EMMETSBURG - Only two football teams since the start of the 2008 season have managed to beat Emmetsburg on its home turf.
Tonight, St. Edmond (9-1 overall) will look to become just the third opponent in the last five years to accomplish that rare feat.
Kickoff for the highly-anticipated Class 1A second-round playoff showdown between the fifth-ranked Gaels and No. 3 E-Hawks (9-1) is set for 7 p.m. at Duane Twait Field.
"I expect (the E-Hawks) to run right at us and try to physically dominate the line of scrimmage," said SEHS head coach Dick Tighe, who became just the 12th coach ever nationally to collect his 400th career victory in St. Edmond's 41-7 first-round thumping of Western Christian last Wednesday. "I don't think they'll do anything very fancy other than just playing straight-ahead power football."
Senior workhorse Alex Mericle continued his impressive senior campaign for the green and white, notching 225 yards rushing and three touchdowns against the Wolfpack. The 190-pound tailback ranks second in 1A in carries (263), fourth in scoring (166 points) and fifth in total yards (1,708) on the ground.
Mericle has established school records this year for single-season rushing yards, single-season attempts and career scores (38). He is fourth in St. Edmond history in rushing yards (2,355) and needs 177 more this evening to set the all-time Gael mark.
"I'm sure we'll probably use the same approach (tonight) that we have all season, which is rely on our running attack," Tighe said. "Our passing game might be needed at times, though, as a change of pace to keep (Emmetsburg) honest defensively."
Junior fullback Vinnie Harvey and senior wingbacks Matt Stumpf and Aaron McElroy have also combined for 1,093 yards rushing and 10 scores for SEHS. Team-wise, the Gaels are fourth in 1A in yards on the ground (3,012).
Quarterback David Flattery, a St. Edmond senior, has thrown for 573 yards, including eight endzone strikes and two interceptions. Sophomore Landon Peed has hauled in 18 catches for 446 yards and six scores.
The Gaels also boast the top scoring defense in 1A, allowing just seven points per game. St. Edmond has amassed 23 takeaways and posted three shutouts.
Senior linebacker Teddie Harvey leads the state with 169 tackles, including 18 for loss. SEHS, which is 4-9 all-time in 10 playoff trips, has outscored its foes this season, 344-70.
"We need to stuff them the first series and can't let them drive right down the field on us," said Tighe. "I think we match up pretty decently, but we need to get off to a good start and build some early momentum."
Tradition-rich Emmetsburg is making its state record 37th all-time postseason appearance and ranks second in Iowa history in playoff wins (70). The District 1 champion E-Hawks, who own nine state titles from three different classes, blanked Ridge View by a 41-0 count in their postseason opener.
"We're coming along offensively and defensively, and we've improved throughout the year," EHS head coach Mike Dunlap said. "St. Edmond is a well-coached and senior-dominated football team that will be really physical. They have great athletes and obviously a very good tailback (Mericle)."
Andrew Wellik, a 200-pound senior, has been the focal point in the vaunted Emmetsburg ground charge, gaining a 1A best 2,011 yards on 185 totes for a 10.9 average per carry. Wellik, who is third in the state in yards on the ground, is second in 1A in scoring (174 points) and is tied for second in rushing touchdowns (28).
Wellik has delivered over 140 yards in all but one game this season, including five with at least 220.
Junior Allen Jensen (74 attempts, 525 yards, 7 TD), senior Cody Henderson (55-385-2) and junior Brady Christensen (22-372-8) have each made the most of their limited roles as well for the E-Hawks, who rank first in the state in total rushing yards (4,186). Emmetsburg, which produces a staggering 45.5 points and 418.6 rushing yards per contest, dropped a 34-14 home decision to 2A's top-ranked and unbeaten Boyden-Hull/Rock Valley in Week 2 for its lone setback of the year.
Signal-caller Jake Jackson, an EHS senior, has passed for 304 yards with six scores and one pick. Classmate Nick Schany has been his favorite target, pulling down nine grabs for 191 yards.
Defensively, the E-Hawks have forced 27 turnovers, registered three shutouts and are yielding just 11.6 points a night. Jackson is tied for second in the state with eight interceptions from his secondary spot.
Both St. Edmond and Emmetsburg have prevailed over three common opponents this season - Manson Northwest Webster, Western Christian and Ridge View. Since falling in a 7-6 defensive slugfest to eventual unbeaten District 2 champion IKM-Manning in Week 6, SEHS has reeled off four straight triumphs.
Dating back to the 2004 campaign, the Gaels are 2-4 in six meetings against the E-Hawks. Emmetsburg ousted St. Edmond in the first round of the 2004 playoffs, while the Gaels eliminated the E-Hawks in their 2005 postseason opener.
Emmetsburg's other home loss in the last five years came in the 2009 first-round of the 1A playoffs against eventual state runner-up South Winneshiek. During that stretch, the E-Hawks are a sparkling 31-2 at Duane Twait Field.
Tonight's St. Edmond/Emmetsburg winner advances to face either fourth-ranked IKM-Manning (10-0) or South O'Brien (8-2) in a 1A quarterfinal Friday at 7 p.m. at a site to be determined.