HAGEN: Comparing dominance: Freeman or Canistota?One of the noteworthy plays in Friday’s 9A state high school football championship game was a record-breaking 81-yard touchdown pass Canistota quarterback Cody Bunger threw to Trevor Schroeder early in the fourth quarter.
By: Luke Hagen, The Daily Republic
One of the noteworthy plays in Friday’s 9A state high school football championship game was a record-breaking 81-yard touchdown pass Canistota quarterback Cody Bunger threw to Trevor Schroeder early in the fourth quarter.
The play broke a 9A championship game record from 1999, when Brett Scherschligt threw a 78-yard touchdown to Seth Walter to help Freeman beat Harding County 12-8.
“I remember that play,” said Canistota coach Lenny Schroeder, whose team beat Wall 66-6 at the DakotaDome in Vermillion for a second straight state title. “They had to run it to win. They were behind when they threw that pass.”
In 1999, a dynasty ended when Freeman won its fourth straight and, so far, its last state football championship. During that span, the school won 50 games, including a state 9-man record of 46 consecutive victories that still stands.
Friday, Canistota won its second straight 9-man football championship and did so in dominant fashion. For the second straight year, the Hawks went undefeated and demolished their competition in the championship game.
Freeman had one of the most successful 9-man runs in the history of the state, but does Canistota’s run compare?
“To say they’ve dominated is an understatement,” former Freeman head football coach Jim Aisenbrey said. “There’s a combination that makes good teams. You have to have good talent and you have to have coaches who put that talent in the right places.”
Aisenbrey, who’s now a principal at Baltic High School and two years removed from coaching football, was Freeman’s head coach for 24 years. In 1996, he led Freeman to a 13-0 record and a win over Hitchcock-Tulare in the 9B championship, the school’s second-ever football title.
The next year, Freeman again went undefeated with 13 wins and defeated Garretson in the championship game. In the two title games combined, the Flyers scored 106 points. The Flyers defeated Faulkton for the 1998 9A title.
In 1999, a 46-game win streak ended during the eighth game of the regular season when Marion defeated the Flyers 28-20, but Freeman went on to win a state title over Harding County.
“They were dominant and physical,” Schroeder said of the mid-1990s Freeman teams. “Like our team, they had five or six athletes that could flat-out play football.”
From that four-year dominant run, Freeman had five players move on to Division II college athletics. Aisenbrey said in 1996 and 1997, the starters got to play about one half each game because of lopsided scores.
That’s becoming a trend in Canistota as well.
Friday, Canistota’s junior varsity team played the last nine minutes in the state title victory. Wall scored its lone touchdown in the final minute, erasing the Hawks’ chance at their ninth shutout this year. In the past two seasons combined, Canistota has 15 shutouts — including a 66-0 win over Hitchcock-Tulare in last year’s 9B title game — and has outscored opponents by an average score of 52-4.
The Hawks are showing no signs of letting up, either.
Although they need 22 more wins to match Freeman’s win streak, there’s a possibility the Hawks could go undefeated again next year and win a third straight championship. The team returns key players on offense and defense, and the players who will step in for lost seniors have gotten plenty of experience during blowouts.
“They’re just reloading, because the next kid will be ready to step in,” Aisenbrey said. “That’s how you build that dominance.”
It’s obvious Canistota is king of 9-man football in South Dakota right now. The team is overwhelmingly better than most of its opponents and is building success for the future, as Freeman did during is impressive run in the 1990s.
Although it’s not possible for any of those old Freeman teams to clash with Canistota on the field, it’s interesting to debate their respective dominance. Because Canistota’s success isn’t over, it’s hard to fully assess the matchup.
“It’s hard to compare who would beat who,” Schroeder said. “It’s the 2000s versus the 1990s, and 10 years apart. You can’t really say one way or another, but I do think we belong in the discussion.”