COUNCIL BLUFFS — Kevin Culjat immediately knew he’d made a mistake.
The Council Bluffs St. Albert coach said he was trying to use a timeout with about 15 seconds left in the first half, with Mount Ayr facing a fourth and 2 at its 48. He was hoping to go for a punt block.
By the time it was granted, there were only 8.9 seconds remaining. So Mount Ayr went for it. And that’s where the mistake transformed into the perfect timeout.
St. Albert’s Nate Dunning hit quarterback Jacob Sobotka just as he released a would-be Hail Mary. The ball fluttered to nearby Sean O’Neill, who plucked it out of the air and returned it 45 yards to give St. Albert a 21-0 lead. The Falcons went on to a 28-0 Class 1-A state quarterfinal victory on Friday at Al Leber Field.
“I’m thinking with 15 we can hold them and try for the block,” St. Albert coach Kevin Culjat said. “It backfired, and then all of a sudden it worked out in my favor. That was a huge play.”
State No. 8 St. Albert (11-1) extended its remarkable run by advancing to the UNI-Dome for the ninth time in 10 years. The Falcons will play their 16th game in the Cedar Falls indoor facility on Nov. 10 at 1:06 p.m., when they meet No. 3 Emmetsburg (11-1), which hammered No. 4 IKM-Manning 55-7.
St. Albert has rattled off 10 straight wins after a humbling 48-0 loss to crosstown rival Lewis Central.
“I don’t know if we’ve ever gotten beat that bad at home, by a very good football team,” Culjat said. “Two days later, we went out in full gear for about 3½ hours, and the coaches coached a little better and we made some personnel changes.
“Give credit to the seniors. Some starters lost their jobs, some guys switched positions. But nobody said a word. They just kind of banded together and continued to grow throughout the season.”
Big plays marked Friday’s contest, and St. Albert made all of them.
On the third play of the game, Tucker Culjat returned an interception 14 yards for a score and a 7-0 Falcon lead.
Mount Ayr then went on an 18-play drive that covered nearly 80 yards. But on second and goal at the Falcon 3, the Raiders jumped offsides. Culjat broke up a third-down pass in the end zone and then denied a Raider receiver on fourth down as well, giving St. Albert possession.
St. Albert went ahead 14-0 with 10:36 left in the second quarter when Isaac Finn darted 75 yards up the middle for a score. At the time, the hosts had mustered just 21 yards of offense.
“A lot of it was the linemen, and especially (fullback) Jake Lewis,” Finn said. “After the first couple plays he told me to trust him, and it would be there. … I trusted him and it was there.”
Finn is the grandson of the field’s namesake, who is deceased.
“It’s very emotional, not just because of him but the whole family,” Finn said. “Everybody’s played here.”
O’Neill’s touchdown on the last play of the half, his first at any level, demoralized the Raiders.
“When I grabbed it, I was ecstatic,” he said. “I was like, I’m going, I’m going.”
St. Albert didn’t allow the Raiders much hope in the second half. Lewis’ 1-yard plunge made it 28-0 with 1:30 left in the third. The Falcons allowed just 200 yards of offense while rolling up 345, including 301 on the ground.
Finn finished with 10 carries for 138 yards, Tucker Culjat added 13 rushes for another 98 in addition to his two interceptions on defense, and Jake Bendgen pitched in 19 for 73, as normal starter Cole Herr carried just twice due to injury.
“It’s all up to our coaching staff,” Lewis said. “They do great coaching schemes all year. It’s all on them. We just execute what they tell us to do.”
Kevin Cujlat said most of the credit goes to his players and the assistants.
“I’m so proud of them and the coaching staff, and the way they came together through the course of the year,” he said. “I don’t know if we have any elite players, but boy, we play well together. We really do.”
Mount Ayr co-coach Delwyn Showalter said his team had its chances, but allowed too many big plays.
“St. Albert has tremendous speed, and that was the thing we were concerned with coming in,” he said. “We handled it pretty well for the most part, but there were a few plays where they got loose on us. … You can’t make mistakes against these guys. They’re too good.”
Mount Ayr (11-1) .................. 0 0 0 0—0
CB St. Albert (11-1) .................. 7 14 7 0—28
SA: Tucker Culjat 14 interception return (Jon Meyerring kick)
SA: Isaac Finn 75 run (Meyerring kick)
SA: Sean O’Neill 45 interception return (Meyerring kick)
SA: Jake Lewis 1 run (Meyerring kick)
RUSHING: MA, Jacob Sobotka 17-42, Erik Freed 5-35, Cody Stackhouse 3-(-2), Riley Weehler 2-(-4). SA, Isaac Finn 10-138, Tucker Culjat 13-98, Jake Bendgen 19-73, Jake Lewis 1-1, Cole Herr 2-(-2), team 2-(-2).
PASSING: MA, Jacob Sobotka 13-24-3, 133 yards. SA, Tucker Culjat 2-5-0, 44 yards.
RECEIVING: MA, Cody Stackhouse 4-53, Braydee Poore 4-49, Shane Swank 3-21, Erik Freed 2-10. SA, Jimmy Hawk 1-28, Eric Johnson 1-16.
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