CEDAR FALLS — Fort Dodge St. Edmond ended Van Meter’s record-breaking season, handing the Bulldogs a 35-14 defeat in the Class 1A semifinals at the UNI-Dome on Nov. 16.
The Gaels held Van Meter to a season-low 68 rushing yards, forced four turnovers and pulled away with 21 unanswered points after the Bulldogs rallied for two touchdowns to tie the game in the third quarter.
“We just couldn’t finish it,” said coach Eric Trudo, who led Van Meter to a school-record 12 wins this season. “It shouldn’t take away from the season. We had a fantastic year.”
Van Meter twice converted on fourth-down attempts during its first scoring drive. Ben Flaherty hauled in a fourth-and-10 catch at the St. Edmond 34-yard line to give the Bulldogs a new set of downs. Four plays later, quarterback Brandon Brittain hit Logan Crawford, who streaked into the end zone for a 33-yard touchdown catch.
After forcing a three-and-out, Brittain led Van Meter on a game-tying drive. After trying for a first down up the middle, he rolled left on a keeper and ran 6 yards for the game-tying score with 8 seconds left in the third quarter.
“I think we came out and played much better in the second half,” Trudo said.
St. Edmond answered on its next drive, aided by a Van Meter penalty that gave the Gaels a first down. T.J. O’Tool ran from midfield down to the Bulldog 5, and Vinnie Harvey punched it into the end zone to put the Gaels up again.
With its ground game struggling, Van Meter opted for the air. Brittain was 13-of-30 for 199 yards, but was hampered by a tall defensive front of St. Edmond’s, led by defensive end Konrad Laufersweiler, that was adept at deflecting passes. A tipped pass led to an interception on Van Meter’s next drive, and back-to-back carries by Harvey put St. Edmond in the end zone once again.
O’Tool added a 40-yard interception return for a touchdown on the next drive, effectively putting the game out of reach and creating a final score not indicative of what had been a well-balanced semifinal game.
Crawford caught five passes for 67 yards, while Flaherty caught five passes for 66 yards. Cody Blackwell carried 10 times for 30 yards.
Crawford paced the defense with 17 tackles. Chase Wyant had 15, including one sack, Spencer Benton had nine and Parker Suckow eight.
Van Meter ended its record-setting season with a 12-1 mark. The team posted its first undefeated regular season since 2001, reached the semifinals for the first time since 1996 and played in the UNI-Dome for the first time in school history.
“They’re champions through and through,” Trudo said. “That all speaks for itself.”
The Bulldogs outscored their opponents 425-137 this season, an average of nearly 23 points per game. They recorded five shutouts, over Earlham, Mount Ayr, Des Moines Christian, Treynor and Ogden, the last two coming in the playoffs.
The team’s 15 seniors, many of whom played on Van Meter’s baseball team — also coached by Trudo — that reached the semifinals last summer, made an impact all over the field this season and won’t be easy to replace. Among them, Brittain combined for 2,927 yards of offense and 34 touchdowns. Hoppes picked off seven passes, Crawford recorded 101 tackles and Benton collected seven solo sacks.
“They’ve set a pretty high standard, and one that we will work hard to maintain and improve upon,” Trudo said of the team’s seniors. “They did a great job and they will be missed.”