Game of the Week: Three items to watch between Howard and Canistota/Freeman
When/Where: 7 p.m. today in Canistota.
Coaches: Howard’s Pat Ruml; Canistota/Freeman’s James Strang.
Last year: The Pride won last year’s meeting, 22-0.
Records: Howard is 2-0 and No. 2 in Class 9A; Canistota/Freeman is 3-0 and No. 1 in Class 9A.
Here are three items to watch for in tonight’s Daily Republic Game of the Week between Howard and Canistota/Freeman:
The Pride and Tigers are certainly no strangers to each other.
The Cornbelt Conference powers play once a year and it’s usually one circled on the calendar.
“Our boys are excited for it,” Canistota/Freeman coach James Strang said. “It’s a team we’ve got a good history with. We’ve kind of traded blows back and forth over the last decade. It’s an exciting game for everybody involved and I know our boys are excited about it and it should be a pretty good contest from the way everything looks on film.”
Canistota/Freeman, which has won the last two Class 9A state championships, has owned the past three meetings. It won last year’s contest (22-0) and took both of the 2018 meetings, including the 9A state championship. Howard won the 2017 meeting by a 27-26 score.
The contest will have both conference and playoff implications. The teams are both in Region 2 of Class 9A and the winner could set itself up for home-field advantage come postseason.
“It’s always a big one on our schedule,” Howard coach Pat Ruml said. “It usually has a lot of meaning to it with the conference. It’s a big conference game in the Cornbelt and it usually has some meaningful things dealing with playoffs down the line.”
After winning last year’s contest, Canistota/Freeman later earned the No. 1 seed in the region and home-field advantage through the first two rounds. Howard went on the road in the second round of the playoffs, losing to Gregory in the quarterfinals.
Keys to the game
Canistota/Freeman won two of its three games convincingly over Oldham-Ramona/Rutland (40-6) and Chester Area (46-0).
Its matchup against De Smet went down to the wire, with the Pride pulling out a 14-12 victory. Canistota/Freeman controlled the tempo and held onto the ball for almost 28 minutes. It also picked up 17 first downs and ran 63 plays on offense. Defensively, the Pride limited the Bulldogs to 2 of 9 on third-down conversions.
Strang said continuing to be efficient -- offensively and defensively -- will be key against the Tigers.
“We have to make sure we are efficient on first down and make sure we are getting ahead of the chains on offense and try to put Howard behind on the chains on defense,” Strang said. “If we can go out and we can kind of set tempo right away on those early downs, I think good things can happen for us.”
Howard has picked up two convincing wins over Castlewood (53-0) and Scotland (50-0) to start the season. The Tigers jumped out to big leads in both contests, letting their offensive attack dictate the action.
Ruml said the Tigers will again shoot for early momentum against Canistota/Freeman.
“I think it’s important for us to get on the board and get things rolling early,” Ruml said. “I think our line is as good as it’s been in years. We have to make sure we stay balanced with passing and running and more so just control the line of scrimmage.”
Players to watch
Canistota/Freeman’s Tyce Ortman was an all-state running back last season, rushing for 1,465 yards and 18 touchdowns. This season, he’s playing quarterback and is continuing to put up big numbers. He’s rushed for 270 yards and four touchdowns, while he’s passed for 201 yards and four more scores.
“It was a position he wasn’t necessarily prepared for at the start of the summer, but he’s been working through it and so Tyce is going to go out there and he’s going to do what he does,” Strang said. “He’s a great athlete, great football player and he’s going to lead the only way he knows how and that’s with his legs and if he gets the opportunity to throw it, he’s got plenty of arm strength, too.”
The Pride will also rely on its four senior offensive linemen -- Clayton Smith, Cole Papendick, Logan Heinzmann and Logan Katzer -- to help control the line of scrimmage.
“They work extremely well together,” Strang said. “Those boys flip over and play on our D-Line as well and so hopefully our linebackers and our O-Line/D-Line play can set precedence on how we are going to be physical throughout the course of the night and things will go well.”
The Tigers feature a balanced attack on offense. Last week, Kieffer Klinkhammer rushed for 106 yards on seven carries and scored two touchdowns. Lane Miller (93 rushing yards/TD) and Riley Genzlinger (3 touchdowns) also powered the rushing attack.
Ty Beyer rushed for 126 yards in the win over Scotland, while fullback John Callies also adds punch to the ground game and gives Ruml plenty of options.
“Running backs, it could be any number of five of them,” Ruml said. “We’ve got two juniors (Beyer and Callies) that come in at fullback and running back that are as good as my ones. I will tell you that. It depends on who has the hot hand.”
Tisyn Spader is a 6-foot-4, 175-pound quarterback and he’s got a pair of tall weapons in Sam Aslesen (6-7, 200) and Jaxon Kampshoff (6-1, 180).
“Those two guys are just really athletic and tall,” Ruml said. “We will be throwing the ball to those guys quite a bit and as much as we can.”