the first time in a quite a while, Jeff found itself playing meaningful games in October. Next up was doormat Waterloo East whose losing streak had reached 59 games. Yes, the J-Hawks made it an even 60, but not before finding themselves behind 8-6 at the start of the fourth quarter! Blue ultimately prevail, 32-14.

At that point, a 4-2 mark had to feel pretty darn good with three games remaining. The problem was, the next three opponents had formidable records and reputations.

An always emotional rivalry with the Cougars produced an affair that was statistically even in the final box score. But Kennedy was gifted five first half possessions via J-Hawk turnovers allowing them to cruise 28-10. Although no one knew it, the week eight contest with Xavier witnessed a J-Hawk defeat at the hands of the eventual 4A state champions, 40-8. A season-ending loss to City High was only marginally better, 34-16. Four of their five losses were to excellent playoff bound teams.


Finishing one win shy of a winning record the previous season allowed the start of the ‘07 campaign to kick off on a positive note. A Linn-Mar unit that failed to win a game the previous year provided the first challenge. The J-Hawks made two first-half touchdowns stand up, and survived by an eyelash, winning 14-12.
Prairie returned the upbeat J-Hawks to earth, cruising effortlessly in a 44-12 cakewalk. Waterloo West connected on a 30-yard field goal into the wind with seven seconds left, preventing overtime. As a result, the Wahawks won, 31-28. During a storm-delayed 53rd meeting between Jeff and Wash, the Warrior defense limited Jeff’s rushing to just 52 yards. A muddy turf prevented both teams from passing successfully, but Washington’s ground game clicked, producing a final score of 27-2.

At 1-3 entering the Dubuque Senior game, a reversal of fortune was desperately required to stop the bleeding. The J-Hawks squeaked out a 27-24 win after digging a 17-0 hole they almost did not climb out from. But in dusting off the outmanned Rams, Jeff registered their final win of the season. A disappointing double overtime loss to a much-improved Waterloo East unit followed, 29-28 was the bitter verdict.

Kennedy built a 34-0 lead just after halftime and before inserting reserves. Cougar coach Tim Lewis was merciful to Jeff, and generous to his reserves. The final remained the same after a scoreless second half. At Xavier, it was a similar scenario. Jefferson’s offense scored twice in the fourth quarter against Saint backups to avoid the shutout, 35-10. Iowa City High used mind-numbing efficiency in building a 42-0 halftime lead. The continuous clock evaporated the second half as the Little Hawks effortlessly floated into the playoffs, 42-6. The J-Hawks ended the 2007 season with a 2-7 mark.


For the first time in nine years, the J-Hawk football team earned the right to play 10 games, one more than the regular-season schedule allows. You might assume it was because they qualified for a first-round playoff game, but they did not. This was no run-of-the-mill early fall. During mid-June, the worst deluge to ever hit Cedar Rapids flooded the lower portions of town. There is no other way to describe it than to say it was record-breaking and truly catastrophic.

The opener was Xavier, at Saints Field. A man once said, “Hard times don’t build character, they reveal it.” The J-Hawks spit adversity in the eye in walking away with a 7-0 upset for the ages. Then another type of flood occurred. Kennedy frolicked, 37-0, while the CF Tigers and Prairie Hawks strolled, 34-0 and 30-6, respectively. Ouch! One would think being outscored 91-6, and sitting at 1-3, would squash any hopes of playoff contention. But, as was true concerning the real flood, the J-Hawks were down, but not out. They knew all about staging comeback rallies, courtesy of mother nature.

The slow climb out of the crater started with the return of playmaker Drew Higgins, and a date with doormat Dubuque Senior, a team that had lost 25 of its last 27 games. On Homecoming night, stomping the Rams, 39-8, the team set off the continuous clock, at the expense of the outmatched opposition.

The next opponent offered a chance at redemption after a heartbreaking loss to Waterloo East the previous season. The Trojans were soundly thrashed this time around, 35-7. Now 3-3, the flood waters reached their crest and appeared to be receding. Yet it would be two steps forward, one step back. Tony Lombardi’s No. 6 ranked Washington juggernaut stood in the way of further recovery. Gazette sportswriter Jim Ecker’s headline read: “#6 Warriors score final 3 TD’s to put away pesky Jeff.” (42-20) Next up, Linn-Mar, and a date with a team that had been inhabiting the lower division of the conference standings in recent years. The once proud program had slipped significantly. Blue won, 27-19. Winning three of their last four games bred hope, and confidence. So, too, did the fact that for the first time in the history of Iowa high school football, a major change to the qualification system was added.

The final regular season game was a showdown with undefeated and second-ranked City High. Undeniable underdogs, the J-Hawks would not back down. At halftime, they led the Little Hawks, 15-12, but could not hang on, yielding in the end, 33-23. Five days later, the team suited up for a tenth game, in post-season play. But it was technically not deemed the playoffs, yet.

Beginning in 2008, the IHSAA decided to expand the qualification for the playoff system. There would remain 16 qualifiers, however, 32 teams per class would kick off the “Road to the Dome” with a substate (playoff-qualifying) game. The J-Hawks were paired up in the substate game with No. 4 ranked (8-1) Cedar Falls, in the UNI-Dome. It did not go well from the opening kickoff. Four turnovers sealed their doom, when every first-half possession for the Tigers started inside Jeff territory. The final verdict was 49-12. The extra game ended the 2008 season with the printing of 4-6 into the record books.


Is it possible for one play to affect an entire season? How important is the order of opponents on a schedule in determining the outcome of a season? In a game where 11 players contribute to each play, on every snap, can the loss of just one player for the year make that much difference? During the 2009 season, all three factors conspired to produce a cascade of events, tipping the scales and shattering any dreams of conquest the J-Hawks may have had.

It began brightly enough during preseason drills. The return of proven running back Tyler Evans would make any coach confident and optimistic. As a junior, he accomplished something only three other Jefferson backs had ever done in over half a century. Evans rushed for over 1000 yards during the 2008 season. He was quick, powerful, smart, agile and he ran with an edge.

In his preseason remarks to the press, Jim Womochil echoed that sentiment, but also offered a word of caution, “We set a goal to outdo what we did last year, but we need to stay healthy, because our numbers aren’t great.”

On the other side of the ledger was the order of schedule. The Xavier team Jeff had upset during the opener last year was done licking its wounds, and was now licking its chops, anxious to avenge stubbing their big toe— which was still throbbing. Both teams had good reason to anticipate the opener. It was set to be played on the newly installed Field Turf at Kingston.

The Saints would prove to be one of the elite teams in the state in 2009 and they unleashed an offensive blitzkrieg on Jeff, 28-0. The team’s fate, as yet unshattered, turned to gloom in one play against Kennedy the following Friday. Early in the contest, Tyler Evans, dragging Cougar defenders, was tackled awkwardly and unable to finish the game. The trainer instantly knew it was an ACL tear, requiring season-ending surgery. The devastating event cast a spell of doom over the remainder of the season. The Cougars, who were beaten opening night after possessing a late lead, were not going to call off the dogs this time around. They took pleasure in punishing the J-Hawks, 56-14.

More casualties during a week-three demolition at the hands of perennial powerhouse Cedar Falls left Womochil literally looking for players to finish the contest. “We’re running out of bodies. We’re down to our 3rd string quarterback and we’ve got two guys starting in the line I never thought would see the field.” The Tigers won 22-3.

But for Womo and his staff, this was just the beginning of the ordeal that was 2009. Injuries continued to mount. Up next in the meat grinder of an early season, salivating with their punishing run defense, was Prairie. The verdict was 30-14. The sun peeked through a wee hole in the clouds during week five when conference doormat Dubuque Senior offered the J-Hawks one precious victory. Jeff eeked out a 20-13 nail biter.

The possibility of a second victory presented itself immediately. On the heels of an emotional win, came a cruel loss to Waterloo East when, with 42 seconds left in the game, Jeff kicker Jon Watson’s 36-yard field goal attempt hit the crossbar and bounced back, preserving the Trojans 13-10 lead. The final three games went from bleak to desolate in losses to postseason qualifiers Washington, 45-7, Linn-Mar, 45-0, and Iowa City High, 54-6. The cumulative effect set adrift the Jefferson lifeboat. The J-Hawks were massively outscored 147-13 to end the season, 1-8. As unimaginable as it may seem, the J-Hawks would not win another game until 2012.


It must be stated frankly and honestly. There is no denying it. The fall of 2010 was the most difficult season Jefferson football ever faced. For Jim Womochil, his staff and players, this was a nightmare autumn, a weekly nod to embarrassment, surrender and capitulation. Amidst the havoc, within the ruins, the aftermath of a disastrous campaign remains almost incomprehensible.

Over nine games, the J-Hawks were outscored 393-81. That is not the least ever produced by a J-Hawk offense, but easily the most points ever yielded by a defense. The continuous-clock mercy rule was invoked in eight of nine games. Late in October, only during the loss to Xavier, 39-14, did the opposing coach grant clemency— even before halftime— in substituting freely.

A recurring theme defined each Friday night. The offense was only allowed to score after the opposing coach called off the dogs and inserted reserves. Each game, the Jeff defense inspired its foe to amass a powerful striking force, whether they possessed one or not. Opposing offenses suddenly became elite, powerful and efficient when lining up against blue and white. Waterloo East put 48 on the scoreboard. Yes, Waterloo East, the same school which had just recently broken the Iowa record for the longest losing streak in the history of the sport. For any number of reasons, the

J-Hawks offered pathetically little with which to resist the humiliation. In chronicling such shame, no fingers of blame will be pointed at individuals, staff or subgroups.

Through it all, a group of survivors persevered and held tightly to their coaches and one another. They attempted a new bond of brotherhood. Very few quotes are attributed to Coach Womochil in surviving Gazette articles. Just one from early in the season may suffice, “We just got a good old fashioned butt-whooping. We’re taking our lumps, but I believe in this group of kids.”

A Special Perspective:
Upon reflection, concerning those Jefferson football teams that struggled to find any success, Coach Bob Ask has commented, “In reviewing these teams, along with those who had good and great J-Hawk seasons, I give them equal if not even more admiration. Though winless, perhaps, over long periods, they continued to practice hard, to never give up and they held their heads high. Even when the scoreboard was maybe embarrassing, those courageous J-Hawks represented their school well. I compliment them now, looking back— the players, coaches, families and cheerleaders. They were and always will be good, true J-Hawks and contributors to Jefferson’s ongoing premiere gridiron program and history.”


Have you ever had a nightmare in which you find yourself unable to get out of a deep pit with unscalable walls? Metaphorically, this is the predicament that befell eleventh-year head coach Jim Womochil and his football program. The schedule makers did the J-Hawks no favors. The opener, a loss, was against a Linn-Mar team that would go 10-0 before losing to Washington in a quarterfinal playoff game. And of course, it was the same during Jeff-Wash the second week of the regular season slate. Both games were tight for a quarter, then the defense yielded 35 points in rapid fire succession in each case. 35-10 and 35-6, respectively.

Winless entering a week three contest with Waterloo East, Jeff faced a squad that was rising, eventually earning a 5-4 record this season. They defeated Jefferson, 33-10. The followup was a setback to a team from Cedar Falls that would go on to defeat Washington in the state semifinals. Think of it— three of Jeff’s first four opponents went on to become the top 3 teams in the MVC, and all of eastern Iowa. The Tigers hung 42 points on the board in week five, then the manslayers from Troy (Iowa City West) had the audacity to amass 63 on the J-Hawks.

The best chance for the elusive win came in the final game with Hempstead, a once proud unit that had also fallen on hard times. Neither team possessed a win in the MVC. The Mustangs prevailed, 35-24, leaving the J-Hawks broken and vanquished for a second straight year, 0-9. The program was winner of just one game in the last three seasons, and losers of 22 in a row.

Jim Womochil resigned in January 2012. He was not asked or told to resign by Jeff’s administration. He was a stand-up guy who was impossible to dislike. Reflecting on his 22-78 record as head J-Hawk, he lamented, “A lot of people look at the wins and losses and judge everything on that. We worked hard. We gave it everything we had. It's tough to leave. We created a family and built a lot of relationships.” But unable to ever get a toehold in the MVC, he reflected sadly, “That’s a mystery to me. Commitment to the weight room has been a battle. The next guy is going to have to make that a real point of emphasis.”

A more detailed profile of Coach Jim Womochil
and his teams can be had by purchasing the book
“Fight, Team, Fight - The History of Cedar Rapids Jefferson Football”
by John Hegarty Jr.
268 pages, including 661 photos. $25
Email: FightTeamFight2020@yahoo.com
or call 319.551.8008

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