The Mater Dei Knights were in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time since 2003.
One big defensive play changed all of that.
Sophomore Justin Thole recovered a Waterloo fumble just three yards from the end zone with less than two minutes remaining to preserve Mater Dei’s 27-21 win over the Bulldogs on Friday night.
The win moves the Knights to 5-4, and they will have more than enough playoff points to make their 13th consecutive trip to the postseason.
“We don’t like to sneak in like this,” Mater Dei coach Jim Stiebel said. “But with the schedule we have, it’s not a choice. We have to play what teams will play us. We’re just happy and feel fortunate to make it.”
The Bulldogs (5-4) led 21-14 at halftime, but Mater Dei’s defense stiffened and limited Waterloo to just three first downs in the third quarter. Things looked bleak for Waterloo after Mater Dei downed a punt at the Bulldogs’ 2-yard line early in the fourth quarter, but Waterloo responded by reeling off a 12-play drive that covered 90 yards. On 2nd-and-6 from the 8-yard line, however, the Bulldogs tried a run to the short side of Mater Dei’s defense, a play that had been gaining the Bulldogs yardage all game long.
It got them five more on that play, but the ball squirted loose and Thole recovered. The Knights went three-and-out on their drive, but then stopped Waterloo on four more plays near midfield to seal the win.
“That toss to the left was killing us,” Stiebel said. “The key was the stop inside the 5-yard line. That was the difference in the game.”
Waterloo was playing just two days after the death of senior lineman David Woodall. The Bulldogs wore orange stickers with Woodall’s number, 73, on their helmets, and were greeted by a standing ovation from both fan bases when they walked into the stadium. The PA announcer also held a moment of silence prior to the game.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Woodall family,” Waterloo coach Dan Rose said. “I loved the Woodall boys to death. The kids fought their heart out and played their tails off. They really did.”
Key Moments: It appeared that Mater Dei tied the game with five seconds remaining in the first half, when quarterback Colin Schuetz dove for the end zone from a yard out. Schuetz appeared to break the plane with the ball, but after a lengthy conferral among the referees, the play was ruled no touchdown.
Key Performers: The defense kept Waterloo off the scoreboard after halftime, but Schuetz and Lucas Theising powered the Knights’ offense, connecting for scores of 8 and 34 yards in the third quarter. Schuetz threw another touchdown pass to Jared Niemeyer and also scored on a 6-yard keeper.
Waterloo’s Scott Nanney was a one-man highlight reel in the second quarter, rushing for 114 yards and two scores in the period.
What’s Next: Both Waterloo (5A) and Mater Dei (4A) will likely be in the playoff field when pairings are announced today.