SIOUX CITY | Bishop Heelan's defense set the tone and eventually delivered the knockout punch in a 41-14 season-opening football victory over city rival East Friday at Olsen Stadium.
With his team clinging to a 21-14 lead early in the fourth quarter, junior safety Drew Olsen intercepted a Steve Siebersma pass and returned it 47 yards for a touchdown. Olsen also intercepted a pass in the end zone on the next series and performed well in his first start at quarterback.
And, let us not forget standout running back Saybein Clark, who rambled for 257 yards and scored three touchdowns for the Crusaders, who looked impressive on both sides of the ball in their 2017 debut.
Clark, a North Dakota State recruit, carried 25 times, scoring on dashes of 25 and 30 yards. His 44-yard sprint set up a 2-yard plunge for the game's final touchdown, capping a 20-point fourth quarter for Heelan.
“Every year we rely on our defense to set the tone,” Heelan Coach Jerry Steffen said. “We have to control the line of scrimmage and we think we have the players to do that this year. We did have a bunch of mistakes that we have to clean up, which we will do.
“I always ask the players at the end of the game, can we be better? They all know the answer is yes and we'll work to be better and clean everything up that we need to.”
Olsen and Andrew Tobin were perfect complements for Clark. Olsen rushed for 104 yards on 15 carries while Tobin scored on runs of 7 and 1 yard. Both of Tobin's touchdowns came in the second quarter after East took a 7-0 lead on a 21-yard pass from Siebersma to Dain Hoch.
The host Black Raiders regained the lead on a 45-yard strike from Siebersma to D.J. Drent, who caught the ball on the sideline and cut across field for the final 25 yards to paydirt. That came with 7:45 left in the third quarter, making the score 14-13.
East then held Heelan on downs at the 23-yard line, but two plays later Eli Mollet deflected a pass at the line of scrimmage and defensive lineman Shyler Langley came up with an interception. That set up Clark's 25-yard run up the middle with 22 seconds remaining and Hunter Hope tacked on a two-point conversion run.
Heelan caught a break when Hoch dropped what would have been a sure touchdown pass just before the end of the quarter. The fourth quarter, however, belonged entirely to the Crusaders.
“Our lack of execution in the first half hurt us, we have some work to do on offense,” East Coach Bob Goodvin said. “Then we throw a pick for a touchdown when we don't execute the play and then we throw another interception when we don't execute the play and all of a sudden it's 27-14. The game was a lot closer than 41-14.
“We have a lot of work to do on offense, there's no doubt about it. I thought for three quarters our defense played very well. They were on the field the whole first half. That's nobody's responsibility but the offense's, we have to get some first downs and move the ball better than what we did.”
East was limited to 84 rushing yards and 130 through the air and punted on seven of its nine possessions in the first half.
The 210-pound Clark took over in the fourth quarter, gaining 129 yards on his last four carries.
“I've always said I think Saybein's the best 3A player in the state of Iowa,” Steffen said. “We know everybody is going to key on him because everyone knows that as well. What an outstanding job Andrew Tobin did scoring the first couple touchdows and taking the pressure off Saybein. We knew he was going to get yards but he had to work for all those yards.”
This was the 80th renewal of a longtime rivalry that has produced some historic results over the years. The matchup lost some of its luster when Heelan moved from Class 4A to 3A but it's still an important game for players and fans alike. A large crowd filled both sides of the stadium and the popular “cheepskates hill” overlooking the field was jam-packed.
Heelan, which draws Carroll in its home opener next Friday, has now won six of the last seven over the Black Raiders.
Junior Tommy Schiltz collected a team-high 14 tackles, including five for loss. Mollet had three tackles for loss while Hunter Hope deflected four passes.
East's Siebersma rushed for 77 yards on 17 carries and passed for 130 yards and two touchdowns.