TIMBER LAKE - The Canistota/Freeman football team didn't strike first Friday night.
But after the first touchdown arrived from top-seeded and previously undefeated Timber Lake, the Pride showed up in a big way, scoring 44 unanswered points to take down the host Panthers and to cruise in a Class 9A semifinal game 44-20.
Canistota/Freeman (10-1) advances to the Class 9A championship game on Thursday at 10 a.m., playing for the first time in the DakotaDome since forming a co-op.
On Friday, the Pride ran for more 324 yards and 24 first downs, while keeping a previously powerful Panther offense mostly in check. The opening drive started with a Tucker Kraft touchdown run, that was powered by Pride penalties.
"I wasn't overly happy with that opening drive," Canistota/Freeman coach James Strang said. We gave up 35 yards on the opening drive in penalties but settled in and we got their game under control a little bit. We knew they had a good jet sweep game and the Kraft kid is a great player and once we got that down, we played better."
The running duo of Austin Thu and Bailey Sage did the damage in the first half, each scoring two times. Thu had a four-yard touchdown run on the final play of the first half - an untimed down after a penalty on Timber Lake - that eventually led to a 30-6 halftime lead.
Trey Ortman's 50-yard touchdown run from the quarterback position to start the third quarter put the Pride up 38-6, and Thu added a third touchdown from two yards out late in the quarter to go up 44-6.
"We always like running the ball, if we can," Strang said. "If we can grind it out, we're going to do that. They were playing some games with the tackles and we got that down and Bailey's number got called in the rushing game. Austin and Trey each did their jobs and kept them off the balance."
Thu ran 20 times for 151 yards and three touchdowns. Trey Ortman had 94 yards rushing on nine carries and a touchdown and Bailey Sage had 64 yards on 12 carries and two touchdowns for the Pride, who outgained Timber Lake (10-1) 412-321. Thu had 12 tackles on defense, while Sage had eight stops and an interception. Tyce Ortman added an interception as well.
Kraft had 188 yards on 19 carries and two touchdowns. Trey Bollinger had two catches for 62 yards, while Ty Ducheneaux was 14-for-23 passing for 149 yards and a touchdown. Kraft had eight tackles on defense.
Canistota/Freeman is in its third year playing together, but second season with new colors and new nickname.
"It's great, it's absolutely great," Strang said of reaching the Dome. "It's the start of something that we hope to continue doing, and whether they've been there, or watched as little kids, it's about all of the boys getting there together. Now it's all about one game."
That one game will come against Howard (8-3), a longtime Cornbelt Conference rival. The Pride won that game 36-12 in Howard on Aug. 24.
"Both teams have grown since then, we know that," Strang said. "It's two Cornbelt Conference and 9-man teams playing and it says a lot about our conference. It's great to see. It's a quick turnaround with the game on Thursday morning."
TL: Tucker Kraft 10 run (run failed)
CF: Austin Thu 5 run (Thu run)
CF: Bailey Sage 2 run (pass failed)
CF: Sage 1 run (Tristan Pierce pass from Trey Ortman)
CF: Thu 4 run (Thu pass from Ortman)
CF: Ortman 50 run (Thu run)
CF: Thu 2 run (run failed)
TL: Jackson Harrison 15 pass from Ty Ducheneaux (run failed)
TL: Kraft 79 run (Trey Bollinger pass from Ducheneaux)