ST. ANSGAR — Nothing comes easy on the football field, and St. Ansgar is a team which has known that as well as anyone in its recent history, which includes a state title in 2011. To get to that point, work starts right away when a player enters the program.
With one of the best senior classes to come through the school in a long time graduated after last season’s run to the Class A semifinals, the program was about to be put through a challenge that would test what it has been building. Could a bunch of sophomores, juniors and seniors come together quick enough that there would be little to no fall off?
A 41-35 win over Osage which it barley hung on to open the season was the perfect example of what the Saints faced, and how far they’ve come defensively since then leading into Friday’s quarterfinal game vs. Gladbrook-Reinbeck.
“I think we were in a unique position early in the year,” St. Ansgar coach Drew Clevenger said. “I think we were playing kids in a typical year we wouldn’t.”
Over the next nine games, the Saints' defense continued to improve and passed every test that was put in front of it. Whether it was hanging on to beat West Hancock for a district title or opening the playoffs last week with a dominating second-half performance against East Buchanan, the Saints stood tall.
“Compared to the Osage game where things kind of got out of hand, when it came to East Buc after the second half we got under controlled and started getting things done,” senior Josh Van Vliet said. “We had a few setbacks, like the punt return, but the only thing you can do is keep your head up and move on to the next play.”
It was a host of players making an impact on that side of the ball
Senior Dayton Smith did what he does and flew around and made plays all night, junior defensive back Collin Kramer was at his best when East Buchanan was forced to go to the air as he picked off two passes, and senior Noah Bishop was a hard to handle along the defensive line.
After the game, it was Bishop’s play that stood out most.
“I told him that was about as good as we’ve seen him play defensively, and that’s what you need this time of year,” Clevenger said. “When you’re in these types of games you need your seniors leading the way. That’s the way it’s supposed to work.”
For Bishop, a three-year starter, all it’s taken is hard work, he said. Bishop is third on the team in tackles with 45 1/2 total, including seven for a loss.
“We just keep on practicing and we’re just getting off the blocks so we can get the tackles,” Bishop said.
St. Ansgar has guys like Bishop all over its roster who have put in the work to keep the Saints among the top teams in Class A.
Clevenger pointed to sophomore Adam Williams as an example. Williams was pressed into duty at the start of the season at linebacker because it was an area of need and Williams was the best choice. Now, he’s currently sixth on the team in tackles with 30 total.
“He probably was not ready – wet behind the ears – but he was the best that we had so we rolled with him, and he’s just grown up and really understands the concepts of what we’re trying to do. Not only understands buts is able to execute them as well,” Clevenger said.
It’ll take a total team effort Friday night when the Saints host defending champion Gladbrook-Reinbeck. But it’s a challenge their more than ready for after the Rebels ended the Saints’ season last year in the UNI-Dome.
“We’re looking forward to try and beat them this year,” Bishop said.