It’s a clash of Class A’s titans

Gladbrook-Reinbeck’s top-ranked defense braces for showdown with St. Ansgar’s offense

T-R PHOTO BY ADAM RING • The Gladbrook-Reinbeck defense has helped carry the football team back to the state semifinals for the third year in a row. Pictured from left: Mason Skovgard, Jacob Walters, Parker Bown, Gage Murty and Rhett Barnes have been leading the Rebels up front.

T-R PHOTO BY ADAM RING • The Gladbrook-Reinbeck defense has helped carry the football team back to the state semifinals for the third year in a row. Pictured from left: Mason Skovgard, Jacob Walters, Parker Bown, Gage Murty and Rhett Barnes have been leading the Rebels up front.

REINBECK — Grab your popcorn bright and early Friday morning, and settle in for the top offense going head-to-head with the top defense.

That’s what fans will be treated to when No. 1 Saint Ansgar and No. 2 Galdbrook-Reinbeck get together at 10:06 a.m. Friday for the first semifinal of the Class A Iowa High School State Football Playoffs at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls.

Saint Ansgar (11-0) has the top scoring offense in Class A, while G-R (11-0) has the top defense when it comes to keeping the opponent off the scoreboard. The Saints average 45.64 points a game, while the Rebels surrender less than a touchdown a game. Rebel opposition has only squandered to score 5.27 points a game.

“It starts with our defensive line and our defensive line coach,” said G-R coach John Olson. “Brett Bengen does a great job with our defensive line. He played in college at that position. We also have defensive linemen that give everything they got every single play, and they learn a lot.

“What makes them so successful is the technique and fundamentals of the game. We don’t have to reteach them new offenses every week because we don’t care what the other team does. We follow the rules. We follow the techniques. We follow the fundamentals Brett Bengen enstills in them.”

Olson credits defensive linemen such as Rhett Barnes and Mason Skovgard with stepping in when the Rebels lost a lineman before the season even started. Tyler Pierce tore his ACL in the offseason, and has missed all significant plays this season. Skovgard leads G-R with nine sacks this season, and Barnes has added five quarterback takedowns, as the duo accounts for 14 of the team’s 22 sacks this season, and no other Rebel has two.

Getting after the quarterback isn’t the only thing the defensive line does. Jacob Walters is third on the team with 41 tackles from his lineman position. Linebacker Thomas Mussig (71) and defensive back Hunter Lott (44) are 1-2 on the Rebels in tackles.

“We’ve been a physical team. We try to be the most physical team on the field,” Walters said. “Getting hands on and filling gaps. Linebackers filling gaps, and help keep it to short gains.

“For the past couple years, we’ve always been a physical defense. It just seems like every year people want to put in more effort. We’ve been there, we know how it feels. We just want to put in more effort in to do it again.”

The Rebels have also been a ball-hawking defense this season, forcing the opponent into turning the ball over 34 times this year. G-R has intercepted 17 passes this season, and also taken the ball away 17 times via the fumble, leading Class A in all three categories. Erik Knaack leads the team with four picks, while Matt Roeding has three and a trio of other Rebels have a pair of INTs. Lott has recovered four fumbles. Knaack has picked up three, two of which have been taken back for touchdowns. Alex Tscherter has a pair, as does Seth Gretillat.

“We do the best we can to put the other team in a position they don’t want to be in,” Olson said. “Make them earn everything. We make them go on long drives. Belle Plaine is a perfect example. That’s a team that had 230 yards against us, but they had to go 80 yards all the time. If you make the other team go 15, 16, 17 play drives, they have a hard time doing that four times a game. At some point in time, they’re going to make a mistake. If you have 80 offensive plays, you’re going to make a mistake.”

If the Rebels are going to force the Saints into turning the ball over, more likely than not, it will have to come from punching the ball out of the runner’s hands. Saint Ansgar has run the ball on 82 percent of its plays this season, and the Saints have thrown just three interceptions on 110 pass attempts.

The Saints have scored 40 or more points in eight of their 11 games this season, including doing so five straight times in weeks 3 through 7. Saint Ansgar’s Parker Hendrickson and Dayton Smith have both eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark on the ground. Smith (19) and Hendrickson (15) have combined to score 34 touchdowns this season. Three other Saints have at least four rushing scores. It will be key for the Rebels to shut down the Saints run attack. Olson said the Saint offense is an easy one to know how to defend, but a hard offense to try to stop. The challenge of having to stop the top offense is a motivating one to the Rebels.

“Anything can happen. If you lose, oviously you’re done. It’s just who shows up and plays the best that day. Can’t take it for granted,” said linebacker Parker Bown, who has 32 tackles for the Rebels, including five for loss. “If we hold them to a couple touchdowns, that’s huge. Doesn’t matter what the outcome is if they don’t have 40 points like they’ve been putting on everybody else. It shows you that you were better than whoever else they played, and you did a pretty good job for the most part.”

State Football Playoffs

Semifinals

Friday, Nov. 11

CLASS A

St. Ansgar (11-0) vs. Gladbrook-Reinbeck (11-0), 10:06 a.m.

Council Bluffs St. Albert (11-0) vs. Bishop Garrigan (11-0), 1:06 p.m.