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Rebels reign again No. 2 G-R relies on top-ranked defense Stephen Koenigsfeld T-R Assistant Sports Editor

December 2, 2016
Northern-Sun Print
CEDAR FALLS — For the first time since 2009, a team defended its state title at the Class A level. The second-ranked Gladbrook-Reinbeck football team used its best-in-the-state defense to fend off a late answer from No. 4 Bishop Garrigan to win its second-straight state title. It’s the first time in school history a Rebel team went undefeated (13-0) on its way to a state championship. The road wasn’t easy, and Mason Skovgard put it perfectly in saying a state title should never be an easy accomplishment. “They were fast. They were physical,” Skovgard said. “It was tough. It was definitely the toughest game of the season. They’re [Gibson Behr] was really fast. Tonight, we just played with a lot of heart and came out in the end with the win.” This year’s Class A state title matchup paired the best two defenses in the state against each other. The Rebels averaged just six points per game, which went up from 5.27 points per game after a 28-14 win against No. 1 Saint Ansgar a week ago. T-R PHOTO ADAM RING • Gladbrook-Reinbeck’s Gage Murty (33) escapes the tackle attempt of Bishop Garrigan’s Drew Bacha (11) in the Class A state title game Thursday at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls. G-R won 20-19, claiming its second title in a row. Bishop Garrigan (12-1) allowed just 7.3 points per game coming into Thursday’s contest, and seemed to be proving just how difficult it was going to be to score on it early in the game. With the Rebels marching on their opening drive, Gage Murty fumbled into the end zone, leaving his team without a score. On the ensuing drive, the Bears had no problems scoring with just more than five and a half minutes to play in the first quarter. Matt Johannsen fell down on a coverage play that led to another Bear touchdown, but the missed PAT would end up playing a shocking factor later on. However, at the time being, the Bears led 13-0 with all the momentum in their favor. “The defense has been really good all year, and they’ve been really good all year to be honest,” said G-R coach John Olson. “We’re one of those teams that says, ‘You’re not going to go 20 plays, 80 yards on our defense. And they did it twice, maybe 13 plays, so it comes down to Bishop [Garrigan] being a fantastic, hard-nosed, well-coached team. It was tough for our defense. Our defense played a lot of good plays in a row, but they gave us everything they’ve got.” Despite driving the field a couple times on G-R’s defense, the Bears’ offense couldn’t do it again when it mattered most. After a Johannsen touchdown put G-R up 20-19 with just shy of 6:30 to play, the Rebels’ defense held its ground on a 4th-and-2 run play, stuffing Grant Busherfeld on a miscue handoff, which turned the ball over at midfield. Walker Thede got around on the outside, moving the Rebels into Bear territory, and a back-shoulder throw to Erik Knaack that came short — but not too short — got the Rebels down inside the Bears’ 10-yard line. The rest was history. “It was nice to take that final knee and win a state championship,” said G-R quarterback Hunter Lott. “We just had to stay calm [because] we’ve been here before. We know what it’s like to get too high and to get too low. We got down 13-0 and losing, but we kept our heads in it and fought back to win it in the end.” G-R found the end zone for the first time on a Parker Bown spring from nine yards out. He finished with 85 rushing yards on 16 carries. On the first play from scrimmage for Bishop Garrigan, the ball was popped loose and the Rebels took over at the Bears’ 21-yard line. Lott scrambled in for a 10-yard touchdown to go ahead 14-13 with 2:31 left to play in the half. The junior quarterback, who played in his third-straight state title game, finished 11-for-14 with 139 passing yards and a touchdown. He also ran 13 times for 38 yards and a score. The Rebels went for a 2-point conversion up 20-19, but failed. The two teams were just as evenly matched on offense as they were on defense. Bishop Garrigan amassed the most total offensive yards (293) on the Rebels’ defense this year, while recording second-most rushing yards (197), fifth-most passing yards (96) in the process as well. G-R’s 307 yards of offense was the most the Bears had given up all season, as well as the third-most passing yards (139) and third-most rushing yards (168). For Olson, it was the offensive effort the postseason — which included a 35-0 win against No. 7 Montezuma in the second round of the playoffs — that was the reason the Rebels remained atop Class A. “When I look back at the playoff run, our defense was solid, no doubt,” Olson said. “But our offense, these last three times, clicked. Our offense got physical against Montezuma, was physical against St. Ansgar and was physical today. That was the turning point that made us a championship team. I give all the credit to Darren Turnk and Sean Babinat, who volunteers his time and is a heck of an offensive mind.” Two fumbles in the red zone could have potentially killed any hope of repeating as state champs. Bishop Garrigan head coach Marty Wadle said his team did a good job taking advantage of Rebel errors. “The fumble helped us on that, but I thought we did a really good job of play calling tonight,” Wadle said. “We kept them off key and off balance a little bit and our kids executed. We had some momentum there, but we got a little bit lackadaisical, and it turned around.” The back-to-back state titles were the first since 2008-09, and just the fourth time in Class A history. G-R became the first school to play in three consecutive state title games.

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