In a game that will be remembered for an awesome display of offensive power in the first half, it was actually Canistota/Freeman’s laser-sharp defensive effort in the final 24 minutes that made all the difference in the world.
What’s that they say about defense winning championships?
Competing for the Class 9A title Thursday, Nov. 14, the defending champion Pride outlasted the Britton-Hecla Braves 46-34 on a cool but comfortable late-morning/early-afternoon in Brookings to claim their second championship in as many years. Canistota/Freeman trailed 30-34 at halftime but stepped up its defensive game in the third and fourth quarters to hold the Braves to just 79 yards and without a touchdown while scoring two of its own — more than enough to get the job done.
It was the second game in a row that the No. 3 Pride took down an undefeated higher seed; Canistota/Freeman routed No. 2 Sully Buttes 55-22 in the semifinals on Nov. 8 and then skirted past No. 1 Britton-Hecla in Friday’s title game at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium on the campus of South Dakota State University.
Assistant Pride coach Curtis Sage didn’t have any trouble finding the word to describe the game immediately afterward: “Amazing,” he said walking off the field.
For Chris Maske, another assistant coach from Freeman, the word didn’t come as easily.
“Adjectives are escaping me right now,” he finally said.
Nobody can blame him.
Friday’s 9A championship game between Canistota/Freeman and Britton-Hecla included all the ingredients that make for an outstanding and memorable championship game cocktail, leaving folks like Maske at a loss for words when put on the spot. A dynamic offensive effort from both teams delighted fans in the early quarters, numerous lead changes had everybody guessing what was going to happen next and big play after big play generated heart-pounding momentum swings.
“I’d take a second-half snoozer over that nail-biter any day of the week,” Pride head coach James Strang told the Courier in the tunnel beneath the east grandstand of the SDSU football stadium. “I’m just really happy with the way we were able to control the ball in the second half. Our defense finally showed up like I thought it would all game.”
Freeman senior Bailey Sage, who Strang called the “soul” of the team, described the game as “a grinder — a battle” and was unable to hold back tears as he spoke to the magnitude of the moment.
“This is one of the greatest days of my life,” he told the Courier. “There’s no better way to go out than on top. I’m so proud of this team.”
Check back later for more on the game.