No. 2 G-R stops St. Ansgar to reach third-straight title game
CEDAR FALLS — The Gladbrook-Reinbeck football team has been so well-trained that doing the right thing at the absolute wrong time went unnoticed by the coaching staff.
Thanks to defense that has become so synonymous with the Rebels’ seven-straight trips to the playoffs, the untimely miscue was a mere memory by the time the final horn sounded.
Second-ranked Gladbrook-Reinbeck overcame a pair of special teams gaffes in the second quarter to regain the momentum it had and lost, eliminating No. 1 St. Ansgar 28-14 in Friday morning’s Class A state semifinals at the UNI-Dome.
The Rebels (12-0) watched a 14-0 lead dissipate after a failed fake punt propeled the Saints out of an early deficit, but 14 unanswered points in the final 15 minutes of the game and an undaunted defense secured Gladbrook-Reinbeck’s spot in the championship round for the third year in a row.
G-R is now the first team to reach three consecutive Class A title bouts in state history, and on Thursday at 1:36 p.m. the Rebels will square off with No. 4 Bishop Garrigan (12-0) in pursuit of the division’s first back-to-back championships since Southern Cal won in 2008 and 2009.
“That’s something everybody wishes for and we’re lucky to be there a few times, and you hope you come out on top,” said Gladbrook-Reinbeck senior Parker Bown. “People are gunning for you harder now, they want to knock you out, but you’ve just got to take it as it is and go for it.”
Bown’s 9-yard touchdown run with 2 minutes, 53 seconds left in the third quarter quelled St. Ansgar’s uprising, breaking a 14-all tie by capping a nine-play, 78-yard drive while breaking a bevy of arm tackles on his way into the end zone. The Rebels’ possession was made up entirely of runs, save for a spectacular catch by Erik Knaack against double-coverage on third-and-16 from the 39-yard-line. Hunter Lott’s heave and Knaack’s leaping grab was followed immediately by Bown’s touchdown surge, giving Gladbrook-Reinbeck and its state-best defense the lead for good.
St. Ansgar (11-1) punted after three plays lost two yards, and G-R followed with a 71-yard scoring drive highlighted by fullback Gage Murty. A 42-yard screen pass from Lott to Murty on the first play of the fourth quarter switched the field for the Rebels, and Murty eventually plowed in for paydirt on a 1-yard carry with 8:51 remaining.
“I don’t think they did anything we didn’t expect,” St. Ansgar coach Drew Clevenger said. “Everything we saw we had practiced for, but we just didn’t execute. A lot of that had to do with them and how they played. They executed.”
The Saints offense, averaging a Class A-best 45.6 points per game, went backward with a pair of false start penalties before punting it away. St. Ansgar got the ball back again with 4:13 left and a 28-14 deficit, and the run-first offense passed its way downfield. Connecting with his favorite target Cole Willert four times for 67 yards, Saints quarterback Ben Boerjan got his team into the red zone quickly and efficiently.
Boerjan’s first-down pass intended for Willert was broken up by Alex Tscherter, who stepped in for starting cornerback Matt Johannsen when Johannsen hit the turf hard trying to break up what turned out to be a 38-yard catch by Willert at the Rebels’ 9-yard-line.
Tscherter, who hadn’t played for five weeks because of his own ailment, stepped up again on fourth-and-goal when Boerjan threw under duress and floated a pass into the end zone. Tscherter intercepted the throw at the goal line, finally got a handle on it at the 10, and returned the ball beyond midfield to essentially seal the Rebel victory.
“[Tscherter] got back for three practices this week and he had about two reps, and I just trusted him,” said G-R head coach John Olson. “We’ve got backups besides him that do a tremendous job, but I trust him that his knowledge is what it needs to be on the coverages. It’s just awesome for him to literally save the game on those two plays.”
The Rebels ran out the clock from there, finishing off an impressive victory against the wire-to-wire No. 1-ranked Saints.
“They were the number one offense and I knew they were going to score on us, I just didn’t want them to get on a roll,” said Knaack, who transitioned to linebacker for this game and led G-R with four solo and six assisted tackles, including 1.5 for loss. “[St. Ansgar] had a lot of momentum and we went into half with our heads down. We were telling each other we’ve got to pick it up because we weren’t even down and we dominated the first half.”
Lott finished off Gladbrook-Reinbeck’s first two drives with short touchdown runs, elevating the Rebels to a 14-0 lead before the first quarter had expired. St. Ansgar’s offense, which entered averaging 402 yards per game, hadn’t threatened to score until the Rebels gift-wrapped a golden opportunity.
Facing fourth-and-14 from its own 38 with 3:07 left in the half, G-R lined up to punt before Lott stepped in and attempted a pass that bounced incomplete. St. Ansgar took control and found its footing, getting into the end zone five plays later on Dayton Smith’s 2-yard blast.
Walker Thede’s ensuing kickoff return reached midfield before he was forced to fumble, and Smith recovered to ignite the Saints’ suddenly raucous fan base.
The Rebel defense held twice, however, and G-R clinged to a 14-7 halftime lead.
Olson took full credit for coaching his team to take advantage of something it saw in St. Ansgar’s punt coverage, but acknowledged he needed to call off the potential audible in the situation his team was in.
“It’s a call that we always have, it’s a set play,” Olson said. “Our kids know and our coaches know if we see this, we’re doing this, I don’t care where it’s at — that way the kids have confidence in it. What I should have done as a coach is I should have said — in this scenario because it’s 14-nothing and they haven’t been moving the ball — it’s off.
“Really it was momentum more than it was yardage, but it’s something that I should have stopped for sure.”
St. Ansgar got the ball to start the second half, and after a three-and-out the Saints got the ball back with their second interception of Lott. Parker Hendrickson’s 8-yard touchdown run with 7:17 left in the third quarter got the Saints back to even for the first time, but the Rebels’ defense responded in championship fashion.
Gladbrook-Reinbeck’s defense allowed just 122 yards in the second half, 80 of which came on the pass-heavy possession that ended with Tscherter’s interception at the goal line.
St. Ansgar was saddled with a season-lows of 120 rushing yards and 274 total yards of offense against G-R’s Class A-best defense, which allowed just 5.27 points per game prior to the semifinal win.
“Everybody had to do their job, we had assigments … and everyone got it done perfectly,” Bown said. “It was awesome.”
Bown finished with 62 rushing yards, while Lott ended 10-for-18 passing for 193 yards with two interceptions. Knaack made four grabs for 71 yards, Johannsen had one catch for 33 yards, and Thede had three receptions for 33 yards. Murty’s one reception went for 42 yards, and he added 37 yards rushing.
“We knew it was going to be a close game and we shut them off in the fourth quarter,” Murty said. “Overall we just played awesome, played with dedication.”
Hendrickson led St. Ansgar with 66 rushing yards, and Boerjan had career-highs of 13 completions and 25 attempts en route to 154 yards with interceptions by Tscherter and Matt Roeding.
The Rebels will line up against a Bishop Garrigan team that beat No. 3 Council Bluffs St. Albert 26-20 in Friday’s second semifinal. The only other time Gladbrook-Reinbeck met the Bears was in the 1A state quarterfinals in 2004, when G-R captured a 31-30 win at the UNI-Dome.
“Our goal for the season was to get as far as we can,” Knaack said. “We play for the coaches, we play for the team and we play for the community, and luckily we’re able to get back [to the championship game] this year.”
State Football Playoffs
At UNI-Dome, Cedar Falls
Thursday, Nov. 10
Don Bosco 72, Midland, Wyoming 0
Harris-Lake Park 35, Fremont-Mills 21
Webster City 6, Glenwood 3
Pella 34, Cedar Rapids Xavier 30
Friday, Nov. 11
Gladbrook-Reinbeck 28, St. Ansgar 14
Bishop Garrigan 26, CB St. Albert 20
Dowling Catholic 41, Ankeny Centennial 17
Iowa City West 35, CR Washington 7
Saturday, Nov. 12
Denver (11-0) vs. Iowa City Regina (10-1), 10:06 a.m.
Western Christian (10-1) vs. Van Meter (11-0), 1:06 p.m.
Boyden-Hull/Rock Valley (10-1) vs. Dike-New Hartford (9-2), 4:06 p.m.
Union (10-1) vs. Mount Vernon (9-2), 7:06 p.m.
Thursday, Nov. 17
Don Bosco (11-1) vs. Harris-Lake Park (12-0), 10:06 a.m.
Gladbrook-Reinbeck (12-0) vs. Bishop Garrigan (12-0), 1:36 p.m.
Pella (12-0) vs. Webster City (11-1), 7:06 p.m.
Friday, Nov. 18
Dowling Catholic (11-1) vs. Iowa City West (10-2), 7:06 p.m.
St. Ansgar 14
G-R 14 0 7 7 — 28
SA 0 7 7 0 — 14
G-R — Hunter Lott 4 run (Walker Thede kick), 7:19.
G-R — Lott 5 run (Thede kick), :39.
SA — Dayton Smith 2 run (Ben Boerjan kick), 1:11.
SA — Parker Hendrickson 7 run (Boerjan kick), 7:17.
G-R — Parker Bown 9 run (Thede kick), 2:53.
G-R — Gage Murty 1 run (Thede kick), 8:51.
First downs 17 11
Rushes-yards 43-163 29-120
Passing yards 193 154
Comp-Att-Int 10-18-2 13-25-2
Total offense 356 274
Fumbles-lost 1-1 2-1
Penalties-yards 8-64 7-40
Time of Poss. 27:34 20:26
RUSHING — G-R: Bown 16-62, Murty 7-37, Lott 11-32, Erik Knaack 2-17, Thede 7-15; SA: Hendrickson 13-66, Boerjan 8-40, Smith 7-12, John Patterson 1-2.
PASSING — G-R: Lott 10-18-193-2; SA: Boerjan 13-25-154-2.
RECEIVING — G-R: Knaack 4-71, Murty 1-42, Thede 3-33, Matt Johannsen 1-33, Matt Roeding 1-14; SA: Cole Willert 6-113, Hendrickson 3-20, Ryan Peterson 2-17, Patterson 2-4.