PRIDE TO PLAY FOR 9AA TITLE THURSDAY NIGHT
JEREMY WALTNER – PUBLISHER
Tage Ortman was in middle school when his oldest brother, Trey, led Canistota/Freeman to back-to-back football championships in 2018 and 2019, and a freshman last year when his other brother, Tyce, quarterbacked the Pride to a third-straight Class 9A title.
This Thursday in Vermillion, the youngest of the three Ortman boys will have his chance to lead Canistota/Freeman to glory once again — this time in the Class 9AA ranks.
EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THURSDAY’S GAME
Ortman and the Pride won a return trip to the DakotaDome with a thrilling win over Parkston in Parkston last Friday night, Nov. 5. Canistota/Freeman trailed the Trojans 20-16 late in the game when the sophomore gunslinger found Will Ortman in the back corner of the endzone with 1:21 to play for a 20-yard completion. A successful two-point conversion made it a 24-20 lead, and an interception by Noah Kleinsasser on Parkston’s final drive sealed the win.
Seeded No. 11 in the postseason ranks, the Pride (7-4) will now face No. 9 Platte-Geddes (9-2) for the state title Thursday, Nov. 11, in a game set to start at 7:30 p.m. at Vermillion’s DakotaDome.
Parkston, which had been ranked No. 2 in the final Class 9AA standings behind only Hanson, finished the year 8-3.
“That was insane,” Tage Ortman said after last week’s win over the Trojans, as players, coaches and fans lingered in a daze born out of execution, exhaustion and euphoria. “Our coach always says, ‘next play,’ and that’s our mindset. They scored in the second half, we were down a little, but we came back. And that last drive — wow. It was insane. Great game.”
THE FINAL 8 MINUTES
Indeed, the end of Friday’s contest was one that players and fans will be talking about for a long time, as Canistota/Freeman appeared to be on the brink of a loss, only to find a way back.
Not only did Parkston own the lead following a go-ahead touchdown early in the fourth quarter, the Trojans had the ball 1st-and-10 near midfield with 8 minutes to play — and all the momentum to go with it.
But the Pride’s signature defense coupled with a few Parkston miscues set the stage for the game’s final act.
A defensive stop in the backfield coupled with a holding penalty called on the home team backed the Trojans up 10 yards and put them at 1st and 24;
A stop at the line of scrimmage on the next play made it 2nd and 24, and an ensuing delay of game called on Parkston made it 2nd and 29 with under 7 minutes to play;
A quarterback sack followed as the pocket collapsed, putting the Trojans in a 3rd-and-37 situation, now from their own 20-yard-line;
A punt followed, and Canistota/Freeman’s speedy back Isiah Robertson returned the kick into Parkston territory, but the Trojans caught a break when the Pride were flagged for running into the kicker. While the 5-yard penalty didn’t change Parkston’s 4th-and-long situation, it did give the Trojans another punt — a better one — that pushed Canastota/Freeman back to its own 25-yard-line with 4:57 left in the game.
Down 20-16, the Pride at least had a chance.
“They had all the momentum, but we came together as a team and rallied,” said Freeman junior Ethan Balvin, who led the team with nine solo tackles, had three assists and was in on that quarterback sack that pushed Parkston into that 3rd-and-37 situation. “It’s not over until the last play is done.”
That mindset certainly held true as the Pride battled against the odds on what would be the game-winning drive. First, Canistota/Freeman converted on a 4th-and-3 with under 4 minutes to play and then on a 3rd-and-three near midfield before facing a 2nd-and-15 after a quarterback sack with 1:58 on the clock.
Ortman fired a bullet that was completed to Robertson at Parkston’s 20-yard-line with 1:46 left, and then, facing a 3rd-and-10, the quarterback found Will Ortman in the back corner of the endzone for the go-ahead score. It was the junior’s fifth catch of the game, second touchdown of the night, and biggest reception of his career.
It was probably the biggest pass of Ortman’s career, as well.
“Will was catching the ball all night long,” the quarterback said. “I knew he was going to be open; I heard the route that he had and I knew he was going to be open. I just had to trust him. I threw it up and he brought it down.”
Like the other coaches, first-year assistant Avery Sage had a view of the go-ahead touchdown from the sidelines, and right in front of a loud and abrasive Parkston fanbase.
“I exploded on the sidelines, and then I remembered I shouldn’t go any further onto the field,” he said. “This was a rollercoaster of a game. My hand hurts from high-fiving and my head hurts from yelling.”
Sage noted the importance of the Pride’s two-point conversion that turned a 22-20 lead into a 24-20 lead.
Sealing it with the two-point conversion — a completed pass on a rollout from Ortman back across his body to Cayden Scott — was huge.
“That meant they couldn’t kick a field goal, and they were kicking some deep field goals pregame,” Sage said. “We just put it in the hands of our defense. That seems to be working for us.”
A deep kick pinned the Trojans back on their own 19-yard-line with 1:16 to play, and on the second play of Parkston’s final possession, Kleinsasser picked off a pass across the middle from Kaleb Weberm and the Pride took over with 49 seconds to play.
The Trojans used their final two timeouts after Ortman took a knee on first and second down, but the clocked expired thereafter, and that was the game — a Canistota/Freeman win in a hostile environment.
“It was loud, but we rallied around each other,” said Sage. “We came back, we trusted each other and, when it came down to it, we made the plays we had to make.”
SETTING UP THE FINISH
The final eight minutes of last Friday’s game followed what had been a back-and-forth affair. The Pride struck first on a 41-yard pass from Ortman to Kleinsasser and a two-point conversion from Ortman to Ortman on their first possession, but Parkston answered when Cole Prunty took a handoff and ran for a 55-yard touchdown on the Trojans’ first possession of the game. A successful two-point conversion made it 8-8.
Canistota/Freeman struck again in the second period on a halfback option pass from Robertson to Ortman that went for 40 yards, and another two-point conversion from Ortman to Ortman made it 16-8 with 4:40 left in the first half.
But Parkston scored the next two touchdowns — one on a passing play from 15 yards out that closed the gap to 16-14, and then again early in the fourth quarter on a short run that gave the Trojans their first lead of the night at 20-16.
In both cases, however, Parkston failed on the two-point attempt, which would have made the lead 24-16 instead of 20-16 and potentially changed the trajectory of the outcome.
“It was wild; I’m so glad our team pulled it out,” said Canistota senior and big man on the line Riley Heiberger. “We never gave up; we just kept on pushing forward every play. They’re a good team. I think our team had more motivation because we wanted to come back for our four-peat.”
Canistota/Freeman’s dramatic win over Parkston fits right in with a season filled with ups, downs and high uncertainty. The Pride, the undisputed ruler at the Class 9A ranks the past three seasons, came into their 2021 campaign with a new challenge. Not only were they playing without a host of key seniors lost to graduation, a realignment by the South Dakota High School Activities Association meant a move up to Class 9AA.
“Everybody was thinking, ‘OK, that was a nice threepeat,’” said Sage, “but these boys had something to prove.”
The eight-game regular season was a mixed bag for the Pride. They opened the season with an 16-8 loss at Platte-Geddes — committing five turnovers in the process — but bounced back the next week to rout Elkton-Lake Benton 48-18. Canistota/Freeman went 3-3 the rest of the way, sustaining its biggest loss of the season to Howard 59-28 in Week 3 but also coming back for perhaps its biggest win of the regular season — a 56-50 overtime win over Garretson in Week 5.
But the coaching staff has been clear that the 4-4 regular season record didn’t matter, nor did the No. 11 seed in the postseason. Heading into the playoffs, everybody was 0-0, they said, and the Pride responded by upending No. 7 and one-loss Florence-Henry 22-20 in the first round, No. 3 and one-loss Ipswich 14-0 in the quarterfinals, and then No. 2 Parkston last week.
Now, the Pride need just one more win to take home a fourth-straight 9-man championship.
“You just feel lucky that you’re here and that you have a chance to play,” said Ethan Balvin.
Tage Ortman is certainly ready for his chance to lead the Pride to another title.
“It means everything,” he said after last week’s win over Parkston. “My brothers, they played a big role in my life. Tyce had to fill the shoes of Trey and I had to fill the shoes of Tyce. I guess I’m doing OK.”