Johannsen falls down, gets back up
CEDAR FALLS — Coming into Thursday’s Iowa High School Class A State Football Championship game, 96.4 percent of Gladbrook-Reinbeck’s completions went to a receiver not named Matt Johannsen. Having just three receptions through the Rebels’ first 12 games of the season, the junior wide out just had to bide his time.
When Johannsen’s moment presented itself, he came through.
On a 4th-and-8 midway through the fourth quarter of the title game against Bishop Garrigan inside the UNI-Dome, with a defender hot on his case, Johannsen turned and hauled in Hunter Lott’s 24-yard pass in the end zone for the touchdown. It turned out to be the game-winning score in G-R’s 20-19 win against the Golden Bears, securing back-to-back state titles for the Rebels’ football team.
“I didn’t think I was going to get a pass thrown to me in the state finals,” Johannsen said. “It ended up happening. We ran a switch route. Me and (Matt) Roeding crossed, and it’s just, I was open. Lott threw me the ball.
“I couldn’t have done it without Hunter Lott throwing me the perfect pass. I just looked right over, and it was right there.”
By the way, Johannsen’s game-winner was the first touchdown of his high school career.
Johannsen’s red-letter day wasn’t without its storm clouds, though.
In the second quarter, with the Golden Bears already leading 7-0, Johannsen was on the unfortunate end of allowing the deficit grow to multiple scores. On 4th-and-16, Garrigan quarterback Brad Capesius lofted a pass to Joel Vaske. Johannsen had a chance to make a play to try and break up the pass, but the turf monster got the better of him. Johannsen fell without being touched, and Vaske caught Capesius’ 24-yard pass for the touchdown. Suddenly the Golden Bears were up 13-0 seven minutes before halftime as Johannsen sat on the UNI-Dome turf, head in hands, collecting his thoughts as to what just happened.
“I always kept in my mind I have to redeem myself,” Johannsen said. “I have to do something better to get this, to win us the championship.”
While it appeared Johannsen was the guy who allowed a touchdown to score, Rebel coaches and players were quick to say it was their responsibility to pick their teammate up.
“For one, we needed to have more pressure up front,” said G-R head coach John Olson. “For two, we should’ve had him double covered by our safety. We saw a lot on film. I was just disappointed that we didn’t play it very well. If he falls down, he falls down. Life goes on. It should’ve been double covered. Should’ve had another guy on top of him.
“He gets down on himself. So, what I had to tell him, ‘OK, yes, you screwed up. You did that wrong, but this is how we’re going to fix it and, now we’re going to move on.’ Good things are going to happen to good people who work hard. That’s what happened at the end of the game.”
Johannsen’s first catch of the season didn’t come until the regular season finale against Colfax-Mingo, a reception that went for six yards. In G-R’s quarterfinal game against Montezuma, a pass that went backwards two yards is all Johannsen amassed. Then in the semifinals against Saint Ansgar, Johannsen caught a slant pass that went for 33 yards in G-R’s 28-14 win.
Regardless of how little he had been used on offense this season, or what happened on the defensive side of the ball, the Rebels didn’t waver in their confidence to look Johannsen’s way in crunch time. Johannsen said he was aware of the coaching staff’s faith in him to make a big play at a big time.
“He knew I trusted him 100 percent, and I would go to him at any point in the game,” Lott said. “He knew eventually he would have to come up and make a play. That’s what he did.”