The final countdown
CEDAR FALLS – Nothing to lose and everything to gain.
That’s the approach St. Edmond will take into its first-ever state football championship game here on Friday.
Facing their ultimate test of a storybook season, the fourth-ranked Gaels (13-0 overall) square off with No. 1 and three-time defending state titleholder Iowa City Regina (13-0) in a Class 1A final.
Kickoff is set for 11:06 a.m. inside the UNI-Dome.
“All we can do is prepare and see what happens,” said SEHS head coach Dick Tighe, who is guiding his first team to a state final in 60 years on the sidelines. “We’ve never won 13 games before, so that’s quite an accomplishment.
“Our kids have worked hard all season to reach this point. Now, we just have to see how we stack up against (the Regals). It’ll be kind of like playing Emmetsburg or Parkersburg in their prime, but a lot of people still have faith in us and we have faith in each other.”
Last Saturday, St. Edmond used three fourth-quarter TDs to pull away late for a 35-14 semifinal triumph over seventh-ranked Van Meter. Prior to this year, the Gaels had never advanced past the quarterfinal round.
“We were able to regroup Saturday after we kind of had a letdown in the third quarter (the Bulldogs rallied to tie the game with 14 points in the third),” Tighe said. “We didn’t back down and dug deep when the going got tough. Our kids showed what they were made of.”
Senior Vinnie Harvey ranks first in 1A in rushing scores (35), fourth in attempts (290) and sixth in rushing yards (1,581) for SEHS – numbers that rank first, second and third among the top single-season marks in school history. The 225-pound fullback has eclipsed the 100-yard barrier on nine occasions this year.
T.J. O’Tool, a sophomore, is also 12th in 1A in rushing yards (1,419), finding paydirt 14 times for an 8.4-yard average per carry.
At quarterback, junior Matthew Bocken has been a reliable performer for the green and white, as well, throwing for 597 yards and seven touchdowns against just two picks. Classmate Landon Peed has been his favorite target, pulling down 21 catches for 568 yards and seven scores.
For his career, Peed is third all-time at SEHS in receiving TDs (14), tied for third in receiving yards (1,022) and ninth in receptions (40). In addition, Peed is averaging 26.4 yards per kickoff return and 13.5 yards on punt returns.
“Hopefully, we can control the ball and not let (Regina) have any big plays,” said Tighe, who is going for his 414th career win. “We need to try to stay within striking distance. It’s always better to battle when you’re ahead, so it would be great if we could get on top first.”
Defensively, the District 2 champion Gaels have pitched three shutouts and are allowing only seven points per contest. O’Tool (104 tackles), Harvey (nine sacks) and Peed (six interceptions) anchor the stingy unit, which has forced 33 takeaways.
On the season, St. Edmond has outscored its opponents by a combined margin of 458-91, including 140-30 in the playoffs. The four foes the Gaels have ousted this postseason were 34-12 overall.
“(Regina) likes to spread you out offensively and go from sideline to sideline,” Tighe said. “They’ve really got all the weapons, which puts a big strain on your defense to try and stop them. It does make a difference that we have that experience now of playing (at the UNI-Dome).
“The novelty should be all worn off. Another important thing is we’re pretty healthy, which is a good sign since we don’t have a lot of depth.”
The Regals, who are coached by former University of Iowa All-American and ex-NFL Pro Bowl tight end Marv Cook, are now tied for the state’s all-time longest winning streak with Waterloo East (1965-71) at 55 straight games. That mark is also a current national best shared with Ithaca, Mich.
No Iowa team has ever accomplished a four-peat with undefeated seasons.
Solon (2007-10) is the only other program in Iowa history to win four consecutive state crowns. A victory would give Regina its fifth state crown, tying Decorah, Solon, Wapsie Valley and West Des Moines Valley for fourth most all-time in Iowa.
Regina’s last setback came at home in the 2009 2A state quarterfinal against Solon by a 42-7 count. In Saturday’s 1A semifinal, the Regals easily downed eighth-ranked North Fayette Valley, 45-21.
Dual-threat signal-caller Drew Cook – Marv’s son – has gone 170-for-254 through the air for 2,386 yards, 21 touchdowns and three picks. The 6-foot-5, 205-pound junior is first in 1A in yards, tied for first in completions and fourth in attempts.
Senior Bryan Amelon (37 receptions, 657 yards, 8 TDs) and sophomore Nick Phillips (50-588-7) are the top receivers for the Regals, who are averaging 40.5 points and 526 yards of total offense per game. Amelon is ninth in 1A in receiving yards.
“Cook is an excellent ballhandler that can either run or throw (Cook has chipped in 391 yards and four TDs on the ground),” said Tighe, who has directed 22 teams to the playoffs – including eight at SEHS. “(The Regals) are not as big as of a team as a Manson (Northwest Webster), but they are very sound technique-wise.”
Despite missing three games earlier this season due to a leg injury, senior Riley Dixon has still managed 1,309 rushing yards and 18 scores on 171 totes.
As a unit, District 6 champion Regina ranks second in 1A in total offense (5,213 yards) and second in scoring (526 points). The Regals have registered at least 41 points nine times, with their closest game being a 24-7 quarterfinal victory over previously unbeaten and No. 4 Maquoketa Valley.
Justin Hunter (89) and Casey Brewer (79) are the tackle leaders for Regina, which has blanked four opponents and held three others to single digits this fall. Amelon has collected five picks, while Hunter has recovered three fumbles.
The Regals are 32-6 all-time in 11 postseason trips, with 10 of those coming in a row since 2004. During its current playoff run, Regina eliminated teams with a combined 35-11 mark.
Cook sports an impressive 87-5 record in his seven years at the helm. Former Iowa players Ed Hinkel (offensive coordinator) and Alex Kanellis (offensive line coach) are assistants for the Regals.