Wake up, Stuart! FC Sacred Heart’s coming over

By Jason Schock

There’s a theory among sleep scientists that people who experience recurring dreams have some sort of trauma in their past they are trying to deal with. Those dreams, then, become nightmares when they cause strong feelings of fear, sadness or anxiety. 

Traumatic events cause nightmares.

On that note, sleep tight, Stuart.

The FC Sacred Heart football team and its fans may not be overly excited about a six-hour bus ride north Wednesday that once the wheels finally come to a stop for the 3 p.m. kickoff they will be in considerably closer geographical proximity to Rapid City than Falls City. Boredom, not fear, is Wednesday’s Irish enemy. 

Fear undoubtedly lies in the hearts of the Stuart Broncos, who know that bus will eventually hit its brakes. Nobody knows like Stuart that Sacred Heart can turn any eight-man football field into their own private Badlands.

“They just got us in such a big hole. Then it just snowballed on us,” Stuart Coach Lance Howitt said 11 months ago, after his team surrendered 56 unanswered points in a 63-14 FCSH Class D2 State Championship victory at Memorial Stadium. 

“We only have one senior. The other kids have got to learn from this,” Howitt went on to say. 

Better yet, learn to forget it. All of it.

The Irish scored eight-straight touchdowns during one stretch of the game, converted 8-of-9 third downs and committed just one penalty to win the storied school’s first state football title in 19 years and seventh overall. Though they’ve now reached the state playoffs an ongoing state-record 28 consecutive seasons and only two schools – Creighton Prep and Humphrey SF – have appeared more times, that was Doug Goltz and Sacred Heart’s first appearance at Memorial Stadium. Perhaps even its finest moment.

“It was pretty flawless,” Goltz said. “We didn’t make many mistakes. I can’t say enough.”

To be sure, Stuart is a year better and much has changed for Sacred Heart in 11 months, notably a stack of very heavy letterjackets. FCSH is the seventh seed and, frankly, the team had two big games this season and lost them both. But two guys who accounted for five of those Irish state championship touchdowns last November – seniors Sawyer Kean and Austin Malone – will be on the bus to Stuart this November. Kean just rushed for 203 yards and scored three times in the 52-13 opening-round victory over Emerson-Hubbard and Malone ran and threw for four himself. Coach Howitt need not worry about his team learning from that game – in their minds, anyway, they know these guys far too well. 

“We have a lot of kids out and have experience,” Goltz said. “We aren’t as deep as I’d like us to be, but our JV has gone 21-0 the last three years. We’re not as good as we were a year ago, but how good is the field? I think a lot of teams aren’t as good as they were a year ago. I still think we’re capable of getting to the finals. I think we have the skill players and the size, too. We just have to get hot and get on a four-game run to get to the finals.” 

The aforementioned lack of depth took a major hit last week when junior end and defensive back Henry Arnold suffered a broken right fibula in the first quarter against Emerson-Hubbard on a 48-yard interception return. And FCSH saw what can happen without Kean on the field in a 46-20 loss to Exeter-Milligan on Oct. 10. The Irish led 20-8 before he got hurt.

FCSH is a totally different team with a healthy Kean running the ball and Goltz said they’re a different team than they were in week one, when a group of first-time starters surrendered a 48-34 third-quarter lead in a 56-48 loss to North Andrew, MO. 

“I think our kids really learned more from those losses than they did any of the games we won,” Goltz said. “I know our line is a lot better than it was the first game of the season.” 

The Irish are big and strong up front and also platoon more than you might expect. Seniors Logan Scheitel (220) and Ben Mullins (205) don’t really come out, but 272-pound sophomore Bryant Jorn has become mostly an offensive lineman as the season has progressed, while 248-pound junior Reggie Johansen has taken over at defensive tackle. Furthermore, junior Bailey Witt, who was injured all last year, has emerged as the team’s top downfield threat (he caught two passes for 43 yards Thursday) while 217-pound sophomore linebacker Austin Ahern strictly hits people on defense. 

“A lot of teams this time of year are ready for football to be over,” Goltz said. “Our kids got a taste of what it’s like to make a deep playoff run last year and I know they want that. They know what it took, now it’s just a matter of doing it,” he said. 

Sleep on THAT, Stuart.

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