Determined to make a statement in their District 7 opener, the St. Edmond football team answered the call and proved its worth here Saturday night.
Relying on an opportunistic defensive effort and a punishing ground assault, the No. 7 (Class 2A) Gaels (3-0 overall, 1-0 in district) remained unbeaten on the year with a surprisingly-comfortable 27-7 home triumph over fourth-ranked and defending state runner-up North Polk (2-1, 0-1).
"(Last evening's victory) ranks right up there with the big wins I've had since I've been (at St. Edmond)," said 10th-year Gael head coach Dick Tighe. "Once we got up by two scores, we just kind of took (the Comets) out of their game and forced them to soften up.
"I was pleased with our effort all the way around."
SEHS generated 316 yards of total offense in the contest, including 251 rushing on 39 carries. Senior Neil Flattery, who eclipsed the 1,000-yard barrier for his career a week ago, ignited the green and white once again with 188 yards and three touchdowns on 21 carries. Flattery reached paydirt from 67, 5 and 3 yards out.
"Neil really ran hard," Tighe said. "We had excellent blocking up front (on the line), and he was able to break a big one to the outside and was off to the races."
Junior signal-caller David Flattery also connected with senior split end Nick Clark on a highlight-reel 31-yard scoring reception off a go route with 3:20 remaining in the second quarter, which erased a brief North Polk lead. Flattery also found Clark on a nifty 34-yard strike earlier in the efficient two-play, 65-yard drive.
"We decided to take a shot over the top with all (the North Polk) guys moving up in the (defensive) box," said Tighe. "Clark just went up and made a couple of terrific catches."
Despite running only 16 plays from scrimmage in the first half compared to 38 for the Comets, the Gaels still managed to enter the break in a 7-7 deadlock.
"They were really moving the ball on us early in the game," Tighe said. "Give credit to (defensive coordinator) Pat Schomberg for making the proper adjustments. Our (5-2) defense stresses putting pressure on the quarterback and we certainly have the personnel to do that."
The Gaels, who have yet to commit a turnover so far this season, were anchored defensively by junior linebacker Alex Mericle with a career-high 23 tackles, including six solo.
"Mericle stepped up and played a great game," said Tighe. "He was all over the field for us."
Clark collected two picks for SEHS as well from his free safety spot, while junior cornerback Matt Stumpf and senior defensive end Ross Taets each notched one interception apiece.
"We were pretty confident coming in and knew we just had to shut down 35 (North Polk senior all-stater Noah Pickard)," Clark said. "This (win) shows we can play with anyone as long as we're physical.
"We had a lot of fun (Saturday) and played with a lot of emotion. This was definitely my most memorable win (as a football player)."
Pickard supplied a bright spot for the Comets with 140 yards rushing and a touchdown on 29 totes. Senior quarterback Kyle Stillmunkes finished 18-for-31 through the air for 176 yards.
Jacob Hadaway, a junior, was Stillmunkes' favorite target with six receptions for 90 yards.
Next action for the Gaels is Friday at Baxter CMB (3-0, 1-0).
Contact Josh Meyer at (515) 573-2141, or by e-mail at email@example.com