Taylor Wemhoff has been a Humphrey St. Francis workhorse. That wouldn't be readily apparent by his 5-10, 165-pound stature, but Wemhoff has had a season for the ages.
The senior has averaged 8.3 yards per carry with 24 touchdowns and over 1,400 yards.
But Falls City Sacred Heart and head coach Doug Goltz didn't become an eight-time state champion without recognizing opponents strengths and weaknesses. Thus, it was Wemhoff the Irish keyed on.
Sacred Heart held Wemhoff to just 67 yards on 22 carries, more than five yards below his normal output. He broke one run for 16 yards on the Flyers' first touchdown drive, but was then forced to settle for just 2.4 yards per carry on his other attempts.
Six times he was held to 1 yard or less.
The Irish gameplan was something out of what Bill Belichick's mindset: make the other team play left handed without its best option.
Luckily, St. Francis anticipated the Sacred Heart focus and had quarterback Trevor Pfeifer to turn to. Though he wasn't exactly an unknown with 25 touchdowns (14 rushing, 11 passing) before Monday night, he had fewer than half the carries as Wemhoff and was third overall on the carry chart, also trailing Spencer Engel.
Then he went off for two passing touchdowns, two rushing and 287 yards of combined offense in the 24-16 win over Sacred Heart.
If the intentions of the Irish were to have someone other than Wemhoff beat them, Pfeifer filled that role perfectly.
"I was hoping it would (go that way) because I knew they would key on Taylor Wemhoff a lot. I had to really step up and carry the load today," Pfeifer said. "I knew I would have to do that."
Pfeifer carried 12 times for 49 yards and a score in the first half and was 3 of 7 passing for 39 yards with a touchdown. Those numbers don't exactly jump off the page until digging into the actual plays.
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On a second-and-10 following a run for no gain and trailing Sacred Heart 8-0, Pfeifer made the Flyers' first big play of the game when he connected with brother Tanner for a 30-yard gain in Irish territory. Those two found each other again for a St. Francis touchdown two plays later.
Later on, capping a drive that lasted 16 plays and was two seconds short of covering seven full minutes, Pfeifer converted a third-and-goal at the 9. He went around the left side, looked stopped around the 6 then spun out of the clutches of a tackler and held the ball out in celebration as he entered the end zone.
Down 8-6 when the drive started, Pfeifer's run on a key third down gave the Flyers the lead and the mental edge headed into halftime.
"I was fairly confident going into the game. I knew they would maybe stop us the first couple times we had the ball because they play with a lot of energy and they play hard all the time," he said. "We were hoping we could wear them down, bust a couple big runs there at the end and that’s kind of what happened."
To Pfeifer's point, there's no need to dig into the plays when looking at his second-half numbers.
Following a holding call that backed St. Francis up inside its own 10, he launched a 71-yard touchdown pass to Wemhoff that turned what looked to be a Sacred Heart opportunity for a short field into a 10-point advantage.
The lead became 16 when he capped a 10-play drive on the next possession with 62 rushing yards including 16 on a first down following another holding call then a 24-yard dash backed up again on another hold.
His one mistake was a fumble at the 1 on a drive that would have put the game away with just over three minutes remaining. Still, he busted a 40-yard run on the drive and helped take almost four minutes off the clock following an Irish touchdown drive.
For a team barely tested all year and that had only trailed for one possession in the previous 11 games, any questions about the mental toughness of the Flyers to play and win against a quality opponent were answered on Monday. Pfeifer provided the most resounding response.
"I was really confident that it would, hopefully, go this way. In the summer, we had 50 days in the weight room with almost everybody, and we talk about mental toughness, putting ourselves in these type of scenarios and what could derail our season," Pfeifer said. "We went over all that this summer to make sure we could stay on track all season long."
Nate Tenopir is the sports editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.