Some folks in Clinton County apparently aren’t overly excited about another Central-Mater Dei matchup in the first round of the Class 4A state football playoffs. Theeir feeling is they’d like to see the teams meet a little further down the playoff road.
Don’t count Central Cougars coach Brian Short among them. He embraces “Milk Bowl II” and all of its ramifications, the most important being one of these longtime rivals is going to move forward into the second round.
“We have a home game against a team that we’ve already beaten and if things go well, we’ve got a chance to make amends for two of our other losses,” Short said. “To me, what other draw would you possibly want? It’s the highest risk, highest reward situation you can think of.
“You get a chance to beat your arch-rival for the second time this season.”
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Saturday’s Game: Mater Dei (5-4) at Central (7-2), 1 p.m.
Mater Dei coach Jim Stiebel also welcomes the challenge.
“I would imagine it would be similar hype if not bigger (to the Milk Bowl game),” Stiebel said. “The difference is the team that loses, they’re done. We’re happy to be in this situation. With the schedule we have we were lucky to get through it.”
Central defeated Mater Dei in the annual Milk Bowl game 46-35 on Sept. 23, scoring two of the game’s final three touchdowns to secure the victory. The Cougars trail the all-time series against Mater Dei 31-9, which includes playoff games in 1993 (Mater Dei won 26-20 in the second round) and 2004 (Central won 20-14 in the second round).
“You’re talking about bringing home a Milk Bowl trophy vs. continuing to play your season,” Short said. “In my opinion, this game is so much more important.”
Also important is an opportunity for the winner of this game to advance deep into the 4A playoffs. It’s a relatively wide open bracket as opposed to the one above it, which includes top-ranked Althoff and third-ranked Rochester.
“I like the layout, I think it’s a great draw for both teams,” Stiebel said of the Central-Mater Dei playoff clash. “It could have been way worse n=being on the other side of that bracket.”
State rankings: Central is 14th in the final 4A poll; Mater Dei is 16th
Playoff history: Mater Dei’s 25th appearance and 13th straight (26-24 overall); Central’s 11th appearance and second straight; (7-10 overall).
Previous meeting: In the earlier game this season, Central ran for 338 yards on 42 carries led by Collin Thomas’ 216 yards and five TDs. Mater Dei got 257 yards passing and three TDs from senior quarterback Colin Schuetz along with 84 yards rushing and one TD.
Scouting Mater Dei: The Knights’ attack is centered around versatile Schuetz, who has thrown for 1,699 yards and 22 touchdowns with four interceptions. He’s also the leading rusher with 761 yards and seven TDs on 114 carries.
“He can play quarterback and running back at the same time,” Short said. “Any time the best player on the other team is catching the snap every time, it makes it tough on opposing defenses.”
Running back Jake Wieters (687 yards, eight TDs) adds another threat along with receivers Lucas Theising (38 catches, 489 yards, nine TDs) and Jake Timmermann (36 catches, 451 yards, eight TDs).
Stiebel believes Schuetz thrives in big-game situations.
“He’s a gamer and once he gets lost in that game, he’s locked in and ready to go,” Stiebel said. “He’s our guy on offense that makes us tick and teams know it — but they’ve got to stop it.”
Defensively, the Knights are led by linebackers Trever Johnson (67 tackles, four sacks, one interception), Nic Seelhoefer (55 tackles, one sack, one interception) and Theising (48 tackles, one interception).
Scouting Central: Any defense hoping to control Central must find a way to slow down Thomas, who is among the area rushing leaders with 1,446 yards and 27 TDs on 170 carries.
Running back Ben Rakers adds another 974 yards and 13 TDs on 114 carries, with quarterback Hunter Toeben running for 314 yards and four TDs. Toeben also has thrown for 897 yards and six TDs with seven interceptions.
Central’s top receivers are Dalton Wise (20 catches, 259 yards, two TDs), Trevor Kohrmann (12 catches, 165 yards) and Bailey Stewart (10 catches, 232 yards, one TD).
Linebackers Lucas Koopman (74 tackles, one sack) and Thomas (52 tackles, one interception, three recoveries) help anchor the defense along with Brice
Haselhorst (68 tackles, eight sacks) and Jake Arter (41 tackles, six sacks).
Limited by a broken hand, Haselhorst has only one sack in his last five games but still is averaging seven tackles per game during that time.