Gaels play for Dome spot

The fourth-ranked (Class 1A) St. Edmond football team finds themselves on the doorstep to the UNI-Dome.

A win tonight over No. 9 South O’Brien inside Dodger Stadium sends the Gaels to the state semifinals and Cedar Falls for the first time in school history.

Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.

St. Edmond (11-0 overall) is in the state quarterfinals for just the second time ever, also advancing to the elite eight in 2005.

For legendary SEHS head coach Dick Tighe, this marks another opportunity to finally reach the semis. In 60 seasons on the sidelines, he is an Iowa-best 411-154-8, but has never qualified for the final four.

“We’ve never had a better shot,” said Tighe, who has now guided St. Edmond to its only two 11-win seasons. “Everybody is healthy and ready to go.

“Add in playing a third straight home playoff game inside the friendly confines of Dodger Stadium and we have plenty going for us.”

As usual, the Gaels present a strong run game and a stout defense. The Wolverines (10-1), though, can almost match them stat-for-stat.

Led by senior Zach Nieman, South O’Brien has won eight in a row since a Week 3 loss to LeMars Gehlen. Nieman has 2,015 yards rushing and 25 touchdowns, numbers that place him third in 1A.

Nieman isn’t just a one-year-wonder, as the 160-pound speedster has eclipsed the 1,600-yard mark each of his past three seasons now. In all, he has ran for 5,432 yards, placing him in the Top-20 all-time in Iowa.

“He is the real-deal,” said Tighe, of Nieman. “He’s fast and if he gets out in open space, he is nearly uncatchable. I’ve watched the Emmetsburg game a couple times now and he’s hard to bring down.”

Brent Puhrmann has thrown for 679 yards and seven scores, while also running in six touchdowns. Austin Rohrs, another senior, has 300 yards rushing, while classmates Kelvan Lansink (18-326-4) and Patrick Wubben (5-114-1) are Puhrmann’s main targets.

On defense, the Wolverines have 11 interceptions and eight fumble recoveries, led by Rohrs and Jon Zubrod. Rohrs has 106 tackles, with Zubrod registering 13 sacks and recovering two fumbles.

“We’ve got to come out and attack,” Tighe said. “Come out and hit them right away, stand our ground and play smart.”

Vinnie Harvey continues to leave his mark on the history books, as the senior has ran for 2,098 yards and 37 touchdowns. He is seventh all-time on the yardage chart and tied for second on the TD list, just one behind Alex Mericle.

Harvey’s 28 touchdowns this year alone ranks first in 1A and set a new school-record, breaking Mericle’s mark of 27 from last season.

T.J. O’Tool, just a sophomore, has grown into a sidekick role as the season has progressed. Using his speed to partner with Harvey’s bulldozer mentality, O’Tool has 977 yards and 11 touchdowns, averaging over seven yards per carry.

“Vinnie has been a constant, but the addition of T.J. has been the surprise,” Tighe said. “We feel confident giving either of them the ball several times.”

Matthew Bocken has been effective when called upon, completing 19 of 47 for 536 yards and seven touchdowns. More importantly, he has thrown just two interceptions.

Landon Peed is his favorite target, hauling in 18 passes for 521 yards and seven scores. In just over two seasons, Peed has quickly climbed the receiving charts, as his 975 yards places him third, as does his 14 touchdowns.

Peed’s average of 26.3 yards per reception is also the best mark for anybody in school-history.

“Landon is always a threat for a big play, especially on defense,” Tighe said. “He does it all for us and I expect him to have another big role (tonight).”

While the offense gets the hype, the defense has been shining even brighter. The Gaels have pitched three shutouts and surrendered single digits another six times.

Harvey has seven sacks, while Peed has six of St. Edmond’s 15 interceptions. Senior Caelan Burbank has six sacks and 68 total tackles, while O’Tool leads the team with 86 stops.

Nick Hindt has 70 tackles and two of St. Edmond’s 10 fumble recoveries, while Jimmy Averill has made 68 tackles.

“We put our defense in a big hole early on and they dug us out,” Tighe said. “We’ve put a lot on them this year and they’ve constantly bailed us out.”

South O’Brien is coached by Mark Fuhrman, who has directed them to the postseason each year since 2011. They are 4-3 all-time in the playoffs.

Last year, the Wolverines advanced to the second round before falling to IKM-Manning, 28-17. The Gaels also lost in that round, to eventual state semifinalist Emmetsburg, 28-0.

The winner of St. Edmond-South O’Brien faces either Van Meter or Ogden, while the other side of the bracket boasts South Winneshiek at North Fayette and three-time defending state champion Iowa City Regina at Maquoketa Valley.

Pre-sale tickets for the game will be sold at the St. Edmond administrative office from 8 a.m.-2 p.m. today.