First timer vs. repeat finalistHeelan will look to pass, Washington will stick with No. 1 rushing attack
Heading into the championship game, the Washington football team is allowing 7.7 points per game in the postseason.
The last four times that opponents have gotten into the Washington red zone the drives have resulted in three field goals and a blocked attempt.
The goal-line stand has become Washington’s signature in November, but senior linebacker Garrett Covington said the unit can play better.
It might take that type of performance to tame a potent aerial attack from Bishop Heelan of Sioux City, in Washington’s first-ever title game Thursday at 7:06 p.m. at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls.
“I don’t think we have reached our best (level),” Covington said. “We should have shut (Solon) out. We didn’t have any rushing or passing touchdowns. Our defense needs to step up against Heelan. They pass. It is not going to be all the middle linebackers doing all the work. The corners have to stick to them like glue.”
Heelan is fresh off a blitzing of Clear Lake 48-13 in the semifinals. Senior Trenton Salsma had a field day with 23-of-24 passing and five touchdowns for 376 yards.
He spread the wealth around with five different wide outs having a touchdown catch. Heelan showed it has the skill players to match Washington’s big-play ability.
“We played a really, really good football game,” said Bishop Heeland head coach Roger Jansen. “We have a tendency to play our best football in the semifinals. We are going to spread people out and see what they do. We have five receivers that Trenton has the option of throwing the football to.”
Junior Brett Buchmann had a 35-yard score, senior Philip Jacobson had a 83-yard touchdown, junior Tucker Spears had a 65-yard score and seniors Connor Niles and Tyler Cropley also had touchdown receptions.
“I feel like we have the best defense in the state,” Covington said. “We still have more in us.”
Washington will have a chance to prove it against a team that leads Class 3A in passing touchdowns and completion percentage. Heeland has an accuracy of 68 percent and 39 passing touchdowns.
“We are going to take what the defense gives us,” Jansen said. “We like throwing the football. That is probably what they are going to take away. It is going to be a chess match — how we defend each other.”
Washington has a contrasting style with a high reliance on the run game, but does produce big plays.
“A lot is going to be on how well our defense can contain their offense,” Jansen said. “I don’t think you stop an offense like Washington has. They have too many weapons. You try to limit the number of big plays that you give them.”
In the postseason Washington has eight touchdowns of at least 35 yards. Senior Tanner Knupp has had four of those scores and a team-long 84-yard touchdown.
Washington is ranked first in the state in rushing with 4,078 yards and 58 scores.
Washington (12-1) and Heelan (13-0) haven’t been in a lot of close games this season. The Crusaders are 1-0 in games decided by seven points or less and Washington is 1-1, including last week’s 14-9 win over Solon.
“Their record speaks for themselves,” Jansen said. “Obviously they are district champs and beat people pretty convincingly. They are a quality football team. Well-coached. They are physical and athletic. It will be a huge challenge for us.”
Sioux City East lost 27-22 against Heelan in the season opener, as it went to the running game with 141 yards and forced two takeaways.
Washington forced two turnovers in the semifinal and now has a turnover margin of 7-3 in the postseason.
The Solon win proved that the Washington football team can compete on the state level and validated its status as an elite team.
The players haven’t shown any signs of being content with advancing to the school’s first title game.
“All seniors in reality expected this,” Covington said. “We didn’t think of anything less. We thought we were going to come in and blow these guys out. We feel like we are the best. But not one person is the team.”
Covington said it doesn’t matter where the game is played — his focus is bringing a title back to Washington.
“I came out here and looked at this and it looked like my backyard,” Covington said. “I don’t care if it is on the cement. I want that state championship. Everyone wants it that bad. It is unbelievable the emotion that coach Randy Schrader brings to this team.”
Washington will look to put an exclamation on its 14-game season on a slick playing surface at the UNI-Dome.
“You can’t hear anything,” Covington said. “You don’t sink in this. All the normal season games were like practice to fix it for the five games in the playoffs. It’s like it is unfolding right in front of us.”