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In Class 9AA, different paths, same destination for defending nine-man champions Platte-Geddes, Canistota/Freeman

A preview of No. 9 Platte-Geddes (9-2) vs. No. 11 Canistota/Freeman (7-4) in the Class 9AA championship game.

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Running back Jackson Neuman runs past Canistota-Freeman's defense Friday night to help Platte-Geddes hold on for a 16-8 win. (Sam Fosness / Republic)
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It’s right back to where they started for the Platte-Geddes Black Panthers and Canistota/Freeman Pride.

Expectations soared for both programs ahead of the 2021 campaign, as Platte-Geddes won Class 9AA in 2020, their first state title as a co-op. Meanwhile, Canistota/Freeman took home the title in Class 9A for the third year in a row ahead of a move up to Class 9AA.

It made for a titanic opening-night matchup on Aug. 20, when the preseason Class 9AA preseason No. 1 Black Panthers hosted the No. 2 Pride, in Platte.

The matchup lived up to the billing as a closely-contested clash of nine-man powers, as the teams slugged it out to a 16-8 final in favor of Platte-Geddes.

But that night started a campaign that occasionally drifted off-script for both programs.

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Canistota/Freeman experienced an up-and-down first season in the state’s top nine-man classification, only winning three consecutive games once reaching the postseason. For Platte-Geddes, it was the beginning of a season marked with adversity compared to their undefeated title run of 2020.

In the end, the journey led both teams back to a familiar location: the DakotaDome.

The Black Panthers entered the postseason as the No. 9 seed, Canistota/Freeman not far behind at No. 11.

It created a gauntlet of three consecutive road games for both programs, but one in which both programs' championship mettle shined through.

“I think there’s a mutual respect there,” said Platte-Geddes coach Bruce Hanson. “After our game, Coach [James] Strang and I had a good conversation and I think we expected to see each other down the road. I think that’s based on good programs and culture, I preach that a lot and I think they’re the same way. That’s why they’re going for four in a row.”

Led by senior running back Grayson Hanson, Platte-Geddes defeated No. 8 Chester Area, No. 1 Hanson and No. 5 Timber Lake on its road to the championship. In the latter two, the Black Panthers faced fourth quarter deficits, yet found a way to pull through in the waning moments.

“I think it has a lot to do with our senior leadership and our mentality that we believe good things are going to happen because we do things the right way and believe in each other,” Bruce Hanson said. “I think clutch is a good word because the kids have stepped up in a lot of big moments during this run.”

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Canistota/Freeman's Will Ortman crosses the goal line for a score in front of the Parkston defense including Parkston's Ethan Poore, left, during a Class 9AA semi-final game on Friday in Parkston. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Matt Gade

The Pride displayed their own clutch factor, edging No. 6 Florence/Henry, then posting a shutout victory over No. 3 Ipswich 14-0. In the semifinals, Noah Kleinsasser came up with the game-sealing interception as No. 2 Parkston was driving down the field in the final minute of play to propel the Pride into the championship.

“The level of competition on our road this year was as good as it's been,” Canistota/Freeman coach James Strang said. “... But we travel well. Being on the road is being on the road. You’re still going to play the same game, but you do feel good about it when you can go to somebody else's house and do the things we’ve done.”

Canistota/Freeman was bitten by the turnover bug all season, committing 25 turnovers through eight games. In the first two rounds of the playoffs, the Pride continued the trend with five total turnovers, but against Parkston in the semifinals, Canistota/Freeman had zero turnovers while forcing the Trojans into one fumble and the interception on the final possession.

In the first matchup, Canistota/Freeman committed five turnovers, the most giveaways the Pride had in a single game all season. Strang said the Pride were a very different team to begin the season, but understands the rate his team has given the ball away cannot happen in a game of this magnitude.

Hanson echoed his coaching counterpart, saying both teams likely felt they did not play near their standards and left something to be desired in that contest and the game is likely to be much different this time around.

While the Pride’s main issue was turnovers, the Black Panthers struggled keeping everyone healthy, using the same starting lineup in consecutive contests only once all season. However, as Canistota/Freeman corrected the turnover issues to advance to the title game, Platte-Geddes found a positive in dealing with injuries, as Hanson said his team's depth has improved significantly from the beginning of the season as more athletes became battle-tested.

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Action from the Kimball/White Lake at Platte-Geddes on Friday, Oct. 15, 2021. (Matt Gade / Republic)

Grayson Hanson, last year’s Class 9AA championship game Most Valuable Player, leads the Black Panthers with more than 1,250 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns on the ground, adding 137 tackles on defense. Dawson Hoffman, who had the game-sealing interception on defense in the semifinals against Timber Lake, also serves as the primary quarterback for Platte-Geddes, throwing for 920 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Tage Ortman leads the Pride with more than 1,800 yards through the air and 22 touchdowns, completing 56 percent of his passes. Ortman has also rushed for five touchdowns this season while Isiah Robertson led all Canistota/Freeman rushers with 730 yards and nine touchdowns. Kleinsasser also has 105 carries for 680 yards rushing and five touchdowns. Wide receiver Will Ortman has accumulated 538 receiving yards on 33 catches and 12 touchdowns. Robertson has also caught five touchdowns while Kleinsasser has caught four.

So while the season has come full circle for both programs and they’ll face the same opposition on Thursday evening that started their unique journey’s back to Vermillion, Bruce Hanson offered a sentiment likely felt by both programs as they both look to make school history and defend their status as state champions.

“We’re not satisfied just making it down there,” Hanson said. “Our kids aren’t going there to lose, so that’s kind of been our mindset. I told them that these games that we’re pulling out at the end and battling for four quarters, they’re going to have a whole lot more meaning if we can win this last one.”

Related Topics: FOOTBALL
Dierks covers prep and collegiate athletics across the Mitchell Republic's coverage region area, focusing on Mitchell High School football and boys basketball and area high school football, volleyball and basketball, as well as Dakota Wesleyan women's basketball. He was also the lead on the Mitchell Republic Gridiron Spotlight, producing video and providing live play-by-play for the traveling weekly prep football broadcast during its first season in the fall of 2021. Dierks is a Mitchell native who graduated from South Dakota State University with his bachelor's degree in journalism in May 2020. He joined the Mitchell Republic sports staff in August 2021. He can be reached at ldierks@mitchellrepublic.com and found on Twitter at @LDierksy.
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