A tale of two halves: St. Ansgar rallies past Bulldogs in quarterfinal game

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Following MFL MarMac’s Class A quarterfinal loss at St. Ansgar on Nov. 6, senior Max Havlicek hoisted the team’s state participant trophy for fans to see. The Bulldogs finished the season 9-2. (Photos by Audrey Posten)

Just like he did throughout the season, running back Cullen McShane made Saints defenders miss Friday night. The junior ran the ball 10 times for 184 yards and a touchdown. The total pushed him to 1,477 yards on the season, surpassing the 1,312 by Brad Mohs in 1980 that was the single season school record.

Karter Decker streaked to the end zone after catching a pass from quarterback Max Havlicek in the first quarter of the Nov. 6 loss to St. Ansgar.

By Audrey Posten, Times-Register

The MFL MarMac football team lost its Nov. 6 Class A quarterfinal game at undefeated St. Ansgar 49-14, closing the book on an unforgettable season.

“I’m extremely proud of these guys,” said head coach Dan Anderson. “Who would’ve thought, at the beginning of the season, we’d be sitting here in the quarterfinals—281 schools in the state of Iowa didn’t get the opportunity we had to play in the quarterfinals. That’s pretty special for the guys to make it that far with only one or two guys who were starters last year on offense. To start this game, we had 10 underclassmen starting on defense against a senior-laden team.”

The game couldn’t have started better for the Bulldogs, who jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter thanks to a 75-yard touchdown run by junior running back Cullen McShane and a 43-yard connection between quarterback Max Havlicek and receiver Karter Decker.

Early in the second quarter, a run by McShane put MFL MarMac on the cusp of scoring again, but a dropped pass and penalty kept the team from the end zone. A field goal attempt by Havlicek was no good.

“I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, we’re going to be up 21-0 here,’” Anderson said. “Then things started shaking a little bit.”

At the 5:48 mark, St. Ansgar picked off a pass in Bulldog territory, then capitalized on it with a touchdown three minutes later that trimmed MFL MarMac’s advantage to 14-7.

“We played great defense for most of the first half,” Anderson said, and the team felt confident heading off the field. “I talked to them and said, ‘Hey, we’re right where we want to be.’ We were up.” 

The Bulldogs also started the second half with the ball. The goal, said Anderson, was to score another touchdown—a move that would force the Saints to change their approach.

However, MFL MarMac didn’t handle the kick return cleanly, and the ball popped backward toward St. Ansgar. The Saints took over near the Bulldog 20 yard line and quickly tied the game 14-14. 

“You could feel the energy change,” Anderson said.

With five minutes left in the quarter, St. Ansgar scored again to take a 21-14 lead—their second of six touchdowns in the half.

“That third quarter couldn’t get over fast enough,” shared Anderson “We were reeling a little bit. Then, having young guys out there, it started to show. It was the first time all season. We had some young guys who haven’t been put in that situation. We talk about what-ifs, how we’re going to respond, but too many bad things happened in a short amount of time that took us out of the ballgame.”

Anderson also credited St. Ansgar, which is a well-coached team and has been a state semi-finalist three of the past four years.

“You’re not going to pull one over on them for very long. We went about as far as we could go,” he said. “Physically, they were bigger, stronger than us, but we matched them. We had the right game plan to start the game. We did exactly what we wanted to do in the first half. We just couldn’t put two halves together. It was the tale of two halves.”

Two Bulldogs—McShane and Gabe McGeough—had double-digit tackling nights, with 11.5 and 10.5, respectively. Decker tallied 7 tackles, Havlicek 5.5 and Austin Schlee and Wyatt Powell 4.5 apiece.

However, the MFL MarMac defense struggled to contain St. Ansgar’s Ryan Cole, who racked up 259 yards and four touchdowns on the ground, in addition to 39 yards and a touchdown through the air.

Offensively, the Bulldogs were also led by their ground game. McShane ran the ball 10 times for 184 yards and a touchdown. McGeough picked up 25 yards on eight attempts.

Quarterback Havlicek completed six of 14 passes for 138 yards and a touchdown. Decker snagged four of those passes for 102 yards and a touchdown, while Cayden Ball had 36 yards on two receptions.

The Bulldogs were, not surprisingly, emotional after the loss, which was just their second of the year.

“It hurts me to see those guys get emotional. But it’s because they invest a lot. They care about each other, care about the game, care about the fans,” Anderson said. “I’m sad it’s over, and it’s crazy to hear from a football coach, but there’s more to football to me. It’s these kids learning to be men and learning from stuff, learning to fight through adversity and keep their chins up when they’re out there playing. I want these kids to learn life lessons. Nobody likes to lose, but we ran into a team that was better than us.”

The team was especially close this year, Anderson noted. The seniors will be missed, including Havlicek, who the coach praised for his leadership and positivity. Ball kept things light while making big plays, and Tyler Wille was a force on the line. 

“He doesn’t say a whole lot, but leads by example,” Anderson said of Wille. “He asks questions and is always trying to learn.”

He credited Gavin Meana for unselfish play and Kale Miene for working hard despite missing much of the season due to sickness and injury.

“Braden Landt at tight end did his job and was super smart out there. Logan Brown was a scout team guy who worked his butt off and made us better,” Anderson continued.

But the future looks bright for the MFL MarMac football program.

“We’ve got a lot coming back,” stated Anderson. “The guys, I think, will be in the weight room on Monday working hard. They want to win a state championship, and we believe we’ve got a good enough nucleus coming back next year that we can do it.”

“We’re going to have a big target on our back next year. We’ll probably be somewhere in the top five to start the season,” he quipped. “But I think we’ll respond. There’s a good bunch of juniors and good bunch of sophomores, and really good leaders in the junior class. Plus great skill guys coming back and the whole line other than Wille. We’ve got six guys who could be starting [linemen] next year who got experience.”

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