Rebels ousted in quarterfinals
ST. ANSGAR — As a brisk wind blew dry the tears lingering on John Olson’s face, a team other than his own was celebrating a state quarterfinal victory.
For the first time in four years, the Gladbrook-Reinbeck football team was stopped short of the UNI-Dome as the No. 7 Rebels were handled by No. 9 St. Ansgar, 35-7, in the Class A quarterfinals here Friday night.
The host Saints chewed up the Rebel defense for 483 rushing yards on 72 carries, spitting them out at a pace of 6.7 yards per attempt while preventing the two-time reigning state champions from reaching their ‘Dome away from home.’
Gladbrook-Reinbeck (9-2) lost senior quarterback Hunter Lott to an undisclosed injury to his right leg, once temporarily after a pass attempt and then permanently after he tackled St. Ansgar running back Jack Sievert midway through the second quarter.
With Lott lost for the remainder, the Rebels’ aerial assault lost its passer and its top receiver all in one. Walker Thede, the team’s leading receiver in both catches and yards, assumed quarterback duties but G-R’s vertical passing game was damaged beyond repair.
St. Ansgar struck first on a nine-play, 68-yard drive that Dayton Smith capped with a 15-yard run up the middle with 1:40 left in the first quarter, but Gladbrook-Reinbeck responded with Lott’s 35-yard touchdown pass to Thede on the final play of the opening period.
The Saints offense, featuring the second-best ground game in Class A, took the ensuing drive 69 yards on nine plays — all runs — and Smith punched it in from 33 yards just two plays after Lott was helped off the field for the next-to-last time.
Thede threw an interception on a long pass intended for his fellow wideout Matt Johannsen on Gladbrook-Reinbeck’s next play from scrimmage, and St. Ansgar hammered down from there. The Saints marched 40 yards to make it a two-possession lead, 21-7, and the Rebels were unable to either match them offensively or stop them defensively essentially for the remainder.
Down 35-7 with 4 seconds left in its season, Gladbrook-Reinbeck gave Lott, Christian Kibe and the rest of their fellow seniors one last snap.
In obvious physical pain and emotional anguish, Lott took a knee on the Saints’ 27-yard-line in what is typically known as the ‘Victory Formation.’
For the first time since 2013, however, the Rebels’ last play was not in the Class A championship game.
“It’s not about Hunter as much as it is we tell the kids they don’t ever know when their last play is going to be, and when you get the opportunity to know when your last play is going to be, that should mean something to you,” Olson said. “All those kids knew that was their last play, they knew it and they felt it. … It’s just about getting those guys in there for their last play together and I think that’s more important than football or scoring a touchdown.”
The impact of Lott’s absence was felt on both sides of the ball. G-R’s third-leading tackler was no longer on the field, and the Rebel offense managed just 88 yards over the final two-and-a-half quarters.
G-R senior fullback Gage Murty finished with a career-high 76 rushing yards on 11 attempts, carrying the Rebels down the field on their second possession to set up Lott’s longball to Thede. Josh Peterson pitched in with 25 yards on five carries down the stretch in the fourth quarter when the outcome had long since been decided.
“It’s a huge impact, (Lott)’s a stud, he’s really good,” said Olson. “We tried to not change our offense or our defense to keep everything the same and keep it simple, but at the same time when one of our better players goes down that happens.
“You lose a player like that it changes a lot of stuff, but [St. Ansgar] was too good a team to overcome something like that. They were a better football team than us tonight, maybe every night, but they’re good and they deserved it and they earned it and we’re going to feel good about that. We’re a top-eight team and that’s awesome so we’re going to take that.”
Lott and Thede combined to throw for 64 yards and the Rebels gained another 120 on the ground, but St. Ansgar’s ground-and-pound game was too much for this Gladbrook-Reinbeck contingent. Sievert rumbled for a career-high 172 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries, the fullback Smith had 166 yards on 25 tries, and tailback Josh Van Vliet added 125 yards on just 23 carries. The Saints had no passing yards, missing on all four attempts through the air.
“They didn’t do anything we didn’t expect,” Olson said. “We had it going there for a little bit on defense but things just didn’t work out the way we needed to and we couldn’t keep the ball as much. We couldn’t sustain something on offense.”
Kyle Koppen led the Rebel defense with 11 total tackles, while Johannsen had 9.5 tackles and Bryce Schick added a career-best 7.5 stops. But St. Ansgar never allowed the turnover G-R’s defense needed and the Saints march on to the state semifinals for the second year in a row after knocking out the team that prevented them from reaching last year’s title game.
Gladbrook-Reinbeck, which beat the Saints 28-14 in last year’s semifinals at the UNI-Dome, went on to win its second consecutive Class A state title in its third-straight title game appearance. Olson pointed to the outgoing seniors’ mark of 46 wins over the last four seasons to help them keep their heads held high in the end.