Defense drives Rebels, Golden Bears into title game
Points are expected to come at a premium when the two stingiest defenses in Class A collide in today’s state championship football game.
Second-ranked Gladbrook-Reinbeck, allowing a state-best 6.0 points per game, and No. 4 Bishop Garrigan of Algona, which has surrendered just 7.25 points per game, square off in what is anticipated to be a war of attrition in today’s 1:36 p.m. title bout.
Gladbrook-Reinbeck (12-0), the reigning champion, rides a 22-game winning streak into the UNI-Dome for its third-straight Class A state title tilt — the first streak of its kind. Bishop Garrigan (12-0), meanwhile, hasn’t wilted yet this season either.
Both teams have leaned on their defenses from day one, and neither team’s coach expects that to change this afternoon.
The hardest part for both defensive units will be gameplanning for their respective opponent. Neither Gladbrook-Reinbeck nor Bishop Garrigan run gimmick offenses, so a lot of the same I-formation sets will account for a bulk of each team’s entire playbook.
“They looked really basic, I-formation all the time,” G-R coach John Olson said of Garrigan’s semifinal win against No. 3 Council Bluffs St. Albert. “It’s something simple to prepare for, but obviously it’s going to be difficult to stop. They’re really good. They’re 12-0 for a reason.
“They do things really simple and really basic, but I think that’s what people probably think about us too is just simple and basic and do things and execute things the right way, which makes it consistent and lets the kids play fast and that’s why they’re really good.”
Both teams totaled roughly the same amount of offense in their semifinal victories. The Rebels accumulated 356 yards in a 28-14 victory against No. 1 St. Ansgar, but the Saints were held to season-lows of 120 rushing yards and 274 total yards of offense.
Bishop Garrigan gained 330 yards in a 26-20 win against No. 3 Council Bluffs St. Albert, with 232 of those yards coming on the ground. The Golden Bears’ defense limited CBSA to 267 yards.
The same basic blueprints yielded strikingly similar outcomes last Friday. This afternoon, one of the offenses will have to find a way through, over or around the defense across from it.
The Golden Bears go as Gibson Behr goes. Garrigan’s 5-foot-11, 180-pound senior ranks fifth in Class A with 1,444 rushing yards to go with his 20 touchdowns. He accounts for 47 percent of the team’s rushing offense and 42 percent of its total offense, tacking on 229 receiving yards and his one 37-yard pass completion in a 12-8 quarterfinal playoff win against No. 5 West Hancock.
On the outside, 6-2 senior wideout Joel Vaske has 591 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. He does 59 percent of his team’s pass-catching. The duo of Vaske and Behr have accounted for 57 percent of the Golden Bears’ yards from scrimmage while propelling an offense that has averaged 35.5 points per game — 10th-best in Class A.
Gladbrook-Reinbeck’s offensive formula has been decidedly different than the Rebels’ last two trips to the state title game. Junior quarterback Hunter Lott ranks fifth in the state with 1,631 passing yards, highlighted by four receivers — Erik Knaack, Gage Murty, Matt Roeding and Walker Thede — each with more than 330 yards. Each of them have a 100-yard receiving game this season, too.
Running back Parker Bown has battled injury this season but has racked up 331 yards in three playoff wins, pushing his total to 809 for the fall. A trio of close contests in the playoffs has forced the Rebels to control the ball and the clock more than during a District 5 championship run, and Olson’s offensive line has responded.
“That’s where the playoffs are really good for us in a sense,” he said. “These last two games our defense has played really good, but our offense is the side of the ball that got real physical. They’re a lot better at what they’re doing.
“We got to play four quarters against Lynnville-Sully, which really got us going against Montezuma, which got us going against St. Ansgar, so we’re just really hitting on all cylinders on the offensive side. That makes us a lot more diverse on the offensive side of the ball.”
Bishop Garrigan is a run-first team as the statistics indicate, putting the ball on the ground 75 percent of the time. But the Golden Bears have gained 260 of their 862 playoff yards through the air, bumping it back to a 70-percent run-to-pass ratio.
Gladbrook-Reinbeck, meanwhile, has been more balanced across the board. The Rebels have run for 568 yards in three playoff wins while throwing for 460 yards more — a 56 percent run-to-pass ratio.
“We’ve hung our hat on our defense all year,” said Garrigan coach Marty Wadle. “It will be a test to see if we can slow them down at least some. But we have a lot of confidence in our guys. We might not be the shiniest thing on the shelf, but we are able to finish and compete with anyone.”
Same goes for a Gladbrook-Reinbeck team that is 36-4 in the last three seasons combined, brandishing 2014 state runner-up and 2015 state championship trophies.
“I said in 2014 that we’ve got to enjoy this moment because we might not be back for 10 years,” Olson said of reaching the championship game, “then we came back the next year and I said the same thing to them. At the beginning of this year I had no idea we had the ability to do this, but we’ve just gotten better every single week and we’re a pretty good team now.
“We’re not great yet, we’re not awesome yet, [but] we’ve got one more game to prove that.”