COUNCIL BLUFFS — When winning streaks reach 50 games, even in district play, they hardly go unnoticed.
Yet St. Albert's active string of district victories, currently the seventh-longest in the history of prep football in Iowa, has seemingly been hidden somewhat within a decade of dominance.
In the 10 seasons leading up to this fall, the Falcons amassed a sterling 118-13 record. They reached the UNI-Dome in nine of those 10 years and the state title game in seven of them.
St. Albert is off to a 5-0 start this season. And last Friday, it won its 50th straight district game.
The victory streak, which spans eight seasons, is astounding. Yet the Falcons care little about it. In fact, talk of winning a district title doesn't exist at St. Albert.
Its gridiron tradition is based on its four state championships and other UNI-Dome trips. The streak that Class 1-A No. 2 St. Albert holds dearest is its 16 consecutive playoff appearances.
Falcon coach Kevin Culjat said winning district games has just been a means of getting there.
“We've never ever worried about a district championship,” he said. “It's never meant anything to us, to be honest. We just wanted to play our best football at the end of the year.”
That being said, Culjat is still taken aback when reminded that the Falcons haven't lost a district game since 2006. The fifth-year head coach, who has gone 56-4 since taking over the program after being a longtime assistant, said it's certainly something to take pride in.
“I never expected to have a streak like this,” he said. “I'm not a big streak guy. It's a credit to all the people that have played in our program over that period of time. It's more of a streak that I'm somewhat proud of because it covers so many individuals from 2006 on.”
The Falcons last lost a district game in September 2006, when Culjat was an assistant under former St. Albert and current Lewis Central coach Jim Duggan. Logan-Magnolia built a 20-0 halftime lead in a game on Sept. 15 that was suspended by lightning. It was completed, and remained 20-0, the next day.
Culjat felt the Falcons weren't competitive in that game. Matt Straight recalls it differently.
“Although we were up 20-0, certainly we were not dominating by any means,” the Lo-Ma coach said. “We were playing pretty efficiently and effectively, and our run defense was pretty good that year. At no point did we feel like we were ever going to put them away.”
St. Albert beat Griswold 33-7 the following Friday, and later went on to shut out Lo-Ma 35-0 in a playoff rematch en route its second state championship. It hasn't lost a district game since.
And during the 50-game winning streak, the Falcons have been demolishing their opponents.
In 29 of those contests, St. Albert scored more than 40 points. In 30 of them, it held its foe to a single-digit point total. And eleven of those, including three in 2008, were shutouts.
Only three of the games during the Falcon streak were decided by one touchdown or less. Two came in 2007. The other was in 2010. Lo-Ma was the opponent in two of those three games.
Straight, whose team moved down to Class A last season, last played St. Albert in 2011. In that year, like most during the streak, the Panthers gave the Falcons their toughest district test.
“They're such a high-quality team,” he said. “If you don't have a lot of talent, you can't even play with them. And then if you do have a lot of talent, you have to play with high energy.”
Straight had teams that did that on a few occasions, even beating St. Albert in district play in both 2005 and '06. He said those Panther teams, whose seasons ended with losses to the Falcons in postseason rematches, had highly skilled players who could match St. Albert's speed.
“St. Albert is one of the best defensively around the state,” he said. “Unless you can play fast offensively and be physical, it's hard to get touchdowns and move the ball.”
In the past few seasons, no one in the district has been able to do that consistently. The streak has grown to within 14 wins of the all-time record shared by Emmetsburg and West Des Moines Dowling.
This year, St. Albert is 3-0 in district play despite being ravaged by injuries. At one point in its recent 56-32 win over West Central Valley, it was playing without its starter at 15 of the 22 positions.
The Falcons have three district games left. Culjat said the streak brings no added pressure.
“We play to go to state and that's it,” he said. “We've never put a lot of stock in our regular season.
“It's just one giant piece of the tradition of St. Albert, especially in the 2000s. I don't know if you'll ever put together a run like this again. I don't know when this is ever going to end, but surely someday it will. And you'll look back and say, 'Wow, what an incredible run.' ”