SIOUX CITY — Creston/O-M cornerback Maxx Walters stepped in front of a Trent Solsma pass intended for a running back in the right flat, and raced 57 yards for a Panther touchdown on the eighth play of Wednesday’s Class 3A playoff game at Morningside College.
The early 7-0 Panther lead accomplished two things — 1) Some much needed momentum against the state’s top-ranked team; and 2) A wake-up call for the 9-0 Crusaders.
“Trent just made a bad decision,” said Heelan coach Roger Jansen. “He’s human. I think it did open our eyes a little bit.”
But highlights thereafter were few and far between for the Panthers as Heelan went on to roll to a 45-7 victory in the Class 3A opener. The game site was changed after two days of rain in the Sioux City area.
Preserving the natural turf at Heelan’s Memorial Field for two additional games the Crusaders could possibly host, coach Jansen’s speedy set of receivers and Solsma’s accurate arm helped the team account for 504 yards in total offense on the artificial field turf of Morningside’s Olsen Stadium. The Crusaders’ first punt came with 5:41 remaining in the game.
Solsma finished the night 20-of-24 for 285 yards and three touchdowns. It was the eighth time this season that Heelan (10-0) has reached Iowa’s mercy rule with a running clock by building a lead of 35 points or more.
Heelan advances to a second-round home game Monday against Spencer, a rematch of the regular season finale won by the Crusaders, 42-17. Spencer led 17-7 in that game and ran for 346 yards.
Jansen said his team will need a better mental performance than Wednesday’s game to attain a second victory over the Tigers. Two turnovers and six penalties for 58 yards left him less than satisfied.
“We have to be more focused and play with more of a sense of urgency,” Jansen said. “We have to quit turning the ball over. And we had four or five holding penalties.”
Walters’ early interception provided Creston/O-M an emotional boost. Heelan held just a 14-7 lead after one period, which grew to 24-7 with 2:17 left in the half.
But field position, a problem for Creston/O-M all night, gave Heelan one last chance for another score when Gavin Leith punted out of his own end zone with 1:03 remaining.
The Crusaders took over at the Panther 45-yard line, and Solsma hit slot back Phillip Jacobson on two quick strikes, the second for another touchdown from 22 yards with 47 seconds left.
That made it 31-7 heading into intermission.
“In a couple of situations, we had bad field position, and against that team if you have bad field position, like giving them 30 yards, that’s two plays,” Morrison said. “They’re explosive. I wanted to keep it at a two-possession game, or two and a half. We almost did that.”
A second fake punt by the Panthers later in the third didn’t work out as well as the first one in the opening half, when up-back Alex Nielsen took the snap and ran 9 yards for a first down on fourth-and-three
This time, a pass by Nielsen out of the same formation was picked off by Heelan linebacker Tyler Smith, who romped 23 yards for a touchdown. That made it 45-7, and started the mercy rule running clock with 5:41 remaining in the third quarter.
At halftime, Heelan had 260 yards passing and 116 on the ground, including a 53-yard scoring run on a sweep by Tyler Cropley. Junior running back Tony Tobin complemented the Heelan passing game with 114 yards on 12 carries, giving him 951 yards for the season.
Meanwhile, Creston/O-M (6-4) was limited to 15 yards rushing and 1 yard passing at halftime. The Panthers finished with just four first downs, 45 net yards rushing and 42 yards passing.
Quarterback Brandon Phipps, under pressure all night by a Crusader pass rush led by defensive end Christian Brobst — who lost to Panther state champion Keaton Hulett in last year’s quarterfinals — finished 1-of-5 for 1 yard. Trevor Frain completed a 41-yard halfback pass to Walters.
The active Heelan defense limited Panther senior running back Adam Baker to 34 yards, giving him a season total of 1,159 yards.
While the team is known for its offense that scores 45 points per game, Jansen said his defense again answered the bell. Frequent blitzes kept consistent pressure on Phipps, who rarely had time to survey the field for open receivers.
“Our defense has been steady all year,” Jansen said. “We like playing running teams. We have some schemes that allow us to bring a lot of people from a lot of different places. We live and die with pressure. These kids love the style that we play. They’re a special group.”
“I hope Heelan wins it all,” Morrison said. “They’re good, there’s no doubt about it. They are deserving of the number one ranking in the state.”
Nielsen, coming off an ankle injury, played safety all night as Bryce Briley was ruled out with concussion symptoms from Friday’s Lewis Central game. However, receiver/defensive back McClain Haines, wearing a protective cast over his left hand, made his first appearance since suffering multiple fractures in a finger Sept. 2.
Morrison met with his 12 seniors on the field after speaking to the entire squad. They were freshmen when he succeeded Dick Bergstrom as head coach. They were part of three playoff teams.
“That group really set the foundation of what we’re trying to do here,” Morrison said. “Not to take away anything from coach Bergstrom, who set the program for what it is. But this group of freshmen from that first year, they’ve stayed together and they’ve been the glue of our team. You can’t replace their athletic ability, but hopefully their leadership will stay with us through the underclassmen.”
District goes 1-3
District 1 went 1-3 on the opening night of postseason. Harlan rallied to beat Le Mars, 20-14, setting up a rematch with Carroll, after losing to the Tigers 14-13 early in the season. Carroll advanced with a 27-7 win over ADM.
At Council Bluffs, Spencer defeated Lewis Central 35-25.
Bishop Heelan 45, Creston/O-M 7
Points by quarter
Creston/O-M 7 0 0 0 — 7
Heelan 14 17 14 0 — 45
C — Maxx Walters 57 interception return (Conner Pals kick), 9:17
H — Tony Tobin 2 run (Jason Sloniker kick), 7:24
H — Tyler Cropley 53 run (Sloniker kick), 3:26
H — Tucker Spears 4 pass from Trent Solsma (Sloniker kick), 8:04
H — Sloniker 25 FG, 2:12
H — Philip Jacobson 23 pass from Solsma (Sloniker kick), :47
H — Connor Niles 25 pass from Solsma (Sloniker kick), 7:20
H — Tyler Smith 23 interception return (Sloniker kick), 5:41
C/O-M ... Heelan
First downs 4 ... 24
Rushes-yards 45 ... 219
Passing yards 42 ... 285
Total yards 87 ... 504
Punts-avg. 7-35.3 ... 1-34.0
Return yards 202 ... 52
Fumbles-lost 0-0 ... 2-1
Penalties-yards 5-45 ... 6-58
RUSHING — C/O-M: Adam Baker 16-34, Trevor Frain 10-24, Alex Nielsen 1-7, Brandon Phipps 6-(-24). H: Tony Tobin 12-114, Tyler Cropley 2-58, Nick Bousquet 7-27, Trent Solsma 4-24, Phillip Jacobson 2-7, Jesse Pease 1-3, Drew Kasperbauer 1-(-3).
PASSING — C/O-M: Brandon Phipps 1-5-0 for 1 yard; Trevor Frain 1-1-0 for 41 yards; Alex Nielsen 0-1-1. H: Trent Solsma 20-24-1 for 285 yards.
RECEIVING — C/O-M: Maxx Walters 1-41, Frain 1-1. H: Philip Jacobson 10-160, Connor Niles 6-64, Tyler Cropley 3-44, Tony Tobin 1-11, Tucker Spears 1-4.
PUNTS-AVG. — C/O-M: Gavin Leith 7-35.3. H: Keaton Slaughter 1-34.0.
TACKLE LEADERS (solo-assists) — C/O-M: Trevor Frain 3-13, Levi Eblen 1-12, Jesse Rathe 3-9, Gavin Leith 1-9, Alex Nielsen 0-8, Conner Pals 1-4, Jordan Thompson 0-4, Adam Baker 2-2, Maxx Walters 1-3, Cory Rathe 0-3, Alex Chapman 0-2
INTERCEPTIONS — C/O-M: Walters. H: Tyler Smith.
FUMBLE RECOVERIES — C/O-M: J. Rathe.
TACKLES FOR LOSS (YARDS) — Eblen 1-2, J. Rathe 1-2, Baker 1-1.