Gaels welcome Bishop Garrigan

St. Edmond and Bishop Garrigan will play for a 53rd time this evening on the football field.

Kickoff has been moved back to 7:30 p.m. inside Dodger Stadium.

This marks the season opener for both teams, as the march to the playoffs begins yet again for experienced coaches Dick Tighe and Marty Wadle.

Tighe, Iowa’s all-time wins leader, embarks on his 60th season. He is 400-154-8, a mark that places him 11th on the national charts.

“We’ve been itching to get out on the field against somebody else,” Tighe said. “The weather hasn’t been too much of an issue, as we typically go pretty short and sweet in terms of practice.”

Since first playing in 1959 – a 26-7 victory by the Gaels – these two teams have met every year outside of a two-season stretch from 2006-07. Garrigan leads the all-time series, 35-17, but has not won since 2004.

Several key pieces from a nine-win campaign return for Tighe and the Gaels, including seniors Vinnie Harvey, Hank Crimmins, Caelan Burbank and Jimmy Averill.

“We have some good returnining players, and even the ones who didn’t play much last year, they saw a lot of time in junior varsity games,” Tighe said. “

Harvey ran for 631 yards and six touchdowns as the lead fullback for Alex Mericle’s 1,700-yard season. The 225-pound state wrestling qualifier will remain in that role this year after initially switching to tailback.

“We just missed Vinnie too much at fullback,” Tighe said. “He knows that position so well, and I don’t think we have much of a drop off in putting him at fullback and Hank Crimmins and Michael Faiferlick (at tailback).”

A new face will be handing off to Harvey, though, as David Flattery has graduated. Matthew Bocken, a junior, gets the first crack at replacing him.

“Matthew has done a great job running the offense,” Tighe said. “He’s a very sound quarterback and has all the mechanics to do what we need.”

Bocken will have a reliable face to throw to, as junior Landon Peed returns after catching 18 passes for 446 yards as a 10th-grader.

While the Gaels are inexperienced at quarterback, the Golden Bears feature a two-year starter in Reece Wadle. The junior passed for 879 yards and six scores a year ago, also leading the team in rushing with 548 yards and seven more TDs.

“Wadle is the key to what they do,” Tighe said. “We have to keep him boxed in. They also have a couple of big guys on the line that could give us problems.”

Like St. Edmond, Garrigan must replace many players who suited up for both the offense and defense during another state playoff run.

Under Wadle, the Golden Bears have qualified for the postseason 13 times, including each of the last nine seasons.

“We are still pretty basic,” Wadle said. “Just because my son is the quarterback, we aren’t going to air it out 40 times a game.

“We haven’t been a very good running team these last few years and that doesn’t sit well with me. We are going to run the ball first and pass when we want to.”

Neal Koob is the leading tackler back after registering 63 stops a season ago. Senior Brayton Loss had two interceptions and also returns, along with classmate Chris Loss and juniors Ben Vaske and Andrew Miller.

“(The heat) has been tough on everybody, tough on the kids,” Wadle said. “The big question (tonight) will be keeping enough fluids in everybody.”

Harvey, Crimmins and Peed anchor a defense that allowed just nine points per game last year, but must replace its top-three leading tacklers.

Game notes: The Gaels have won six straight in the series, including back-to-back shutouts. … Since a 27-6 Garrigan victory over St. Edmond in 2004, the Gaels have outscored the Golden Bears, 155-21 in those six meetings. … Tighe has qualified for the postseason 21 times in his coaching career. … Garrigan has a pair of runner-up state finishes.