HUMPHREY — When the defense failed early, the Humphrey St. Francis offense was there with 24 straight points for what looked like a commanding lead. And when the Flyers began sputtering offensively, the defense was there to pick up the slack.
Jamie Stice caught a pass across the middle for Falls City Sacred Heart, but brothers Trevor and Tanner Pfeifer stopped him immediately at the 12, and the Irish couldn't get another play snapped before time expired as the host Flyers survived a 24-16 thriller in the Class D2 semifinals Monday night at the Ed Foltz Sports Complex.
“I don't think I could be much more satisfied than I am right now,” said Trevor Pfeifer, who had a hand in all four of the Flyers' touchdowns. He finished with 164 yards on 25 rushes, and he needed just four pass completions to throw for 119 yards.
“I think everybody knew, but they weren't saying because we were taking it one game at a time, that we were going to play Sacred Heart in the semifinals. And that's what it came down to because they're very good, and everybody knows it. It's just very satisfying to get this win.”
It was the latest, and perhaps most exciting, episode in what has become an annual rite in the Class D2 playoffs. The Flyers and Irish have played in the playoffs in three straight seasons, four of the past five, and six of the past eight. St. Francis now owns a 4-2 record in such games.
“It's a gratifying win. It would be no matter who you're playing,” St. Francis coach Eric Kessler said. “We have so much respect for them and what they've accomplished over the years. When you beat someone like that, you know you've accomplished something, so I'm just proud of our guys.”
For the hosts, it already was the 10th time in the past 12 seasons that they had reached at least the quarterfinals. With Monday's win, it is the fifth time in that span that the Flyers are making a trip to Memorial Stadium. But it's the first time for these seniors, who were eighth-graders when St. Francis won the 2015 D2 championship over Chambers/Wheeler Central.
“We've got some seniors, and they were not going to be denied tonight,” Kessler said.
On the flip side, the visiting Irish — led by longtime coach Doug Goltz — have made the playoffs 33 straight seasons and 36 times overall in school history. In comparison, the Flyers have reached in 24 straight seasons and 37 overall.
“It's extra special because they're a really good team, really well-coached, and a lot of great players, great tradition,” Kessler said. “It's an honor to coach against him because he coached when I played — he probably won't like that I said that — but I've had so much respect for him and his program year-in and year-out.”
Despite being outgained 353-261, the Irish had a final chance at its own 11 with no timeouts and just 1 minute, 3 seconds left on the clock. Quarterback Jakob Jordan ran for 15 yards, then he found fullback Del Casteel for a 13-yard gain. A spike was the first of three straight incompletions, but Jordan found Casteel again for an 11-yard gain on fourth-and-10, and then Jordan spiked it with 20 seconds left.
Jordan then scrambled and gained a first down, and he went out of bounds at the 20 with 11 seconds remaining to set up the final play.
“I'm proud of our defense. That's what got it done tonight,” Kessler said.
IT WAS A frenzied finish after the Flyers had led by 16 earlier in the second half.
After a holding penalty on St. Francis' first snap of the second half, the second snap was the biggest play of the day. Wemhoff got behind the defense on a play-action pass as Trevor Pfeifer rolled to his right, then Pfeifer chucked it deep — right on target for Wemhoff and a 71-yard pass, catch and run for a touchdown and an 18-8 lead.
“That was huge,” Wemhoff said. “We were trying to set them up with that one for a while. It couldn't have gone more perfect for us. Those big plays are just a huge push for our momentum.”
The Flyers extended their lead after a nine-play, 53-yard drive that took more than four minutes near the end of the third quarter. St. Francis converted after first-and-20 and second-and-16 with a 24-yard run by Trevor Pfeifer, and then he converted a third-and-13 with a 14-yard run, plus a horse-collar tackle penalty. Two plays later, he punched it in from a yard out for a 24-8 lead with 54 seconds left in the third quarter.
The teams combined for three turnovers in the fourth quarter, starting with Trevor Pfeifer's interception to put the Flyers on the right side of midfield. But St. Francis lost 3 yards and had to punt, and the Irish answered with a 75-yard drive punctuated by Jake Hoy's second touchdown run of the night. The ensuing two-point conversion made it a one-possession game with just more than seven minutes left.
It appeared St. Francis would land the final blow, draining nearly four minutes from the clock while driving 80 yards down to the Sacred Heart 5. But a delay-of-game penalty pushed the Flyers back, and Trevor Pfeifer lost control of the ball as he crossed the goal line on what would've been a touchdown run. Instead, the Irish recovered in the end zone for a touchback.
The defense answered the call, with Tanner Pfeifer intercepting a pass on fourth-and-8 with 2:23 remaining.
“I am so impressed by how my younger brother has played this season,” Trevor Pfeifer said.
All the offense needed was a first down to seal the win, but the Irish held Trevor Pfeifer to 3 yards rushing on three offensive plays, combined with another Flyer penalty, and forced the Flyers to punt with 1:03 left.
“We tried to make a lot of mistakes to not put it away, but we were able to find a way to get it done,” Kessler said. “We had the turnovers that we wanted, but we had dumb mistakes. … Things we don't normally do, we did tonight.”
AFTER THE FLYERS weathered a tough start — just 22 yards on their first two possessions and trailing 8-0 — Trevor and Tanner Pfeifer connected for a 25-yard play on the first snap of the second quarter, and the two connected two plays later for the team's first touchdown.
“It didn't look good after that first drive,” Kessler said. “They punched us in the mouth, and then we were able to find a way to get things going.”
St. Francis took control on its next drive, a 16-play, 69-yard drive that took 6:57 off the clock that was capped by Trevor Pfeifer's 9-yard touchdown run with 24 seconds left in the first half for the 12-8 lead heading into the break.
Class D2 semifinal
HSF (12-0) 0 12 12 0 — 24
FCSH (11-1) 8 0 0 8 — 16
FCSH: Jake Hoy 3 run (Hoy pass from Jakob Jordan), 7:11.
HSF: Tanner Pfeifer 5 pass from Trevor Pfeifer (PAT failed), 10:59.
HSF: Trevor Pfeifer 9 run (PAT failed), 0:24.
HSF: Taylor Wemhoff 71 pass from Trevor Pfeifer (PAT failed), 7:25.
HSF: Trevor Pfeifer 1 run (PAT failed), 0:54.
FCSH: Hoy 1 run (Jarrot Simon pass from Jordan), 7:05.