Late surge lifts Gaels

Survive and advance is always the name of the game in the playoffs.

Fourth-ranked St. Edmond (11-0 overall) did exactly that against rival Manson Northwest Webster in an entertaining Class 1A second-round showdown here Monday night.

Despite being thoroughly tested from start to finish, the unbeaten Gaels saved their best for last in a hard-fought 14-6 comeback triumph at Dodger Stadium.

Making just their second state quarterfinal trip in school history, District 2 champion SEHS will now host No. 9 South O’Brien (10-1) Friday at 7 p.m. The Wolverines advanced with a 27-14 victory over Ridge View.

“(The Cougars) won the first three quarters and we won the last one,” said Gael head coach Dick Tighe, who earned his 411th career win Monday. “We were very fortunate to come out on top, but give Manson credit for playing just an outstanding game. I had a sneaking suspicion that this would be a knock-down-drag-out fight and much tougher than the first time around (SEHS blanked MNW by a 28-0 final in Week 7). They really had a lot of momentum coming off that big (40-6 opening-round) win over (previous two-time defending state semifinalist) Emmetsburg and gave us all we could handle.”

With their season clearly hanging in the balance, the Gaels turned to their opportunistic defense once again, forcing all five Cougar turnovers in the second half, including four in the fourth quarter alone. Down 6-0, SEHS used a pivotal interception from junior Zach Gailey to set up Vinnie Harvey’s 2-yard touchdown run with 9:40 remaining in the game. Hank Crimmins then tacked on the PAT for what proved to be the decisive Gael score.

“I got a little nervous there when we were behind, but we always respond well to adversity,” Harvey said. “(MNW) played their hearts out, but our defense stepped up and made some huge plays when we needed them to.”

Harvey later added a 1-yard endzone plunge after a Landon Peed pick on Manson Northwest Webster’s ensuing drive. Nick Hindt’s interception in the final minute eventually sealed the deal for the Gaels, who were held to a season-low 123 yards of total offense.

“We just weren’t able to get anything going with our ground game,” said Tighe. “I thought Gailey’s interception, though, was what really swung the momentum in our favor.”

Sophomore T.J. O’Tool anchored SEHS with 56 yards on 20 carries, while Harvey contributed 49 yards on 19 attempts. Harvey also shined on special teams, downing a St. Edmond punt at the 1-yard line late in the third period.

Defensively, O’Tool and Hindt registered 10 and nine tackles apiece. O’Tool and Hindt both also recovered fumbles.

Coy Snell, a junior, paced the Cougars (8-3) with 79 yards rushing and a TD on 18 totes. Quarterback Alex Bush, another junior, went 8-for-20 through the air for 49 yards, including three picks. Senior Hudson Spedding hauled in four catches for 31 yards, while also returning the game’s opening kickoff 79 yards to go along with an interception.

MNW, which has qualified for the playoffs five times since 2008, missed field goals of 32 and 29 yards on their first two possessions of the contest. Jeff Anliker’s Cougars also turned the ball over on downs at the Gael 25-yard line in the second quarter.

“I was just so darn proud of our effort (last night),” said Anliker, a former St. Edmond and Pomeroy-Palmer head coach. “Our defense played lights out and showed they can play with anybody. We just weren’t able to capitalize on all of our opportunities in the red zone.”

Spedding, Ty Condon, Braden Moser, Payton Rice, Holden Fiedler, Tanner Peterson, Keyton Strutzenberg, Heath Nimke, Lucas Dolder, Bryce Birkey, Austin Pohl and Adam Byrne each wrapped up their Manson Northwest Webster careers on the gridiron.

“What a great group of 12 seniors we had this year,” Anliker said. “This was the first senior class I’ve ever had (at MNW) that actually talked about making it to the (UNI-)Dome.”

Harvey has now accounted for 1,266 yards and 28 scores on the ground this year.

St. Edmond, which is 19-2 at Dodger Stadium since 2010, has now prevailed in the last 10 meetings against the Cougars. The Gaels are 6-10 all-time in the postseason.