CEDAR FALLS, Iowa — Trailing by one with 1:44 remaining, Fremont-Mills intentionally let New London score to go down by eight.
It worked perfectly, as the Knights drove 65 yards and tied the game with 15 seconds left.
Then the overtime started. There, things didn’t go perfectly.
Fremont-Mills took the ball first in the OT and failed to score. Then the Knights were penalized for an illegal substitution, giving New London first-and-goal at the 5. The sixth-rated Tigers scored three plays later on a 1-yard Isaac McSorley sneak to clinch a wild 60-54 Eight-Man semifinal victory over No. 5 Fremont-Mills on Thursday at the UNI-Dome.
“It was the most exciting, fun game that I’ve ever played in,’’ Fremont-Mills sophomore Seth Malcom said, “but the outcome wasn’t what we wanted it to be.’’
New London (11-1) will make its first championship game appearance back here on Thursday at 10 a.m. against unrated Rockford (11-1). Fremont-Mills, which was making its fourth semifinal appearance in five years, ended at 10-2.
New London scored 20 points in the first 3:13 of the second half to take a 40-19 lead. The Tigers scored on their first possession of the third quarter and recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff and scored again. F-M fumbled it away on its first play from scrimmage, and three plays later McSorley scored to give the Tigers a commanding 21-point lead.
“You couldn’t ask for probably a worse three minutes in a football game in history, but I thought our guys did a great job of coming back from it,’’ Fremont-Mills coach Jeremy Christiansen said. “They fought and fought.’’
Senior quarterback Mason Vanatta spearheaded the comeback with a spectacular 428 yards of total offense and six touchdowns, and he had plenty of help. He finished with 25 carries for 201 yards and three TDs and completed 16 of 28 for 227 yards and three scores.
“There was hope the whole time, to the very end,’’ Vanatta said. “We knew we were in it. We knew we could win. Just always keep fighting. That’s what we always say.’’
Vanatta ran for 2 yards on fourth-and-1 at the New London 7, and Malcom ran it in from the 10 after a 5-yard penalty to pull the Knights within 47-46 with 5:50 remaining. But the kick was wide, keeping the Tigers in front.
With 1:44 left, New London had second-and-goal at the F-M 2. An offsides penalty moved it to the 1, but Christiansen had already made up his mind, as the Knights had only one timeout remaining.
“We let them score,’’ he said. “We actually thought they’d take a knee. We let them score obviously because we were going to run out of timeouts and time.’’
The PAT kick made it 54-46 with 1:37 left, plenty of time for a Fremont-Mills team that finished with 573 total yards. Vanatta was 6 for 7 on the drive, hitting Malcom three times for 46 yards. On second-and-8 from the Tiger 12, Dylan Chambers made a shoestring catch in the end zone to cut it to two with 15 seconds left. Vanatta then avoided a sack, threw across his body and found senior Austin Gartner for the two-pointer and the tie.
“He had one heck of a game,’’ Christiansen said of Vanatta. “Run-heavy early, and then made some very good passing decisions there late.’’
In the overtime, New London won the toss.
“I let them make that decision,’’ New London coach Mark McSorley said. “They said, ‘Let’s play defense,’ and I said, ‘Let’s hold them.’”
After two plays netted nothing, Vanatta ran for 6. On fourth-and-goal from the 4, he was pressured heavily and fired one into the end zone in desperation that was picked by Mason Porter.
That meant New London just needed any kind of score, and when Fremont-Mills had nine players in the huddle, it was moved 5 yards closer before taking a snap. Three plays later, it was over.
“On a scale of 1 to 10, this was probably a 10,’’ Mark McSorley said. “These are games that you dream of, and I’m so happy that our kids were able to experience it.’’
Fremont-Mills outgained the Tigers 573-368, but turned it over four times to just one for its opponent.
Malcom caught seven passes for 102 yards and rushed 16 times for 87 yards, scoring three touchdowns. Chambers had touchdown catches of 18 and 12 yards, and picked off a pass.Jonah Bateman played well at center, and fellow seniors Jaeger Powers and Connor Alley contributed heavily on both sides of the ball.
“Great season,’’ Vanatta said. “This was always a goal, to get here.’’
Malcom said he was grateful to the seniors for their leadership.
“They’ve been putting work in forever, all the way since junior high,’’ he said. “I remember looking up to them. We just have a lot of faith in each other. We do everything together. It’s sad that it ended today.’’
Christiansen said he’ll always have fond memories of his 2018 squad, which lost its opener and then rattled off 10 straight wins.
“This is probably the first team that we’ve improved each and every week,’’ he said. “Even last week to this week, I felt like we had improvement. I think it goes back to the senior leadership. It’s just fun to coach them.’’
New London (11-1)………………..0 20 27 7 6—60
Fremont-Mills (10-2)…………..7 12 14 21 0—54
FM: Mason Vanatta 62 run (Connor Alley kick)
FM: Vanatta 31 run (kick failed)
NL: Keontae Luckett 65 run (kick failed)
NL: Mason Porter 48 pass from Isaac McSorley (Roberto Carrillo kick)
FM: Vanatta 24 run (pass failed)
NL: Porter 18 pass from McSorley (Carrillo kick)
NL: McSorley 38 run (Carrillo kick)
NL: Porter 21 pass from McSorley (kick blocked)
NL: McSorley 8 run (Carrillo kick)
FM: Dylan Chambers 18 pass from Vanatta (Alley kick)
FM: Seth Malcom 9 run (Alley kick)
NL: Darius Whaley 12 pass from McSorley (Carrillo kick)
FM: Malcom 8 pass from Vanatta (Alley kick)
FM: Malcom 10 run (kick failed)
NL: Luckett 1 run (Carrillo kick)
FM: Chambers 12 pass from Vanatta (Austin Gartner pass from Vanatta)
NL: McSorley 1 run (no attempt)
Rushing: NL, Keontae Luckett 14-76, Isaac McSorley 10-64, Jordan Johnson 14-21, team 1-(-1). FM, Mason Vanatta 25-201, Seth Malcom 16-87, Jaeger Powers 8-54, Colton Hauschild 1-4.
Passing: NL, Isaac McSorley 18-25-1, 198 yards, 4 TDs; Jordan Johnson 1-1-0, 10 yards, 1 TD. FM, Mason Vanatta 16-28-2, 227 yards, 3 TDs.
Receiving: NL, Mason Porter 4-107, Darius Whaley 4-49, Keontae Luckett 5-26, Jordan Johnson 5-16, Isaac McSorley 1-10. FM, Seth Malcom 7-102, Dylan Chambers 5-82, Connor Alley 2-36, Jaeger Powers 1-5, Austin Gartner 1-2.