The eighth-ranked (Class 2A) St. Edmond football team turned a typical playoff-style battle into an easy victory Wednesday night by sticking to their strength, defeating Clarinda 35-12 at Dodger Stadium.
Next up for the Gaels (9-1 overall) will be No. 5 Monroe-PCM (10-0) on Monday night in the second round. The Mustangs, who defeated CMB-Baxter 42-7, will be the home team due to winning District 8.
Right from the start, SEHS head coach Dick Tighe made his intentions known, forcing a steady diet of senior Neil Flattery and the St. Edmond rushing attack at the Cardinals (6-4). Flattery carried the ball a career-high 43 times for 211 yards and two touchdowns, while the Gaels ran for 358 yards on 73 carries as a team.
"The offensive line was doing a great job for me, I just couldn't quite break a long (run)," said Flattery, who now has 2,272 yards rushing and 31 touchdowns in his career. "The coaches told me (at halftime) to try and cut it up field a little more instead of bouncing it outside and there were holes when I did that. The guys on the line really did an awesome job all night, and I just tried to always keep pushing forward."
Despite the power running of Flattery, and a decisive advantage in terms of yards and time of possession, the Gaels couldn't put any points on the scoreboard. That changed with just over four minutes remaining in the second quarter as St. Edmond marched 73 yards over 15 plays, culminating in an eight-yard touchdown pass from David Flattery to Landon Peed on fourth-and-3.
Peed, a freshman, was taking the place of senior Nick Clark in the lineup after Clark was forced out due to a bone bruise on his left foot. His status for the remainder of the playoffs is questionable. The TD catch by Peed ignited the Gaels into the break with both momentum and the lead over Clarinda.
Rushing - St. Edmond: Neil Flattery 43-211, Alex Mericle 19-75, Aaron McElroy 4-44, Vinnie Harvey 4-24, Matt Stumpf 1-6, David Flattery 1-0, Team 1-(minus-2). Clarinda: Tyler Steeve 13-109, Dakota Woods 10-105, Kramer Samuelson 2-3, Alex Hiatt 1-(minus-2).
Passing - St. Edmond: D. Flattery 3-5-1-58. Clarinda: Steeve 8-20-2-89, Woods 0-1-0-0.
Receiving - St. Edmond: McElroy 1-33, Patrick Champa 1-17, Landon Peed 1-8. Clarinda: Hiatt 2-29, Alex Archer 2-20, Woods 2-20, Dalton Young 1-12, Samuelson 1-8.
"We needed that score," said Tighe, who picked up victory No. 391 just a day removed from turning 81 years old. "What a great catch by Landon and a perfect throw from David. We were moving the ball well in the first half, we just didn't have any points to show for it. You could see the excitement in the kids' eyes once we got that first touchdown."
On the first drive of the third, Flattery broke free down the sidelines and scored on a 56-yard run, deflating the Cardinal defense and forcing them to play from a two-score deficit the remainder of the game.
"I knew if I just kept looking for the right time, I would break a long one," Flattery said. "Normally, I can get around the edges, but (Clarinda) did a nice job of tackling and they made sure to lock up when they hit me. I'm actually pretty sore right now from all the hits they laid on me."
Flattery plowed in for his second score early in the fourth following a fumble recovery by Dillon Nelson. The drive, which lasted over five minutes, benefited from two key plays. First, Flattery found Patrick Champa on third-and-12 for a 32-yard reception. After the play, Clarinda was nailed with a 15-yard personal foul, moving the ball into Cardinal territory where Flattery and Alex Mericle took over. Mericle had 19 carries for 75 yards, converting several pivotal third-down runs.
"I really think those two plays (the Champa catch and penalty) broke Clarinda's back," Tighe said. "It took us out of bad field position and put us on their 40-yard-line. We were able to put the ball in the endzone from there and put the game away."
Aaron McElroy hauled in a 33-yard TD strike from Flattery on a perfectly designed playaction pass after a failed fourth-down attempt by the Cardinals. Vinnie Harvey had the final St. Edmond score, rumbling in from eight yards out.
The Gaels were 11-for-17 on third-down conversions in the game, including 8-for-11 over the first two quarters.
Clarinda added two late touchdowns, as Tyler Steeve broke free for a 74-yard run and Dakota Woods ran in from 35 yards out following a successful onside kick by the Cardinals.
The win is just the third in school history for St. Edmond, which improves to 3-7 all-time in the postseason.
"I didn't want to be considered only one of the Top-32 teams in the state (by making the playoffs)," Flattery said. "We wanted to win this one so we would be considered at least one of the Top-16 in 2A. Now, we want to make the Top-8."
Contact Dana Becker at (515) 573-2141, or by email at email@example.com