ALLEMAN - Almost.
The sixth-ranked (Class 2A) St. Edmond football team nearly pulled off a miraculous rally here Friday night, coming back from a seemingly-insurmountable deficit against North Polk in the District 7 opener for both programs.
The Gaels couldn't quite get over the hump, though, dropping a turnover-plagued 28-24 decision to the Comets on a cool, misty evening that became an emotional rollercoaster ride for fans in attendance.
St. Edmond (2-1 overall, 1-0 in the district) uncharacteristically turned the ball over three times in the first four minutes of action and eventually trailed 21-0 by halftime. It was 28-0 midway through the third quarter when the Gaels suddenly came to life against the Comets (2-1, 1-0).
A flurry of three SEHS touchdowns in a 10-minute span put Dick Tighe's squad right back in the hunt, but the Gaels never did gain the upper-hand. Two interceptions in the final two-plus minutes - one at the North Polk 7-yard line and one to lock up the contest - wound up sealing St. Edmond's mistake-laden fate.
"Really, you could look back at the first six or seven minutes and say that's where we lost the game," Tighe said. "Our kids showed a lot of heart and resilience to even have a chance at the end, but if you turn the ball over as many times as we did (seven), you don't deserve to win.
"They were ready to play and we weren't out of the gate. By the time the momentum shifted, we were trying to come back from 28 points down. That's an awful lot to ask of any team, but we only have ourselves to blame for digging such a big hole (in the first half)."
For as many self-inflicted wounds as the Gaels suffered, they also had a 16-play, 67-yard drive stall at the North Polk 12-yard line late in the first half. Combined with two second-half turnovers deep in the red zone - a fumble at the 5-yard line and the pick at the 7 - and it was hard to believe St. Edmond was able to avoid a blowout loss, let alone be in a position to prevail.
Three fumble recoveries and an interception by the Gael defense after the intermission sparked the comeback, as the Comets struggled to hang onto the ball when the rain intensified. Keaton Lenning, Anthony Flattery and Ryan Rodenborn all pounced on loose balls, while Ben Kraayenbrink picked off 6-foot-3 NP signal-caller Lucas Hadaway.
Patrick Champa got the Gaels on the board with a 25-yard touchdown reception from Nick Clark, and a short Flattery TD run pulled St. Edmond within 28-16 with 9:02 left in the contest.
Kraayenbrink's interception then set up a 68-yard scoring strike from Clark to Flattery on the next snap, and the Gaels were back in business, down 28-22 at the 7:37 mark.
North Polk was forced to punt, and St. Edmond had the ball with 4:25 to go. A 36-yard Clark-to-Flattery hook-up and a 23-yard Clark quarterback scramble gave the Gaels a 1st-and-10 situation at the NP 12, but on second down, Clark was intercepted on a short pass attempt over the middle.
The Comets took a safety after making SEHS burn all of its timeouts, and by the time the Gaels regained possession, there were only 24 seconds remaining. Clark's desperation heave downfield on first down was pilfered by a North Polk defender to seal the deal.
"We got down there (in the red zone) when it was six (28-22) and kind of got in a hurry," Tighe said. "There was still plenty of time, but we were a little ahead of ourselves. That happens sometimes when you're behind by that much and suddenly climb back in it.
"Defensively we were very solid in the second half, but they took it to us before that. They were bigger than us and really more physical up front - we can't let that happen if we want to compete in this district. We have to out-hustle and out-work (the opponent), and we didn't do either until we were down 28 points."
Clark, a slippery junior, threw for a career-high 198 yards. He also intercepted a pass in the opening period. Flattery rushed for 71 yards and accumulated 112 more receiving.
North Polk held a 171-68 yard advantage from scrimmage in the first half. The rest of the way, it was 247-62 in favor of the Gaels.
Six-foot-2 junior tailback Noah Pickard rushed for 111 yards and a pair of scores. The Comets not only had size in the backfield with Hadaway and Pickard, but two monstrous linemen in Chris Hansen (6-5, 300 pounds) and Alex Carr (6-5, 228).
For the second consecutive week, St. Edmond did not commit a single penalty.
The Gaels host Collins-CMB for Homecoming on Friday.