Today’s Class 1A state title football game has the distinct feel of an old-school prize fight.
It even features the perfect billing, the football version of the challenger against the champion.
In one corner is top-ranked and three-time defending state champion Regina (13-0).
The Regals have won 55 straight games and can break the all-time record for consecutive wins with a victory today.
In the other corner is No. 7 Fort Dodge St. Edmond (No. 1) which will be making its first appearance in a state title game.
The Gaels are led by 60-year coaching veteran Dick Tighe, the all-time coaching victories leader in Iowa with 413, and have been to the playoffs 11 times but will be playing in the state finals for the first time today when these two heavyweights square off at 11:06 a.m. at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls.
“It’s going to be a battle. We know that it’s going to be a huge challenge,” Tighe said. “We are going to give it heck and see what happens.”
The calling card for St. Edmond this season has been a defensive unit that enters today’s game tops in Class 1A in scoring, allowing just seven points per game.
The Gaels have allowed more than 10 points in a game only three times this season and have held nine of their 13 opponents to seven points or less.
The two starting linebackers in the Gaels’ 5-2 defensive scheme, sophomore T.J. O’Tool and senior Jimmy Averill, rank first and fourth on the team in tackles, respectively, and have combined for 187 tackles.
“They are extremely well coached and they are just very, very active on defense,” Regina coach Marv Cook said. “Their linebackers really can cover some ground and are very, very involved against the running and the passing game.”
Two of the Gaels’ top-four tacklers are defensive linemen in junior end Nick Hindt (89 tackles) and senior nose tackle Caelan Burbank (88 tackles).
The 245-pound Burbank has 10 tackles for loss and six sacks and has been a key in St. Edmond holding opponents to less than 200 rushing yards in 11 of 13 games.
“Their defensive ends are big, physical kids and their defensive tackles inside do a good job of plugging things up,” Cook said. “They are just really disciplined in what they are doing.”
St. Edmond has held opponents to 207 yards of total offense a game this season and is giving up an average of 134 yards a game on the ground.
The Gaels have allowed just two teams, Van Meter and Mason City Newman, to score more than 12 points this season.
“We’ve been able to bend but not break,” Tighe said. “Some games, we’ve given up quite a few yards, but we’ve had three shutouts. We’ve played pretty good defense but we haven’t hit a team like Regina.”
Regina is coming off perhaps its most impressive offensive performance of the year in last week’s semifinal.
The Regals rolled up 456 yards of total offense in their 45-21 win over North Fayette Valley and scored 38 unanswered points after trailing by a touchdown early.
Junior quarterback Drew Cook accounted for 401 of those yards, throwing for 314, rushing for 60 and catching a 27-yard pass.
Cook completed 21-of-29 passes for 314 yards in the semifinals and has thrown for 2,286 yards and 21 scores this season and has run for 391 yards and four scores.
“They have so many weapons,” Tighe said “They spread you all over and their quarterback can run or throw, they have one or two good running backs and they have about three receivers that can run.”
Cook leads a Regina offense that has been among the most balanced in Class 1A this season.
Regina has run for 2,754 yards this season and thrown for 2,459 more yards.
The Regals average better than 400 yards per game with nearly an exact 50/50 run-pass split averaging 212 rushing yards and 196 passing yards a game.
Senior tailback Riley Dixon leads the rushing attack with 1,309 yards and 18 scores but junior Jake Brinkman has added 420 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Five different Regals have more than 228 yards receiving, led by senior Bryan Amelon with 657 yards and eight touchdowns and sophomore Nick Phillips with 588 yards and seven scores.
“They do everything,” Tighe said. “They can run, they can throw short, they can throw long, and they play great defense to boot, so it’s quite a challenge.”