Rivalry rematch: Howard to host Canistota/Freeman in Class 9A semifinals

Canistota/Freeman's Collin Helma (19) carries the ball as Howard's Riley Genzlinger, right, and a host of Tigers make the tackle on Sept. 11 in Canistota. Canistota/Freeman's Blake Anderson (26) is in the foreground. (Ryan Deal / Republic)

HOWARD -- The stage is set for the sequel.

On Sept. 11, Howard outlasted Canistota/Freeman in a triple-overtime classic between the Cornbelt Conference rivals. On Friday, the Tigers (9-0) and Pride (9-1) will lock horns again in the Class 9A semifinals, with the winner facing Wall or Warner in the state championship on Nov. 12 at the DakotaDome in Vermillion. Howard and Canisota/Freeman play at 7 p.m. Friday in Howard.

“We figured both of us -- Howard and Canistota/Freeman -- would both be in this situation at some point, in the semifinals or the state championship game,” Canistota/Freeman coach James Strang said. “It’s an exciting opportunity to try and get a win off of these guys, especially when it’s going to go to play in the big game.”

The matchup is definitely oozing with anticipation, and in large part because of the regular-season matchup. The defensive slugfest was capped off in the third overtime, with a fake PAT pass attempt from Tisyn Spader to Sam Aslesen lifting Howard to the 16-14 victory.

“This game will probably be a lot like the last one,” Howard coach Pat Ruml said. “I know people are thinking this is the state championship game and all that. I don’t like all that either because I don’t think it’s fair to the other teams on the other side.”


The Tigers and Pride certainly know what to expect from each other. The conference and region foes meet each other during the regular season, while Canistota/Freeman topped Howard in the 2018 Class 9A state championship. Canistota/Freeman has won each of the last two Class 9A state championships.

After the Sept. 11 matchup, the teams continued to roll through the regular season and postseason. They both have hung their hats on playing sound defense, too.

The Tigers have four shutouts this season, while they defeated De Smet (20-0) and Castlewood (56-13) through the first two rounds. Canistota/Freeman has also pitched four shutouts and knocked off Chester Area (48-14) and Philip (50-0) in the postseason.

“It’s going to have to be a grind-it-out game I think both ways,” Ruml said. “It’s just going to have to be which offense provides enough of a little wrinkle or gets a drive going. … Whoever wins this game has to do the little things right. That’s probably the most important when it comes down to it and defense is going to be the name of the game again I am sure.”

The strong defensive units will also place a premium on capitalizing on offense.

“I was happy with the way our defense finished out the year and looking at Howard throughout the finish, they are playing extremely well defensively,” Strang said. “It’s definitely going to be interesting to see which offense can take advantage and at what points throughout the game.”

Canistota/Freeman quarterback Tyce Ortman has 753 passing yards and 14 touchdown passes. He’s also rushed for 900 yards and 19 touchdowns. Isiah Robertson adds 694 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns.

For Howard, Riley Genzlinger paces a balanced ground game with 652 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns. Quarterback Tisyn Spader has passed for more than 600 yards and has eight passing touchdowns.

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