Gaels get title shot
CEDAR FALLS – Check off another mark in the history books.
The St. Edmond football team is headed to the Class 1A state finals.
Behind a flawless fourth quarter, the fourth-ranked Gaels ousted No. 7 Van Meter inside the UNI-Dome Saturday afternoon, 35-14.
Vinnie Harvey ran 29 times for 123 yards and scored three touchdowns, while T.J. O’Tool added 178 yards on the ground, a TD and added a 39-yard interception return late that sealed it.
St. Edmond (13-0 overall) will face top-ranked and three-time defending state champion Iowa City Regina (13-0) back here Friday at 11 a.m.
Not only was the victory important for the Gael program, it gave 83-year-old head coach Dick Tighe his first berth into the state finals. In his 60th year of coaching, and with 413 wins to his credit, Tighe will finally compete for the “big trophy.”
“This is just a real special moment,” said Tighe, who had guided two schools to five total semifinal appearances before. “These kids came out and showed what they were made of. We didn’t back down and we dug deep when the going got rough.”
While the score might indicate an easy victory, it was anything but against the Bulldogs (12-1).
St. Edmond jumped out to a quick 14-0 lead behind scores from O’Tool and Harvey, as the duo racked up 183 yards on the ground in the opening 24 minutes.
After the halftime break, Van Meter finally started clicking, posting a pair of TDs on the scoreboard and deflating what was a rowdy and loud Gael crowd.
“The kids came off the field after the third with their heads down and looking like they had lost the game,” Tighe said. “I told them to keep their dobbers up because it was a tie game; we weren’t losing, and we still had the fourth to play.
“They came out and did exactly what we do: play smart defense and run the football.”
St. Edmond out-gained the Bulldogs 106-24 over the final 12 minutes, including 21 points courtesy of two Harvey touchdowns and the O’Tool pick-six.
“We lost a little bit of focus in the third and I think some of that nervous energy starting getting the better of us,” said Harvey, who added to his career rushing touchdown total, which now stands at 44. “We were able to get a few big plays on defense and that helped turn the corner.
“I don’t think any of this has really sunk in yet. It’s just been an amazing run and a memorable season, and we have one more week left and one more game left.”
Harvey moved into fourth on the all-time yardage chart, improving his total to 2,411. His single-season total of 1,581 is also third-best behind Neil Flattery and Alex Mericle.
As they have done all year, the St. Edmond defense under coordinator Pat Schomberg made the key stops when their backs were against the wall.
Harvey and Konrad Laufersweiler each had sacks, Matthew Bocken picked off two passes and Zach Gailey recovered a fumble. St. Edmond also deflected or broke up seven of Brandon Brittain’s passes, holding him to just 186 yards passing and 42 running.
“Coach Schomberg is a genius,” Harvey stated. “Plain and simple, he comes up with plans that work and put us in the right position to make those big plays.”
Bocken, who hasn’t been called on to lead the offense with his arm, had his best game as the starting quarterback, completing all four of his throws for 53 yards. That included a key 14-yard strike to Robby Burke that jump-started a long scoring drive.
Junior Landon Peed also added three receptions for 47 yards and forced a fumble on defense.
“Coach (Tighe) said we might have some opportunities to open the passing game up a bit because (Van Meter) was going to try and slow down our running backs,” Bocken said. “I just tried to make the right throw when I needed to.”
While Bocken was coy about his own efforts, Tighe was impressed, saying, “Matthew hasn’t had to do a lot for us with his arm this year, but he showed he is more than capable when we need a big play.
“Van Meter was really selling out on stopping the run, and his completions helped open up those long runs for T.J. and Vinnie later in the game.”
O’Tool, a sophomore who now has 1,419 yards on the year, gained positive yardage on all 17 of his carries, including 41- and 47-yard runs against a Bulldog defense that was allowing just 8.5 points per contest.
“The offensive line did an incredible job opening holes for us backs,” O’Tool said. “We came out really strong in the first half, but we knew (Van Meter) would make a run on us. We just had to get some stops and continue playing our style of football, which we did in the fourth quarter.”
Iowa City Regina won two straight 2A titles before moving down to 1A and claiming gold last year. They trumped North Fayette in the other semifinal contest, 45-21, and now own the longest win streak in the nation at 55 games. That mark also tied them for the best streak in Iowa history with Waterloo East.
“Now, we get the big boys,” Tighe said. “We are going to enjoy this one, though, and worry about (Regina) later this week.”