COUNCIL BLUFFS — Big defensive plays proved to be the biggest difference maker in Mount Ayr’s 28-0 loss to Council Bluffs St. Albert here on Friday in the Class 1A quarterfinals.
Meeting for the second straight season in the playoffs, Mount Ayr hoped to erase the memories of last year’s 47-7 playoff loss.
But, things quickly took a turn for the worse on the third play of the game.
Mount Ayr quarterback Jacob Sobotka hit Erik Freed in the flat with a third-and-13 pass. Freed initially hauled in the pass and as he turned to run upfield, the ball popped out of his hands and into the hands of St. Albert cornerback Tucker Culjat, who easily raced 16 yards into the end zone to give the Falcons an early 7-0 lead.
But, the Raiders appeared to recover quickly as they methodically marched down the field on the ensuing drive, chewing up more than 7:00 of clock in the process.
The Raiders converted on three third downs on the drive thanks to big plays from Freed, Cody Stackhouse and Shane Swank. They also picked up a fourth down conversion to keep the drive alive.
Facing a second-and-goal from the 3-yard line, the Raiders committed an illegal procedure penalty forcing them backward. After Stackhouse lost yardage on a pitch to the left, Sobotka twice threw the ball up for receiver Braydee Poore in the end zone, but both passes fell incomplete thanks to Culjat’s defense, and the Raiders came away without points.
“We were down there in the red zone and had a penalty,” co-head coach Delwyn Showalter said. “We were going to score on that play. We had a quarterback sweep called, and I think we were going to walk into the end zone on that one.
“We had a penalty and then that gets us off schedule. That was just tough for us to recover from. You can’t make mistakes against this team, because they’re just too good.”
After ending the first half in a 7-0 hole, Mount Ayr pinned the Falcons back at their own 7-yard line with a punt on the first play of the second quarter.
After Jake Bendgen ran the ball out to the 30, the Falcons committed a false start penalty. On the very next play, Isaac Finn took the ball up the gut 75 yards for a touchdown to give St. Albert a 14-0 lead.
On the ensuing Raider drive, Sobotka connected with Poore who shook off several defenders on a nice catch and run to convert on a third-and-20, but the Raiders stalled out after that play and were forced to punt.
“We had moved the ball, especially through the air, and the defense had really played well outside of the big run,” co-head coach Derek Lambert said. “Outside of that play, the defense had shut them down, and really made them work hard to move the ball.”
The Raiders got the ball back with just :56 remaining in the first half at their own 15-yard line, but quickly moved the ball to midfield giving them a chance for a big scoring play with :02 remaining.
Sobotka rolled out to his right as Poore ran a backside post route and appeared to get himself open. As Sobotka went to throw the ball, his elbow got bumped and the ball floated up into the air and Falcon lineman Sean O’Niell ran under it and ran it back 51 yards untouched for a backbreaking touchdown as time expired in the half.
“We told Braydee to split the safeties back there,” Lambert said. “We really thought the near safety to our trips side would kind of come up and take the flag route, and Braydee would be one-on-one with the safety, and we’ll take Braydee on that any day.
“He had a tremendous season, and we wanted to give him an opportunity to make a big catch for us there. They stunted a couple of linebackers and we didn’t get the protection we needed, so we got hit and the ball just kind of fluttered. We really felt like we gave them two scores in the first half. We were thinking it should have been a 7-7 ballgame or a 7-0 ballgame at halftime.”
The Falcons added another score with 1:30 left in the third quarter, making it a 28-0 ballgame, but the game was certainly closer than the score indicated.
“They matched us physically, which no team has done this year,” St. Albert head coach Kevin Culjat said. “You saw some hits out there. What an unbelievable game for hits. They’re a very good, very well-coached football team. I told them, I wouldn’t be surprised if next year we’re doing this again down there next year for the same trip to the Dome. They’re good, they’re young and they’re going to be a force for a long time.”
It was a heartbreaking end to the best season (11-1) in school history for six seniors — Poore, Zane Sickels, Dylan Doman, Johnathan Triggs, Levi Martin and Swank.
“It’s always difficult to see a good group of kids go,” Showalter said. “Every year you feel bad. You want to end with a win every year. We’re disappointed tonight, but our guys got an awful lot out of their ability.”
“We’re going to miss those seniors,” Lambert added. “They did a great job of leading us, and we’re really going to miss them.”
St. Albert 28, Mount Ayr 0
Mount Ayr 0 0 0 0 - 0
St. Albert 7 14 7 0 - 28
SA — Tucker Culjat 16 interception return (Jon Meyerring kick), 11:14
SA — Isaac Finn 75 run (Meyerring kick), 10:36
SA — Sean O’Niell 51 interception return (Meyerring kick), :00
SA — Jake Lewis 1 run (Meyerring kick), 1:30
Rushing: MA - Jacob Sobotka 16-41, Erik Freed 4-21, Cody Stackhouse 4-3, Riley Weehler 2-(-4). SA - Isaac Finn 10-138, Tucker Culjat 15-87, Jake Bendgen 20-83, Jake Lewis 1-1, Cole Herr 2-(-4).
Passing: MA - Sobotka 15-29-3 for 157 yards. SA - Culjat 2-6-0 for 44 yards.
Receiving: MA - Braydee Poore 4-59, Stackhouse 4-52, Freed 3-25, Shane Swank 3-21. SA - Eric Johnson 1-16, Jim Hawk 1-28.
Tackles (solo-assists): MA - Mason Mercer (4-9), Sobotka (3-5), Zane Sickels (2-6), Riley Weehler (0-7), Joe Ricker (3-4), Swank (3-4), Stackhouse (1-3), Levi Martin (0-4), Poore (2-1), Johnathan Triggs (1-1).
Tackles for loss: MA - Mercer 2, Sickels 1, Joe Ricker 1.