All the key ingredients were in place for the St. Edmond football team to pull off a signature victory against Class 2A, District 7 frontrunner West Marshall here Friday night.
In a highly entertaining showdown that went right down to the wire, the Gaels (4-3 overall, 2-3 in the league) dropped a tight 19-14 decision to the tradition-rich Trojans (5-2, 5-0) inside Dodger Stadium.
"It was another tough one to lose," said SEHS head coach Dick Tighe. "(West Marshall) definitely outplayed us, but we still had our chances and just didn't make the plays we needed to on our last drive."
Trailing by five points last evening, the Gaels had a pair of late opportunities to snatch the once seemingly improbable victory from the jaws of defeat, however, West Marshall's stingy defense rose to the occasion each time and held the green and white in check. A crucial Trojan stop on fourth down and eight from the 9-yard line with just over three minutes to play ultimately proved to be the difference, as SEHS 165-pound junior signal-caller Nick Clark scrambled around to his left and back to his right before firing an incomplete pass intended for senior tight end Ben Kraayenbrink in the back of the endzone.
"Clark can move around (in the backfield) pretty good, but it wasn't meant to be," Tighe said. "All night they were running a different defense than we were expecting with five guys on the line of scrimmage and taking a chance we weren't going to throw."
Following a clutch defensive stand at their own 10-yard line with 1:28 remaining, the Gaels had one final chance to steal the dramatic win, but a booming 66-yard punt by West Marshall eventually proved to be too much for St. Edmond to overcome. Senior Anthony Flattery's desperation halfback pass on fourth and 12 from the SEHS 38 was broken up, allowing the visitors to narrowly survive.
"We finally got our blocking assignments down in the second half," said Tighe. "Our linemen started making some big holes for our backs to run through."
The Gaels broke through first on a 1-yard touchdown plunge by senior fullback Andrew Steinkamp with 2:48 to go in the opening quarter, capping a crisp seven-play, 87 yard possession. Outside of its lone scoring drive, St. Edmond was limited to negative-3 yards on 17 plays in the first half. The Gaels also managed only two first downs and were forced into three three-and-outs.
"I was searching for answers in the first half," said Tighe. "We just couldn't seem to get anything going offensively, especially in the second quarter."
Dalton Ferch's five-yard dash to paydirt and a Rafeal Rodriguez successful PAT pushed the Trojans in front by the slimmest of margins early in the second. A 20-yard scoring connection off a halfback pass from Ferch to Logan Chesler extended the West Marshall edge at the half, and a five-yard touchdown gallop by quarterback Braydn Beals midway through the third appeared to seal the Gaels' fate before rallying back on the strength of a 4-yard scoring scamper from junior Neil Flattery and suddenly inspired play from its defensive unit.
On the evening, the Gaels registered 214 yards of total offense - 213 rushing and 1 passing - and 14 first downs, while the Trojans accumulated 296 yards - 172 rushing and 124 passing - and 14 first downs. SEHS committed two costly turnovers as well - one fumble and one pick.
Neil Flattery sparked St. Edmond offensively with 82 yards on 12 carries, while Steinkamp rumbled for 63 yards on 20 attempts.
"We have to win our last two games now to still make the playoffs," Tighe said. "I'm confident our kids will bounce back and be ready to go next week."
The Gaels travel to Gilbert (3-4, 2-3) on Friday. The Tigers knocked off CMB last evening, 21-13.
Contact Josh Meyer at (515) 573-2141, or by e-mail at email@example.com