Legendary St. Edmond head football coach Dick Tighe will have plenty of reasons to celebrate today.
On the eve of his 82nd birthday, the fifth-ranked Gaels (9-1 overall) gave Tighe his 400th career victory Wednesday evening in a 41-7 Class 1A first-round playoff drubbing of Western Christian at rainy Dodger Stadium.
Senior tailback Alex Mericle set a new single-season SEHS rushing record, producing 225 yards and three touchdowns on 29 carries. Mericle has now gained 1,708 yards on the year and 2,355 for his career, which ranks fourth in Gael history. The 190-pound workhorse also established a new program mark for career scores on the ground (38) and most attempts in a single-season (263).
"I've never been so ready to play a football game in all my life," said Mericle, who has been battling a nagging foot injury. "Our offensive line was huge (last night), and had what I felt was one of their best games of the year."
Awaiting St. Edmond next is No. 3 Emmetsburg (9-1) in a second-round playoff showdown Monday at Emmetsburg. The tradition-rich E-Hawks, who are making a state record 37th all-time playoff appearance, easily advanced Wednesday with a 41-0 shutout of Ridge View.
Gael senior signal-caller David Flattery also went a perfect 3-for-3 through the air for 115 yards, including endzone strikes of 53 and 55 yards to sophomore Landon Peed, who hauled in all three St. Edmond receptions. Peed's first touchdown came on a highlight-reel catch.
"(The Wolfpack) had all 11 defensive guys stacked up in the box, so we were able to beat them a couple of times with play-action passes," Tighe said. "To be successful, we know we're probably going to need to throw the ball a little more down the road."
Matt Stumpf, a senior wingback, contributed 70 yards rushing as well for the home squad on just two totes, while junior fullback Vinnie Harvey ran 12 times for 54 yards and a score. Despite losing four fumbles, the Gaels still managed a season-high 486 yards of total offense compared to just 157 for Western Christian (4-6). St. Edmond's only punt came with just over a minute remaining in the contest.
"We gave them several opportunities with all our fumbles, but our defense never really broke," said Tighe, who has guided 21 teams to the postseason in 59 years on the sidelines. "This was a tougher game than what (the score) indicates. I'm just happy our guys were able to come out on top."
Vinnie Harvey (three sacks), brother Teddie Harvey (two sacks), Peed (interception) and Dillon Nelson (blocked field goal) anchored the swarming Gael defensive unit, which has now registered 23 takeaways on the year. St. Edmond, who boasts the top scoring defense in 1A, forced six Western Christian punts.
"We played hard all the way until the end," Teddie Harvey said. "We'll come out and get after it (today) and start preparing for Emmetsburg."
Drew Van Sloten was the top rusher for the Wolfpack, netting 54 yards on 17 totes before being helped off the field late in the third quarter with an undisclosed injury. Van Sloten found paydirt from five yards out with 9:31 left in the first half for Western Christian's lone touchdown.
With the victory, St. Edmond improved to 22-4 at Dodger Stadium since 2008. The Gaels are now 4-3 in playoff openers since 2004 and 4-8 all-time in nine postseason trips. SEHS has outscored its opponents on the year, 344-70.