After being shredded for 338 yards rushing in the previous game against the Central Cougars, including 216 yards and six touchdowns by Collin Thomas, Mater Dei was forced into making some defensive changes.
The result was a much better defensive effort on Saturday as the Knights punched out the Cougars 14-7 in the opening round of the Class 4A state football playoffs.
Mater Dei quarterback Colin Schuetz ran for both touchdowns, including an 8-yard run early in the third quarter for what proved to be the winning score. The Knights (6-4) will be at home next week against Herrin (9-1), a 41-7 winner over Watseka.
“We knew last time they ran all over us and we had to change something up,” said Schuetz, who ran the ball 22 times for 73 yards. “All week we prepared for them. It wasn’t the best offensive day, but it’s a full team effort and we came out with the full team — offense, defense and special teams — and we got it done.”
Both defenses stepped up in a game many were calling Milk Bowl 2.0, referring to the annual Milk Bowl game between the Breese area rivals. The large white milk can trophy did not change hands this time, but after losing to Central 46-35 in the Sept. 23 regular season contest, the Knights were happy to take a playoff win instead.
“I’d give the can away for more games and more memories coming,” said Schuetz, who lives three houses down the street in Aviston from Central star running back Collin Thomas. “Last night I was coming home; he drove by and I said hi to him and good luck. That’s just kind of relationship we have.
“It’s a tightly knit group even though we’re on different teams. In the end, football is family.”
Thomas was limited to 70 yards on 20 carries by the swarming Mater Dei defense, which held the Cougars to 104 yards rushing and 163 yards of total offense. Jake Timmermann had 10 tackles while Nic Seelhoefer and Drew Toeben had nine each.
“That was our focus,” Mater Dei coach Jim Stiebel said. “We weren’t worried about them throwing the ball. Our whole focus was stopping (No.) 3 (Thomas) and that’s what we did. We had to get the best 11 out there and we found out the hard way that wasn’t the best 11 (out there before).
“We got the best 11 out there today.”
Mater Dei ran the ball 18 times on its first 22 plays and had seven carries for eight or more yards in the opening half. The Knights finished the day with 170 yards on 41 carries, including 54 yards by Jake Wieter.
“We just toughed this one out,” Schuetz said. “I didn’t think it was going to be a shootout, but we just had to tough it out.”
Central’s defense came up big on the first drive when Schuetz bobbled the snap and was hauled down for a loss on fourth-and-goal at the 5.
The Knights found more success on the ground on their second drive and Schuetz bulled his way in from the 1 with 10:47 remaining in the second quarter. The extra point gave the Knights a 7-0 lead.
In a battle of field position and tight defense, strong winds also played a role in limiting the air attack for both teams.
Schuetz scored on an 8-yard run with 7:56 remaining to push the lead to 14-0.
After a Central drive was stopped at the Mater Dei 15 on an interception by the Knights’ Matt Spears, the Cougars broke the shutout.
Dalton Wise made a phenomenal one-handed touchdown grab with 2:50 remaining on a pass from Hunter Toeben and the extra point cut Mater Dei’s lead to 14-7.
Schuetz recovered the onside kick and the Knights held on.
“We just couldn’t come up with a big play today and in the first game we had a lot of big plays, we were able to break tackles and get some big runs,” Central coach Brian Short said. “Today we weren’t able to do that. They did a really good job of bottling us up and they tackled really, really well.
“Bottom line is I tip my cap to them. They played better than us, they did what it took to win. I’m extremely proud of our defense, we played really well today. We were on the field a lot and held a really good offense to 14 points. If you’d have told me that before the game, I’d have really liked our chances.”