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Powerful Pride: Canistota/Freeman claims first state title as co-op over Howard

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Howard's EJ Leetch (52) sacks Canistota/Freeman's Trey Ortman (3) for a loss during the Class 9A state championship game Thursday at the DakotaDome in Vermillion. (Matt Gade / Republic)2 / 3
Canistota/Freeman's Jared Tieszen (32) shoves Howard's Isaac Feldhaus (12) out of bounds after a long run during the Class 9A state championship game Thursday at the DakotaDome in Vermillion. (Matt Gade / Republic)3 / 3

VERMILLION -- It felt like Canistota/Freeman head coach James Strang had a magic wand on Thursday at the DakotaDome, because everything the Pride did went well in the Class 9A state football championship game.

Powered by more than 400 yards of total offense and a stout defense, the Pride cruised to a 46-14 win over Howard to claim their first title as a co-op. Canistota last won a state title in 2015, though Freeman hadn’t won since 1999.

“I’m just happy and so proud of my team,” Canistota/Freeman running back Austin Thu said. “We just came out and hit them with everything we got.”

Canistota/Freeman quarterback Trey Ortman certainly had the magic touch, being named the game’s Joe Robbie MVP after throwing for 165 yards, scoring three total touchdowns and recording seven tackles while breaking up multiple passes as a defensive back. Ortman was also named the game’s Most Outstanding Back.

“(Being named MVP) doesn’t mean much to me,” Ortman said. “It’s the whole team. I couldn’t do it without my line, running backs and receivers.”

Ortman leaned on Braxton Schmidt more than anyone, including a nine-yard touchdown to cap Canistota/Freeman’s (11-1) opening drive of the game. Schmidt finished with 55 yards on a team-high four grabs.

Howard (8-4) answered with its own 12-play drive and Zach Pardy’s five-yard touchdown, but it struggled to move the ball the rest of the game, as James Strang told his team to “settle in” as he felt his team was overplaying and too excited.

While Pardy led the Tigers with 80 yards on 16 carries, the Tigers only had 162 yards of total offense, including a 2-for-11 day from quarterback Isaac Feldhaus.

The Pride’s offense didn’t have problems, though. Ortman connected with younger brother Tyce Ortman for a 50-yard score to start the second quarter, which Howard head coach Pat Ruml said, “took the wind out of us.” Tyce Ortman had a team-high 94 receiving yards and also intercepted a pass in the fourth quarter.

It also didn’t help that the Pride scored a two-point conversion on an unintentional flea flicker when Thu ran into a wall of Howard defenders on the right side, then tossed it back to Trey Ortman who found Bailey Sage in the end zone.

“(Trey Ortman) has that decision-making ability, and you have to trust your quarterback to be able to lead your offense and make those decisions,” Strang said.  

Trey Ortman also ran it in from six yards, giving the Pride a 24-6 halftime lead.

Strang said he had to yell at his team again to keep its high intensity and not cruise the rest of the way. It showed, with the Pride sporting a dominant rushing attack to run clock in the second half.

Thu, who finished with six tackles, scored on an 18-yard touchdown, featuring multiple stiff-arms to Howard defenders, on the Pride’s first drive of the second half. Sage added a 10-yard touchdown, too. Thu led the team with 80 yards and Sage added 60 and a team-high eight tackles. The Pride rushed for 286 yards as a team.

“Austin Thu has been a big part of what we do, but (Howard) was kind of keying on that so we had to go somewhere else,” Strang said. “It’s a multi-headed beast when it’s hitting on all cylinders, and that’s the way we like to keep defenses balanced.”

Even backup Pride running back Isiah Robertson got in on the action, as he scored on a one-yard run a play after backup quarterback Chase Merrill broke a 44-yard run.

Despite Feldhaus’ struggles as a thrower, he had a one-yard rushing touchdown for the Tigers in the third. He also added four tackles, though Paul Winker led the Tigers with 14 tackles and a tackle for loss. EJ Leetch had an efficient day on both sides of the ball, with 10 tackles and s sack, as well as catching one of Feldhaus’ completions for 18 yards.

“Our playoff run was unbelievable,” Ruml said. “... I’m very proud of them for the job they’ve done. The year we’ve had, starting out 0-2, they really made a great run in the playoffs based on defense and guts.”

NOTES: The pair of Cornbelt Conference rivals met earlier this season in Howard, as well, with Canistota/Freeman winning that game by a similar 36-12 score. … Canistota/Freeman’s Jared Tieszen was named the Most Outstanding Lineman for the championship game.

H 6  0 8  0 — 14

CF 8  16 8  14 — 46

Scoring summary

First quarter

CF: Braxton Schmidt 9 pass from Trey Ortman (Tristan Pierce pass from Ortman)

H: Zach Pardy 5 run (run failed)

Second quarter

CF: Tyce Ortman 50 pass from Trey Ortman (Bailey Sage pass from Trey Ortman)

CF: Trey Ortman 6 run (Braxton Schmidt pass from Trey Ortman)

Third quarter

CF: Austin Thu 18 run (Trey Ortman run)

H: Isaac Feldhaus 1 run (Pardy run)

Fourth quarter

CF: Bailey Sage 10 run (run failed)

CF: Isiah Robertson 1 run (Robertson run)

RUSHING (Att-Yds): Howard: Zach Pardy 16-80, Michael Hofer 8-41, Isaac Feldhaus 2-6, Jaxon Kampshoff 2-5, Gavin Ericksen-Reisdorfer 5-5, Team 1-(-1). Canistota/Freeman: Austin Thu 17-88, Bailey Sage 11-60, Chase Merrill 3-48, Trey Ortman 11-41, Blake Anderson 4-21, Isiah Robertson 5-12, Collin Helma, 1-11, Tyce Ortman 1-9, Team 2-(-4)

PASSING (C-A-Int-Yds): Howard: Isaac Feldhaus 2-11-1-26; Canistota/Freeman: Trey Ortman 8-9-0-165.

RECEIVING (Catches-Yards): Howard: EJ Leetch 1-18, Michael Hofer 1-8. Canistota/Freeman: Tyce Ortman 3-94, Braxton Schmidt 4-55, Bailey Sage, 1-16

INTERCEPTIONS (No.-Yards): Howard: none. Canistota/Freeman: Tyce Ortman 1-0. SACKS (UA-A): Howard: EJ Leetch 1-12. Canistota/Freeman: none.

DEFENSE (Tackles-Tackles for loss-Sacks): Howard: Paul Winker 14-1-0, Leetch 10-2-1, Ty Beyer 6-1.5-0, Pardy 7-0-0. Canistota/Freeman: Sage 8-1-0, Helma 7-0-0, Trey Ortman 7-0-0, Thu 6-0-0, Ty Balvin 4-1-0.