OLD NEWS: CLEAN PLAY KEY TO QUARTERFINAL GAME AGAINST IPSWICH
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JEREMY WALTNER – PUBLISHER
The Canistota/Freeman football team is heading north once again tonight, Thursday, Oct. 28, this time for Ipswich, where the No. 11 Pride will face the No. 3 Tigers in a Class 9AA quarterfinal game set to start at 7 p.m. Canistota/Freeman goes in 5-4 while Ipswich is 8-1; the winner advances to the semifinals next Friday night against the winner of No. 2 Parkston and No. 10 Garretson.
The winner of that game moves on to the DakotaDome for the 9AA championship.
The Pride earned their trip to Ipswich with a gutsy, dirty 22-20 win over Florence/Henry in Florence in the opening round of the playoffs last Thursday, Oct. 21, under less-than-idea playing conditions. Not only was the game on an 80-yard field, the condition of the rain-soaked playing surface was extremely poor, altering the Pride’s game plan.
“Their field was in pretty tough shape; they had pretty big potholes out there and the top layer was very slick, so we had a lot of guys spinning their tires right away,” said head coach James Strang. “On an 80-yard field (especially), when it’s sloppy out there, it makes it tough. We had a pretty good game plan in mind, but because of the field conditions a lot of the stuff we wanted to do offensively we had to throw out pretty early, so we had to ad lib and make do and simplify everything we had worked on.”
The Pride got the job done, but it was close.
The three-time defending 9A champions struck first late in the first period on an 8-yard touchdown run by Isiah Robertson and a two-point conversion pass from Ortman to Cayden Scott to go up 8-0. Robertson scored again on a 3-yard run and successful two-point conversion to give the Pride a 16-7 led in the third quarter but Florence/Henry stayed within striking distance after scoring on a 36-yard touchdown run to close the game to 16-14.
Canistota/Freeman responded with another touchdown, this time on 28-yard pass from Ortman to Noah Kleinsasser, although a key two-point conversion attempt that would have made it a two-score game failed.
Then, after stopping Canistota/Freeman on a drive that would have sealed the win in the fourth quarter, the Falcons took possession with about 4 minutes to play deep in their own territory but couldn’t advance the ball onto the other side of the 80-yard field.
They were ultimately stopped on four downs with less than 30 seconds to play and, with Florence/Henry out of timeouts, Pride quarterback Tage Ortman took a knee and that was the game.
“Defensively I thought we played pretty well,” Strang said. “We gave up a couple of big plays — that one run towards the end kind of set them up and gave them an opportunity — but we ended up holding late in the game. I was pretty happy with that defensive effort, especially after some of the struggles we saw during the regular season.”
And Strang said his team did a good job of matching the physical play of Florence/Henry.
“They had a couple players that we knew going into it who kind of had a bad attitude and a bad reputation for playing the game at a high physical level and being very aggressive,” he said. “I liked what we did in terms of matching that with attitude and intensity.”
Despite the tough field conditions, Robertson was a key player in the win, carrying the ball 30 times for 180 yards and two touchdowns, and Kleinsasser caught three passes for 40 yards and a touchdown that put the Pride up 22-14.
Riley Heiberger had a big game defensively for the Pride, recording 8 solo tackles — two for losses — and a sack.
“It was really nice to see,” Strang said. “They were trying to do some things and he was able to get free and get around and make some plays. We rallied really well; when we can hold on the front side and allow players to chase things down from the back, that’s a great opportunity for our defense.”
Jacob Swensen, Robertson and Kleinsasser also each had four solo tackles.
The stat sheet shows just how close Thursday night’s game was. Canistota/Freeman tallied 248 yards to the Falcons’ 246.
The Pride ran 57 plays to Florence/Henry’s 55.
And Canistota/Freeman possessed the ball 24 minutes to the Falcons’ 23:15.
Florence/Henry finished the season 7-2. Now the Pride turn their attention to Ipswich.
“They’re fast, they’re big, they’ve got a good power run games mixed in with some play-action pass,” said Strang. “They’ve got a quarterback/wide receiver combo they like throwing vertical to, so they’re a well-balanced team.”
Ipswich’s only loss on the season was to a highly touted Herreid-Selby team, which is 10-0, No. 1 in Class 9A and which defeated the Tigers 46-28 on Sept. 24.
“They look good on film, they manage the game pretty well and they only have the one loss,” Strang said. “But that’s the way it’s supposed to be this time of the year. You want good games. I still think 9AA is as wide open as it’s been all year and whoever shows up on game night is going to be a big factor in who moves forward.”
The key to Thursday’s game?
“For us, it’s going to be taking care of the football,” Strang said. “It’s something we’ve been struggling with all year long. We can’t put ourselves behind the chains and in inefficient situations.”
It will also come down to defense.
“We’re going to have to limit big plays and force them to grind it out,” he said. “We need to play fundamental football — heads up tackling, feet engaged, hits engaged and getting a good wrap and rally around each other.
“If we play team defense, I don’t know that there’s a team in the state we can’t shut down.”
And Strang says the Pride’s strength of schedule this season could pay dividends late.
Canistota/Freeman’s four losses this season came against Platte-Geddes (7-2), Howard (9-0), Chester Area (6-3) and Hanson (8-1), and with the exception of the Howard game, each was by fewer than 10 points.
“We went through a heck of regular season schedule against top-ranked teams and hard-core opponents with heavy hitters, good speed and all sorts of athleticism around the way,” Strang said. “Hopefully our wins and our losses, our good play and our bad play, is coaching us more and preparing us for what’s ahead.
“Any way you slice it, when it comes down to it, it’s about doing your job and making sure you trust in their teammates to do theirs.”