They entered the Class 4A state football playoffs as the No. 10 seed, but insisting that they are not the same team that started the season with two losses in three weeks.
Now the Mater Dei Knights, after dispatching undefeated and higher-seeded opponents two weeks in a row, are two wins away from their first state championship.
With early strikes on a short field and swarming defense, Mater Dei defeated No. 3 Taylorville 42-20 Saturday. They’ll get a rematch with unbeaten Althoff in a state semifinal game, their first since head coach Jim Stiebel’s first season at Mater Dei in 2009.
The game is set for 1 p.m. Saturday at Lindenwood University-Belleville.
Mater Dei will play in its first 4A semifinal game since 2009 against undefeated Althoff, which defeated the Knights with 68 points in Week 3 of this season. The rematch is set for Lindenwood University-Belleville Saturday at 1 p.m.
"We've been putting the game plan together, but the kids are the ones out there executing,” said Stiebel. “We liked the game plan today, we stuck with it, the kids were excited about it, and they executed it."
The Knights seized the early lead, scoring on three first-half possessions that started inside Taylorville territory. They got that field position courtesy of a tight defense that held Taylorville without a first down through its first three possessions. By that time, Mater Dei had a two-touchdown lead.
The Tornadoes’ season ended at 11-1 and, for the second year in a row, with a loss in the state quarterfinals.
"It comes down to we didn't execute as well as we should have and they are a good football team,” said Taylorville head coach Jeb Odam. “If you don't execute against good football teams, they are going to seize control, which is what they did.”
Mater Dei opened its lead to 28-7 when, on fourth-and-2, Brady Rakers turned a short-yardage play into a 23-year touchdown run.
I hit him and he broke a couple of tackles and was gone. I think that put all the momentum back in our possession.
Colin Schuetz, the Mater Dei QB on his 77-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Kampwerth that put the Knights ahead 35-14
But the Taylorville offense found life with a run-pass option and responded with consecutive drives of 62 and 65 yards.
The first drive was capped on a one-yard scoring dive by running back Louis DePaepe. The second drive came down to the final play of the first half, a pass to the end zone that was intercepted by Mater Dei senior Brendan Timmerman.
“I thought about the play call about three seconds after the play started and I wish I could have that one back,” Odam said. “If we score there it’s 28-21, we take some momentum, and it’s a different ball game."
The stop was key for the Knights, who had deferred the opening kickoff and were set to receive the ball first in the second half.
Rakers fumbled on the first play out of the locker room, but escaped the bottom of the pile with the ball. On the next play, quarterback Colin Schuetz threw a short pass to Jordan Kampwerth, who broke a tackle and sprinted 77 yards for a touchdown.
Instead of the one-score game Taylorville hoped for heading into halftime, Mater Dei went up 35-14. Schuetz said the play was the clincher.
"They had jumped one of our routes earlier, so I changed it by giving (Kampwerth) a signal,” said Schuetz, a junior. “I hit him and he broke a couple of tackles and was gone. I think that put all the momentum back in our possession."
We've been putting the game plan together, but the kids are the ones out there executing. We liked the game plan today, we stuck with it, the kids were excited about it, and they executed it.
Jim Stiebel, Mater Dei head coach
Schuetz completed 13 of 27 passes for 203 yards. Kampwerth caught three passes for 97 total yards and two of Schuetz’s four touchdown passes. Lucas Theising (2 catches, 14 yards) and Josh Haberer (3 catches, 40 yards), each had a touchdown reception as well.
Timmermann had another big game, rushing 12 times for 92 yards, including a 25-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, and catching four passes for 44 yards. Rakers finished with 75 yards on 12 carries.
Mater Dei finished with 431 total yards of offense and no turnovers.
For Taylorville, quarterback Blake Heimsness was 17-of-34 for 218 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. He also was the Tornadoes’ top rusher with 49 yards on 11 attempts. Shawn Hammers was the top receiver with five catches for 103 yards, including a 64-yard touchdown.
Taylorville had 327 yards of offense.