Coming off just its fourth unbeaten regular season in school history, the St. Edmond football team enters the playoffs ready to make a statement.
Looking to stay on a roll, the fourth-ranked Gaels (9-0 overall) will host Hartley-Melvin-Sanborn (4-5) in a Class 1A first-round game tonight.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. inside Dodger Stadium.
"I think our guys are fired up and ready to go, but we are dealing with a couple of injuries to Nick Hindt (sprained ankle) and Zach Gailey (concussion), who we hope can still both play," said SEHS head coach Dick Tighe, who is seeking his 410th career win this evening. "We practiced really well over the weekend, which can kind of be hard to do sometimes.
"Playing at home is a nice advantage, too, because we don't have to travel and always have a great crowd."
On Friday, St. Edmond coasted to a 48-7 non-district victory at Eagle Grove. Despite losing four fumbles, the Gaels forced five takeaways - season-highs in both categories. Sophomore T.J. O'Tool ran for 137 yards and a pair of touchdowns, while senior Vinnie Harvey produced 110 yards and two scores of his own.
Harvey is currently third in 1A in rushing scores (23), 10th in attempts (203) and 13th in total rushing yards (1,119) - numbers that rank 2nd, 10th and 11th among the top single-season marks at SEHS. The 225-pound fullback has eclipsed the 100-yard barrier on seven occasions this year.
O'Tool has delivered an even 800 yards and reached paydirt 10 times, while averaging 8.2 yards per carry. Junior Michael Faiferlick has added 407 yards and a pair of TD.
Quarterback Matthew Bocken, another junior, has also completed 15-for-31 passes for 418 yards, including six scores and one pick. Classmate Landon Peed has pulled down 14 catches for 403 yards and six touchdowns.
"Offensively, we don't plan on changing anything at this point in the season (the Gaels are 10th in 1A in total rushing yards with 2,610)," Tighe said. "We always practice passing the ball and say we're going to throw it more, but we never seem to follow the script. Peed does give us a big receiving threat, though, just in case we need to mix things up a little."
District 2 champion St. Edmond, which has pitched three shutouts this season, has outscored its opponents through nine games by a combined margin of 318-61. Mason City Newman (20) and Sioux Central (12) are the only two teams to reach double digits against the Gaels.
"I know it's still a long way down the road, but it appears this is the best chance we've ever had of getting to the (UNI-)Dome," said the 83-year old Tighe, who is directing his 22nd team to the playoffs in 60 seasons on the sidelines. "We always had a real strong Parkersburg or Emmetsburg standing in the way in years past, but this year we're the only unbeaten (from District 1 or 2) and appear to be the strongest team."
The Hawks own a 5-7 all-time playoff record in eight previous trips. After getting off to a 3-1 start, the maroon and gold have dropped four of their last five contests, including a 40-18 setback to Sheldon in Week 9. Steve Waechter's squad, which placed fourth in District 1 at 3-3, went 2-2 on the road this season. H-M-S was 1-3 against teams that qualified for the playoffs - with its lone triumph coming in a 42-40 shootout against Class A foe West Sioux.
"They're pretty basic (offensively) and run the I-Formation," Tighe said of the Hawks. "It looks like they have some decent runners, but I don't really know who I'd compare them to. I think we should be fine if we play how we're capable of. Hopefully, the weather will be nice and it won't rain."
Seniors Hunter Kuehl (140 totes, 980 yards and 11 TD) and Logan Rozeboom (167-860-4) form a consistent 1-2 backfield punch for Hartley-Melvin-Sanborn, which averages 20.4 points and 322.8 total yards per game. Senior signal-caller Evan Metzler has gone just 28 of 86 through the air for 533 yards, with seven scores and six interceptions. Senior Trenton Schirmer (8 catches, 155 yards, 3 TD) and sophomore Jordan Japenga (7-152-2) are the leading receivers.
Rozeboom is also tied for fifth in 1A in tackles (126) to go along with three fumble recoveries.
Since 2010, the Gaels are 17-2 at Dodger Stadium, including a perfect 4-0 this year. Dating back to the 2004 campaign, SEHS is 4-3 in playoff openers. St. Edmond holds a 4-10 all-time mark through 10 previous postseason ventures. The Gaels managed their other undefeated regular seasons in 1978, '83 and 2005.
In the last two meetings between these two programs, St. Edmond downed Hartley-Melvin-Sanborn in 2004 and 2005 by scores of 27-22 and 31-0.
This evening's winner advances to face either Manson Northwest Webster (7-2) or two-time defending 1A state semifinalist Emmetsburg (5-4) in second-round action Monday at 7 p.m. at a site to be determined.