Gehlen takes care of Tri-Center in first round playoff game
LE MARS — Hosting their first playoff game at Jim Lorenzen Field since 2011, the Gehlen Catholic football team made the most of their home field advantage as they beat Tri-Center 40-22 in a Class A first round playoff game Friday.
The Jays built up a 30-8 advantage by halftime and withstood a second half comeback effort by the Trojans to move to 8-1 on the season.
“The first half was fantastic football, maybe some of the best football we’ve played all year offensively and defensively,” Gehlen Head Coach Jeremy Schindler said.
The first half the Jays were able to air the ball out, getting three touchdown passes from Connor Kraft to Keaten Bonderson. Despite Bonderson entering the game with eight touchdown receptions, tied for fifth most in Class A, the Trojans seemed to forget about the speedy senior receiver in the first half, according to Schindler, which led to the team jumping in front early with two touchdowns and then adding the third to go up 30-8 before the half.
“Well they don’t know who Keaten Bonderson is,” Schindler said. “He’s gotten double-teamed and triple-teamed all year long. In single coverage, Keaten’s going to win those most of the time. Those aren’t jump balls. Keaten’s going to go make a play and Connor did a great job of delivering a catchable ball.”
Three of Bonderson’s four catches went for touchdowns as he finished with 90 receiving yards on a night in which Kraft threw for 116 yards. The touchdown grabs went for 23, 16 and 23 yards.
On the other side, Tri-Center entered with Class A’s leading rusher, Michael Turner, who had over 2,000 rushing yards and 28 rushing touchdowns during the regular season. The Jays were able to keep Turner under wraps for most of the contest as he finished with 92 yards on 25 carries with one scoring rush.
“Their #10 is a fantastic football player, he’s also their cornerback, so one of our strategies was if they give him the ball 30 to 40 times per game, we’re going to make him run 40 yard sprints a couple times on defense to try to tire him out. I think that had a little effect on his running,” Schindler said. “Our defensive line played a great game. They controlled the line of scrimmage.”
Tri-Center pulled to within 13-8 early in the second quarter on a 2-yard scoring rush from Turner, but the Jays got a kickoff return for a touchdown, an 80-yard return from Keaton Logan, to squash any momentum the Trojans may have built.
Logan added a 40-yard field goal on Gehlen’s next possession and also had a 32-yard field goal in the third quarter as Schindler said the special teams plays were important to securing the outcome.
“Field goals and then the kick return for a touchdown by Keaton Logan, great job on special teams all night,” Schindler said.
Gehlen’s defense came up with some big plays as well. Logan had an interception in the first half which set up the team’s final scoring drive of the half. Early in the second half after the Jays turned the ball over on downs, Ryan Augustine recovered a fumble for the Jays on Tri-Center’s first play from scrimmage. Kale Pearson recovered a fumble with 5:42 left in the game which led to Gehlen’s final scoring drive and Cole McCarty sealed the victory with an interception with less than a minute to go on a night in which he also led the team with 9.5 tackles.
Tri-Center had to turn to the passing game in the second half and they did find a few big plays down field to put pressure on the Jays. Maddox Anderson connected with Holden Skow for a 23-yard pass on a fourth down play to make it 33-14 after the 2-point conversion run attempt failed. After a Gehlen punt late in the third quarter, Anderson connected with Skow again on the first play of the drive for a 79-yard touchdown. The pair connected again on the 2-point conversion to make it 33-22 with 0:06 left in the third quarter. Skow had five catches for 134 yards as Anderson’s top receiver on a 9-of-20 passing night for 200 yards.
Gehlen’s offense turned conservative in the second half with a sizable lead. The team was only able to add one touchdown in the second half, a 1-yard quarterback dive for Kraft who finished with nine carries for 47 yards. Pearson also got a steady dose of handoffs which he turned into 116 yards on 25 carries.
Schindler said he was trying to find a balance between working time off the clock while also not hindering his own offense by being one-dimensional.
“We did go a little more conservative trying to run out the clock and just trying to run the football and possess it because if they don’t have the football, they’re not going to score,” Schindler said. “Give them credit, they went really run-heavy on defense and were able to stop us. We made some adjustments and we were able to get that last touchdown which kind of salted things away.”
Tri-Center ends the season with a 4-5 record as their playoff woes continue. In their 10 playoff appearances in school history, the team has now gone 0-10, which includes one other loss to Gehlen back in the 1996 Class 1A first round which the Jays won 47-14.
Gehlen Catholic will play at No. 3 ranked Woodbury Central (9-0) in their Round of 16 game on Friday. The Wildcats won their opening round game 42-0 over South O’Brien. Gehlen and Woodbury Central have never met in the playoffs before. The last meeting between the two teams came in 2019 regular season when Woodbury Central won 14-2 over the Jays.
Schindler said putting together a solid game plan and executing that plan will be key if the Jays want to advance to the next round.
“We’ve just got to come out and execute the game plan on Friday night,” Schindler said. “That kind of depends on who we play, but we’ve just got to have a great week of practice.”