ST. ANSGAR — This year’s St. Ansgar team is almost entirely different, personnel-wise, than the one which played in the Class A semifinals last season in the UNI-Dome. Don’t think the holdovers from that team forgot how their run ended, though.
The Saints watched a perfect season crumble before their eyes in a 28-14 loss vs. Gladbrook-Reinbeck. It’s a loss that still drives them this season, and now St. Ansgar will get a chance to avenge that defeat tonight when the Saints host the Rebels in a Class A quarterfinal at 7 p.m.
“It doesn’t matter who you’re playing, when you get down the Round of 8 and the quarterfinals you’re going to play a good team,” St. Ansgar coach Drew Clevenger said. “We know we’re going to have to be at our absolute best. They are a tremendously coached team and they’re every bit the program that we are and more.
“They’ve got something we want and we’re going to do our best to give it to them (tonight).”
The ninth-ranked Saints come into tonight’s game in a similar situation to last year’s game.
St. Ansgar brings in a 10-0 record and has played some of its best all-around football of late, highlighted by a game last Friday in last week’s opening-round win over East Buchanan.
On that cold night in St. Ansgar, the Saints flexed their muscle running the ball, and then the defense closed out the Buccaneers in the second half to send them into a third straight quarterfinal appearance.
Senior Josh Van Vliet led the Saints in the win with 207 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries.
For the Saints, who are built for the weather the playoffs in Iowa bring, it was a good start. They know there’s still work to do, though.
“We take a lot of pride, but as soon as that game is over, Sunday comes around and we’re like ‘OK, onto the next,’ and we’ve got Gladbrook which is something we’re kind of excited about,” Van Vliet said.
Playing outdoors this year as compared with in the UNI-Dome last year could mean some differences as well.
Defending state champion Gladbrook-Reinbeck, which is ranked seventh, is a team which is not shy to go to the air. Quarterback Hunter Lott has thrown for 1,607 yards and has 20 touchdowns to just four interceptions. Lott threw for 193 yards in last year’s state semifinal game vs. the Saints.
Walker Thede and Matt Johnson have been Lott’s this season as the duo has combined for 1,256 yards and 18 touchdowns.
“With what they do offensively, we’re probably better off playing them outdoors than we are in the Dome,” Clevenger said. “They’re certainly going to be plenty dangerous out here as well, but we’re a team that’s maybe more built for outdoor weather conditions than other teams, so every time we get a good team in our house we feel pretty good about our chances.”