UNI-Dome, here we come!
The stars aligned for the fourth-ranked (Class 1A) St. Edmond football team here on Friday night.
Playing a third consecutive playoff game inside Dodger Stadium, the Gaels punched the school’s first-ever ticket to the state semifinals, crushing No. 9 South O’Brien by a 42-3 count.
St. Edmond (12-0 overall) will face Van Meter (12-0) at 1:06 p.m. in the second semifinal next Saturday from Cedar Falls. Three-time defending state champion Iowa City Regina (12-0) takes on North Fayette on the other side of the bracket.
Sophomore T.J. O’Tool ran for a career-high 264 yards and two touchdowns, while senior Vinnie Harvey added 192 and four scores.
Nothing the Wolverines (10-2) did on defense could slow O’Tool and Harvey down, as they joined their teammates in a wild celebration with fans in the corner of the end zone after the win.
“This is just an incredible feeling that I can’t even begin to put into words,” said Harvey, who became the school’s all-time touchdown leader. “We all believed we could do something special, and to go down as the first St. Edmond team to reach the semifinals, it’s pretty emotional.”
O’Tool broke South O’Brien’s back early in the game, getting free on a 63-yard touchdown run. St. Edmond head coach Dick Tighe hasn’t made many mistakes in his illustrious career, but he admitted one after Friday.
“Maybe T.J. shouldn’t have been playing JV that first week,” laughed Tighe, who now owns 412 career wins and has his first-ever 12-0 season. “This was just a perfect storm.
“Everything we did went right, especially after halftime.”
For Tighe, this will mark his first time in the state semifinals as the head coach of a team. He made it twice before as co-coach with Iowa Falls, failing to reach the state championship round.
“Coach has meant so much to us,” said Hank Crimmins, a two-way starter and co-captain with Harvey. “He is always out there with us, pushing us to get better. He’s meant a lot to all of us and it feels great to do this for him and our school.”
Despite holding a 21-3 halftime advantage following two short TD runs by Harvey, the Gaels didn’t rest, coming out in the third and quickly putting the contest out of reach.
Harvey hit the end zone again from two yards out, while O’Tool added his second 60-plus-yarder late in the quarter. He broke free until hitting the 10 where he nailed a Wolverine with a stiff arm, allowing him to score his 13th touchdown of the year.
O’Tool, who said he had no clue how many yards he had in the game, was proud of his show of power on the TD jaunt.
“That felt good,” he said. “The offensive line was just creating huge holes for us backs all night, making it pretty easy to pick up big chunks of yards.”
St. Edmond’s defense did its part, holding South O’Brien out of the end zone. Zach Nieman, who has accumulated over 5,500 yards in his career, had 142, but has Tighe said, “we never let him get free for a long run.
“Our defense has this bend-but-not-break way about them, and credit (defensive coordinator) Pat Schomberg for the job he has done. It’s been incredible to see.”
Jimmy Averill and Harvey each had sacks, while Matthew Bocken and Zach Gailey picked off South O’Brien quarterback Bret Puhrmann once each.
Gailey and Chad Remsburg also had fumble recoveries, with Remsburg’s coming off a perfect strip by Landon Peed as Nieman was heading toward the end zone.
“What an outstanding job by Landon there, as that could have made a huge impact on the game had they scored,” Tighe said. “He just seems to always have an idea of where he needs to be.”
St. Edmond is now 20-2 at Dodger Stadium since the 2010 season, including these three playoff games.
“What a lucky break we received playing these games at home,” Tighe said. “Sometimes, it’s better to be lucky than good.”
Van Meter advanced with a 21-0 victory over Ogden.