WATERLOO — Once his team knocked off Waterloo 28-13 on Friday to earn a berth in the state football playoffs, Mater Dei coach Jim Stiebel was finally ready to issue the official invitation.
"There's a place at the table, baby," said an emotional Stiebel, whose team improved to 6-3 and will be part of the Class 4A playoffs.
Stiebel never wasted a single second wondering if his team might not make the postseason.
"That was not a thought in my mind," he said after watching the Knights climb back from an early 3-0 deficit that saw them turn the ball over twice. "I didn't look ahead and see if we would have enough power points or anything. I was just telling our team that we can take care of our own destiny and we did that tonight."
But not without one of Mater Dei's troublesome slow starts that included two turnovers and some early offensive struggles.
Quarterback Sam Toennies remedied that with three touchdowns passes during a second quarter that saw the Knights finally gain some traction.
Toennies was 15-of-24 for 131 yards and three TDs while workhorse senior running back Jordan Ratermann piled up 131 yards on 22 carries, including a 26-yard scoring run.
"I wouldn't say (I was) concerned because I know how we can pick it up and get going," Ratermann said. "And once we get going we can really make some things happen, so I was proud of what we did tonight."
Stiebel can't quite figure out the Knights' slow starts either, but he liked their finishing kick. Waterloo trailed 21-3 at halftime and crept back to within 28-13 with 6:55 remaining before the Knights finally put the Bulldogs away.
"They're just laid back Clinton County kids," Stiebel said. "They've got to get warmed up and a little (ticked off) before they start playing. That's just how they've been, we're trying to do everything as a coaching staff to get them fired up and ready to go from the get-go."
The loss ended Waterloo's playoff hopes as the Bulldogs finished 4-5. They had a strong running game Friday led by 136 yards by Rick Wiegand, but turnovers and penalties combined to give the Knights better field position when the game was still on the line.
"Pretty darned tough," Waterloo coach Dan Rose said. "We were just a couple of plays away from being a 6-2 team going into this game. The things that happened this year, some we can control and some we can't, were just devastating.
"Being 4-5 ... hopefully this is as down as it ever gets, We've had wining seasons for eight years in a row and been in the playoffs quite a bit. We've got to continue to build and continue to work, keep making strides as a program."
A Mater Dei turnover on the opening kickoff led to a 37-yard Ryan Aycock field goal to put Waterloo on top 3-0.
That proved to be the high-water mark of the first half for the Bulldogs as Toennies tossed his three TD passes in the second quarter.
A fumble recovery by Mater Dei's Matt Albers set up a 7-yard shovel pass from Toennies to Ratermann that got the Knights into the end zone.
With Waterloo caught out of position just over four minutes later, Toennies fired a 25-yard TD pass to a wide-open Nick Hitpas.
After Waterloo was forced to punt three straight times because of holding penalties, the Knights scored again before the first half ended.
Taking over at the Bulldogs 39, Mater Dei got a 17-yard TD pass from Toennies to Ben Lampe with 21.4 seconds remaining as the Knights' lead grew to 21-3.
Waterloo got a safety early in the second half when Toennies was tackled in the end zone by Blake Lashley, but Ratermann put things out of reach with a 26-yard TD run early in the fourth quarter.