PHOENIX OUTLAST BUFFALOS IN 9AA PLAYOFF THRILLER
In a game marked by momentum swings and high-stake plays, it was the Phoenix who turned in perhaps the biggest of them all.
Facing a 4th-and-5 from the Stanley County 10-yard-line and trailing 28-24 with 6:10 to play, sophomore quarterback Karter Weber found senior tight end Evan Scharberg over the middle to secure just enough yardage for a critical first down.
Two plays later, Weber scored on a 1-yard run and then completed a pass to Chris Aasen for the two-point conversation to give Freeman/Marion/Freeman Academy back the lead.
That game-saving fourth-down conversion and the go-ahead touchdown that followed were the final points of the night; the Phoenix defense held the Buffalos in check on their ensuing and final possession, and F/M/FA ran out the clock to come away with a thrilling 32-28 victory in the first round of the Class 9AA playoffs on a beautiful Thursday night in Fort Pierre — home of Stanley County.
“Just a great effort,” head coach Dustin Tschetter said after he and his coaching staff spoke to an amped-up Phoenix team in the moments following the win. “We put in good work all week — all season — and to see them come out here and pull off a win in the playoffs — it feels good.”
F/M/FA now moves on to the quarterfinals and will travel to Platte next Thursday to face second-seed Platte-Geddes, which is 8-1 after taking down Great Plains Lutheran 46-6 Thursday night.
More on Thursday’s win
Those who know the potential that lies within the Phoenix program might not consider Thursday’s victory over Stanley County an upset, but on paper it was.
F/M/FA went into the game with a 6-2 record and as the No. 10 seed and were facing a No. 7 team that finished the regular season 7-1 — and on its home field, no less. And senior quarterback Broch Zeeb and the Buffalos gave the Phoenix everything they had, fending off an early 8-0 deficit with two touchdowns of their own to claim a 14-8 lead in the second quarter.
Stanley County then took a 22-16 lead late in the third period before putting together a convincing drive in the fourth that gave them the advantage yet again — this time 28-24 with under 10 minutes to play.
But for every punch Stanley County threw, F/M/FA countered with one of its own, be it the offense stepping up or the defense holding ground; the Buffalos were 0-for-6 in fourth-down efficiency and the offense moved the ball down the field — and found the end zone — at the game’s most critical times.
“The defense held up the offense when the offense sputtered; the offense baled the defense out when we had our moments,” said Kent Mueller, the Freeman community native and legendary West Central coach who is a consultant with the Phoenix defensive coaching staff. “It comes down to complementary football.”
And in the end, the Phoenix were left standing.
“We’ve matured,” said Tschetter. “We’ve reached the point where we can overcome some things that go against us and make some things happen. That’s what happened tonight.”
Weber finished with 12-for-15 passing for 119 yards and two touchdown strikes — the first to senior Rocky Ammann that made it 6-0 and the other to sophomore Jackson Donlan that tied the game at 22-22.
Junior Dominic Sperling also ran for a Phoenix touchdown and Luke Peters had two kick returns for a total of 72 yards.
F/M/FA’s defense effort was once again led by junior Sawyer Wipf, who had eight solo tackles and was in on six others. Jackson Donlan had nine solo tackles, Ammann had six, and Evan Scharberg and Taylor Goodwin each had a quarterback sack.
Now, the Phoenix turn their attention to Thursday’s quarterfinal game riding considerable momentum.
“You have put in a season of work,” Austin Unruh, the team’s offensive coordinator, told the players in their postgame breakdown. “You have earned this chance to feel like this, but it is not over. I guarantee you this: You can win another game.”
For Ammann, the mindset going into Platte is clear:
“Go in there and do the same thing we did here.”