Is there one more?
Is there one more inspired, intelligent, gutsy, spectacular effort in these Council Bluffs St. Albert Falcons?
That’s the burning question as the green and gold take another shot Friday at the ultimate prize. Eighth-rated St. Albert (12-1) will meet No. 1 Iowa City Regina (13-0) at 11:06 a.m. in the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls for the Class 1-A state football championship. The Falcons are making their seventh title game appearance in 10 years and seeking their fifth championship in nine years.
If beating No. 3 Emmetsburg in the semifinals was a daunting task, this opponent appears just as formidable, perhaps even more so. The Regals have won 41 straight games, the seventh-longest unbeaten streak in state history. They are coming off back-to-back 2-A championships before moving down a class this season. They’re in the finals for the fifth time in eight years and seeking their fourth crown in eight years.
“They’re an incredibly well-coached team,” St. Albert coach Kevin Culjat said. “The fundamentals really stand out to me when you watch film. They never get out of place. Their footwork’s perfect. They never get fooled. They adjust to everything you throw at them.”
Culjat said his main worry in the week leading up to the finals has been making sure his club is properly recuperated from its semifinal bloodbath.
“It would be an understatement to say I’m concerned,” he said. “That was just a brutal football game on Saturday. It was like a prizefight. We came out of that pretty banged up.”
The Falcon coach will be closely watching his junior quarterback and son, Tucker. The younger Culjat dislocated his shoulder in the first quarter, but returned to score both of his team’s touchdowns.
“He wants to play,” Kevin Culjat said. “We’re going to roll him out there and see how well he can go.”
Regina coach Marv Cook, a former All-America tight end at Iowa who went on to a successful NFL career, said he’s been impressed with the Falcon program for years. The teams met in the 2007 final, when a Jim Duggan-led Falcon squad edged Cook’s team 7-6.
“Obviously, their tradition is phenomenal,” Cook said. “I’ve got great respect for their program and the way they go about it. They always have 11 great athletes on the football field. Just the intensity and passion with which they play. They’re extremely well-coached. They know who they are and they know what they do and they do it very, very well.”
Cook said St. Albert’s defensive tenacity makes it go.
“We’ve got to be ready for an incredible amount of pressure,” he said. “The pace with which St. Albert plays — they’re very, very aggressive and they get after you.
“First and foremost, I think you’ve got to match the intensity with which they play. Do what you do, and try not to let them get you out of your game plan.”
Regina employs a balanced offensive attack. Senior quarterback Mark Ward is completing 63 percent of his passes while throwing for 1,984 yards and 28 touchdowns. Junior Riley Dixon has run for 1,585 yards and 14 touchdowns.
“They’ll spread you out and run the zone read,” Kevin Culjat said. “Their offensive line does an excellent job of zone blocking, and that what makes them go, their ability to create seams for their backs.”
The St. Albert coach said his team’s chances improve dramatically if it can again score a decisive victory in special teams, which are led by assistant coach Mike Kayl. Those small triumphs can give the Falcons shorter fields and Regina longer ones.
“The Emmetsburg game was dictated by special teams and it was won by our defense,” Kevin Culjat said. “We’re not a juggernaut offensively. We take advantage of what other teams give us. We’ve got some kids that can make plays in space, but we’re not going to line up and drive it 80 yards.”
Cook said even though his program has won 41 straight, that’s not where the pressure lies. It lies with the athletes at 17 of the 22 positions who have never started a championship game.
“Ultimately this is their game and their time, and I’m sure St. Albert feels the same way,” Cook said.
Kevin Culjat has looked at the history of the great Iowa programs. Harlan once lost five straight championship games. Emmetsburg lost all four of its title games in one six-year span.
He knows how tough it is to get to that final game. But when you do, you don’t want to leave any stone unturned.
“You don’t want to lose any game, and I definitely don’t think you want to lose the state championship,” he said. “Years from now you look back and you think, getting there was a monumental feat. But obviously on Friday afternoon if we haven’t won, there’s going to be some pretty disappointed kids in that locker room.
“They’ve done everything they can possibly do to put themselves in this position, and I’m confident that they’re going to do everything that they’re physically capable of doing to win it.”
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