Knights rout Exira, punch ticket to Dome

-A A +A

n Vanatta’s big night helps Fremont-Mills clinch third straight trip to semifinals

By Joel Stevens, Associate Editor

EXIRA - There would be no come back on this night.

Ten weeks after Exira-EHK rallied from a 20-0 deficit in a stunning 45-27 victory in the season opener back in August, Fremont-Mills left no openings or doubts in the re-match Friday in the Eight-person football quarterfinals in Exira.

The Knights scored the games’ first 28 points and weathered a 399-yard passing night from Spartan quarterback Josh Pettepier to win going away 61-20.

The win punches the Knights’ ticket to the state semifinals and the UNI dome for the third straight year and fourth time in five years. Fremont-Mills (10-1) will face New London (10-1) in Thursday’s second 8-person semifinal in Cedar Falls. Kick off is set to immediately following the 9 a.m. semifinals between Rockford (10-1) and Southeast Warren (12-0).

To get back to the semifinals, the Knights had to face a rare playoff re-match against a team that humbled them in the very first week of the season.

Fremont-Mills head coach Jeremy Christiansen downplayed the revenge factor because, he said, his team has grown so much since week one.

“It’s hard to tell how much that meant for us because we’re such a different team now,” Christiansen said. “We thought we were really good and we weren’t prepared for them (in week one) to be honesty with you. We had a really bad week of practice. I think we’re playing much better now. I think the revenge factor had something to do with it but I think everyone understood, we’re just not the same team we were.”

Much like in their first meeting with the Spartans, the Knights got off to a quick start. A 65-yard touchdown scamper by quarterback Mason Vanatta on the third play from scrimmage put the Knights on the board just 46 seconds into the game.

Fremont-Mills picked up a touchdown from Seth Malcom and another from Vanatta to close the first quarter up 21-0.

A Spartan turnover – their second of the half – led to another TD run, this time from eight yards out, by Malcom to give the Knights a commanding 28-0 lead with 9:35 to go in the first half.

The two teams would trade punts on their next possessions before the Spartans showed some life on offense. Pettepier engineered a six play, 62-yard drive running back Cole Burmeister capped with a nifty halfback touchdown pass to Creighton Nelson.

But the Knights would seize the momentum right back on the ensuing kickoff when Austin Gartner scooped up the squibbed kick off and rumbled all the way to the Spartan five-yard line. Vanatta raced in to the endzone on the very next play to put the Knights ahead 34-7 at intermission.

The 27-point lead didn’t last long after halftime, as Pettepier and the Spartans came out throwing in the third frame. The quarterback, utilizing four wide receivers in a no-huddle offense threw six straight times, the last completion going to Ian Leader for a 27-yard TD pass. The point after cut the Knights’ lead to a three score game at 34-14 with more than 10 minutes to go in the third quarter.

But, once again, the Knights would seize the momentum right back on its next drive. After taking over on their own five-yard line, two running plays and a penalty left F-M facing a third-and-15 from their own 11. Vanatta, as he did all night, came up big for the Knights when he connected with Malcom on a screen pass the sophomore back took to the house. The point-after put the lead back to 27 and tipped the scales back in the Knights’ favor.

“That was big for us because they were being so aggressive with us up front defensively, which why wouldn’t you in that situation?” he said. “We thought we could get a screen pass on them because of that and obviously it was a big play. I think it got them to back off a little bit and we got back on track.”

An interception by the Knight’s Jaeger Powers on the Spartans’ next possession set up another scoring drive. Powers capped that drive himself from five yards out to give F-M a 47-14 lead with under five minutes to go in the third quarter.

Another TD by Vanatta – following Spartan turnover on downs – made it 54-14 with less than a minute to go in the third frame.

With the running clock as a result of the 35-point mercy rule, Christiansen said it was then that he finally exhaled.

“The way we were defending them, they were taking chunks of yards,” he said. “But once we got that running clock the second time, I felt pretty good.”

Christiansen thought the Spartans would have a hard time running on his defense and would go to the pass early and often. And the coach was right; Exira passed the ball on 60 of their 72 plays. The Knights routinely employed a defense that had two down lineman and six players in a two-deep zone coverage that was designed to keep the Spartan receivers in front of them.

“We knew we’d give up some short yardage, there were probably some plays where we gave up too much yardage, but we kept them to 20,” he said. “We’ll take that as long as our offense was doing well.”

Vanatta, who threw for 158 yards and a touchdown and ran for 200 yards and five rushing TDs was awarded the Knights’ ceremonial sledgehammer as the player of the game.

“He played very well. He got the hammer tonight. So that was good to see,” Christiansen said.

The Knights finished with 496 total yards, 340 coming on the ground.

Fremont-Mills now turns its attention to the state semifinals.

Christiansen spent a few extra minutes in the huddle with his team after the game. He could be heard saying this trip to the semifinals is a “business trip not a vacation.”

“The last two times, it hasn’t gone quite as planned,” Christiansen said, recalling the Knights’ last two lopsided losses in the semifinals. “We have to be prepared to make a change.”

Scoring Summary
FM 21  13  20  07   61
E    00  07  13  00   20

Game Summary
    FM – Mason Vanatta, 65 run (kick good).
    FM – Seth Malcom, 2 run (kick good).
    FM- Vanatta 36 run (kick good).
    FM – Malcom, 8 run (kick good).
    E – Creighton Nelson from Cole Burmeister, 5 pass (kick good).
    FM – Vanatta, 5 run (conversion failed).
    E –  Ian Leader from Josh Pettepier, 27 pass (kick good).
    FM – Malcom from Vanatta, 69 pass (kick good).
    FM – Jaeger Powers, 5 run (conversion failed).
    FM – Vanatta, 17 run (kick good).
    E – Burmeister from Pettepier, 2 pass (kick blocked).
    FM – Vanatta, 34 run (kick good).