MONROE - For the St. Edmond football team, the bitter taste of defeat proved more unpleasant than any bad Halloween treat.
Unable to find their offensive groove, the eighth-ranked Gaels (9-2 overall) saw their memorable 2011 campaign reach the end of the road here Monday, dropping a 17-7 Class 2A second-round playoff decision to unbeaten and No. 5 PCM-Monroe (11-0).
"I thought we played hard, but we just couldn't find a way to sustain anything," said SEHS head coach Dick Tighe, who owns a career record of 391-152-8 through 58 years on the sidelines. "(The Mustangs) are a good team, but we still had some chances and never capitalized.
"It's always tough to lose and have to go home at this point in the season."
Efficiently marching 65 yards in six plays, District 8 champion PCM struck first on its initial drive of the game when quarterback Nate VandeWall connected with Sean O'Connor for a 35-yard touchdown pass. From there, the Gaels continued to fight an uphill climb the rest of the evening.
A three-yard dash to paydirt by Hutch Burns late in the second quarter eventually extended the Mustang edge to 14-0 at the intermission. PCM actually threatened to do more damage in the half, however, a key interception from senior free safety Nick Clark and a fumble recovery by junior linebacker Alex Mericle held the home squad in check.
"Our defense was able to force a couple of big turnovers at crucial times," Tighe said. "As a result, we were able to stay right there within striking distance."
In the first 24 minutes, St. Edmond managed only five first downs and 89 yards of total offense compared to 10 and 262 for the Mustangs.
After finding tough sledding before the break, Neil Flattery finally brought the Gael fans to their feet with a five-yard endzone scamper at the 3:00 mark of the third - just three plays following a pivotal pass interference call on PCM. Clark then tacked on the PAT, which ultimately proved to be the last point of the contest for the green and white.
With the outcome still hanging in the balance (17-7), the Gaels appeared to have a golden opportunity to break through once again with just over five minutes remaining in the final stanza, but the stingy Mustang defensive unit rose to the occasion and stuffed SEHS on a 4th and 2 play from the PCM 3-yardline.
"That really hurt when we didn't make (the first down) in that situation because it would've still been anybody's ballgame," said Tighe. "I thought that was probably the final nail in the coffin."
Mericle propelled the smashmouth Gael ground charge, compiling 77 yards on 15 carries.
Flattery also ran 24 times for 72 yards. The 190-pound senior closed out the year with a new single-season rushing record of 1,615 yards. Flattery also tied the program mark for most rushing touchdowns in a season (23) and wrapped up his decorated career second on the all-time St. Edmond rushing list (2,524).
Sophomore Vinnie Harvey and senior Ryan Rodenborn each notched sacks as well last night for the District 7 runner-up Gaels, while junior Matt Stumpf added a pick.
Burns accumulated a team-high 168 yards on 26 totes for the Mustangs. VanRoekel also went 6-for-10 through the air for 116 yards.
Twelve seniors donned a St. Edmond uniform on the gridiron for one last time. The Gaels now own a combined all-time playoff record of 3-8.
"Our seniors meant a lot to our program and will most definitely be missed," Tighe said.
Up next for PCM is a home battle with unbeaten and second-ranked West Marshall (11-0) in Monday's 2A quarterfinals. The Trojans blasted 2010 state runner-up North Polk last evening, 63-35.
Contact Josh Meyer at (515) 573-2141, or by e-mail at email@example.com