It’s been six years since Fremont-Mills won the Iowa state championship, but it’s hard not to notice some parallels between that team and its 2017 squad.
In 2011 the Knights defeated Murray 81-0 in the Eight-Man championship game. That was one season after an injury-plagued team was ousted in the semifinals by Armstrong-Ringsted, 45-34.
In 2016, another Fremont-Mills team with injuries to key players (including star linebacker Sam Phillips) lost in the semifinals to Harris-Lake Park, 35-21.
Much like 2011, the unrated Knights (9-2) have built on that disappointment all the way to a semifinal matchup, where they will face No. 2 Remsen St. Mary’s (10-0) at 12:06 p.m. on Thursday at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls.
According to F-M coach Jeremy Christiansen, coming up short the previous year was a driving force in the 2011 team’s championship run.
“The team in 2011 had a chip on their shoulder,” Christiansen said. “We weren’t healthy at the time and our kids felt like they left something on the field. Getting some of that experience under their belt is huge and hopefully the shock value will be reduced a little bit this time.”
The Knights have won seven in a row after starting out 2-2 and allowing 31.8 points in those games. Since that point, Fremont-Mills has averaged 47.4 points and given up 5.9.
They also avenged their 42-35 Week 2 loss to Sidney by defeating the Cowboys in the quarterfinals, 35-9.
“I think that this team has done a great job of coming together at the right time,” Christiansen said. “I think defense, right now, is our big strong point.”
The Knights’ defense will have its work cut out against a Hawks team that is averaging 57.4 points. They won their quarterfinal matchup with No. 3 Audubon, 62-32. St. Mary’s is led by running back Canaan Cox (1,834 yards, 35 touchdowns) and quarterback Derrick Schorg (1,401 passing yards, 19 TDs).
“They’re big, they’re physical, they’re fast,” Christiansen said. “They have all the pieces that you want. They’ve been through a tough schedule each and every week but they’ve handled everybody pretty well.”
The Knights feature their own impressive backfield duo of quarterback Mason Vanatta (2,523 total yards, 41 total TDs) and junior running back Jaeger Powers (1,116 yards, 11 scores). Freshman Seth Malcolm has evolved into a reliable second option, tallying 578 rushing yards on the year and filling in admirably when Powers got injured early in the season.
“We have to continue to get better at what we do,” Christiansen said. “When you get into a game like this I think everyone tries to look at the other team and adjust to the other team. You’ve got to win the turnover battle and you’ve got to win field position.”