Knights will play for state title
It’s a position the Fremont-Mills football team has rarely found itself in during the last decade that’s seen them reach the state semifinals seven times.
Yet that’s exactly what the Knights were against top ranked and defending state champion Don Bosco Catholic in Thursday’s Eight-player semifinals.
Underdog status appears to suit the Knights just fine.
A smothering defensive effort that held the Dons to season-lows in points, rushing yards and total yards and a physical run game led by Seth Malcom’s 293 yards and four touchdowns bruised and battered the perennial Eight-player power into submission in a wild, 32-30 victory at the UNI Dome.
“Anytime you play a team like Don Bosco I think you’re a natural underdog,” said Fremont-Mills coach Jeremy Christiansen after the game. “Their resume speaks for itself. They’re a very physical team. They’ve won a lot of state titles. Obviously we were happy to play them and come out on top.”
The win puts the Knights (8-1) into next Thursday’s state championship game against Remsen St. Mary’s (11-0) – a thought that seemed unlikely just a month ago as Fremont-Mills faced a COVID-19 related shutdown that cost them three games and put into question a late post-season run.
But here the Knights are, one win from a state title.
“It’s been a weird ride to get to this point,” Christiansen said. “Anytime you get to this point things have gone well. We’re very excited to be here after a hard fought game. There were just so many unknowns this season.”
The opening kickoff against Don Bosco didn’t bode well for Fremont-Mills.
The Dons won the toss and elected to kickoff. Their high, looping boot surprised the Knights and Don Bosco recovered at the 20-yard line. Six plays later quarterback Cael Frost connected with Ryan Naughton on a 10-yard TD pass. They would fail to convert the two point conversion but led 6-0 with 9:08 to go in the opening quarter.
The Knights would bounce back two possessions later to tie the score at 6-6 on Jake Malcom’s six-yard TD scamper. But the Dons would answer right back, marching 50 yards in five plays to go back up 14-6 on Frost’s 12-yard TD run.
Fremont-Mills would strike again just before halftime. Seth Malcom’s first TD of the day from two yards out capped a 12 play, 74 yard drive. The Knights would miss the two-point conversion and trail 14-12 at intermission but the momentum was theirs.
Don Bosco came out after halftime determined to run right at the Knights, penetrating the 10 yard line in five plays but there the drive would stall. Fremont-Mills’ defense stuffed four straight running plays from the 10 yard line to get the ball back. Two plays later, Seth Malcom gave them their first lead of the game on a 74 yard run to make it 18-14 with just over five minutes to go in the third quarter.
The Knights appeared poised to extend their lead early in the fourth quarter but a fumble into endzone resulted in a touchback that killed the drive.
The final frame would only get wilder from there.
F-M did get a second chance to extend their lead on the ensuing possession following their turnover when Jake Malcom intercepted a Frost pass and returned it to the Dons’ 30. Six player later, Seth Malcom found paydirt but the Knights failed to convert the two-point conversion but led 24-14 with 6:29 to go.
A second pick by Jake Malcom on the Dons’ next possession appeared to be their death knell but the defending champs wouldn’t go so quietly. Two plays later the Knights fumbled and Carson Tenold scooped up the ball and raced into the endzone from 30 yards out. The two-point conversion made it 24-22 with 2:16 to go.
Seth Malcom once again had the Knights’ answer 20 second later. His 50 yard TD scamper and his own two-point conversion run swelled F-M’s led ad 32-22 with 1:56 to go.
The Dons responded with a two-play, 52 yard drive of their own to cut it to 32-30 on Frost’s TD toss to Naughton.
But it was too little too late.
Out of timeouts and unable to stop the clock, Seth Malcom ran it three straight times and Jake Malcom took a knee once to run out the clock.
The Dons’ potentially momentum shifting fumble return was a doubly bad for the Knights at the time. Just two plays earlier Seth Malcom appeared to score on a 48 yard TD run but it was called back on a holding call.
“That’s as close as a disaster as you can get at that point in time and then to have them return it for a touchdown is tough. I thought our defense was playing well enough that we could have forced them to take some time off the clock because that’s what we were trying to do. Then we get what we think is a dagger and it’s called back and that happens.”
But the Knights were resilient all game long. From the opening kickoff to bottling up the vaunted Dons’ offense that entered averaging better than 430 yards and 64 points per game to 30 points and 197 total yards.
Christiansen thought his defense did a very good job of adjusting to what the Dons wanted to do to attack the Knights’ in space, often with Frost in the QB run game. Most of the second half the Knights were blitzing at least one inside linebacker on every down while the defensive ends held the edge.
“Our zones did a very good job of shrinking where they wanted to go, allowing our defensive line to get pressure and make No. 8 (Frost) move to one half of the field or the other,” Christiansen said. “He still made some sweet plays and we had some lapses in judgement here and there but overall our kids were very resilient and were able to fight through it.”
As he has all post-season, Seth Malcom seemed to put the Knights on his back and will his team to a win. Running out of the “thudcat” formation most of the game, Malcom carried the ball 40 times for 291 yards and a four TDs. In FM’s last four playoff games he’s carried the ball 129 times for 1,086 punishing yards and 15 total TDs. On defense against the Dons he was no less a force, routinely carrying would-be tacklers for extra yards and being a routinely being a disruptive force on defense while wrapping up a dozen tackles.
“He played a very good game,” Christiansen said. “We obviously committed to the run. I think we threw it twice (in the second half). I think our offensive line and our blockers did a great job getting us angles and he had some great runs, there’s no doubt about it. He was carrying four guys at one time. And defensively he had some great run throughs and he really shed blocks.”
This will be the Knights’ third appearance in the championship game. They last played for a state title in 2014, a 39-35 loss to Newell-Fonda.
Remsen St. Mary’s will be no small task this time around. The Hawks scored 15 touchdowns in winning their semifinal in a defense optional 108-97 shootout over Montezuma that took over four hours to complete. In the process they racked up 693 total yards including 559 rushing.
Keyed by quarterback Blaine Harpenau – he ran for 357 yards, passed for 134 more and had a hand in eight touchdowns in the semifinals – the Hawks will be a formidable challenge, Christiansen said.
“We watched that in the locker room and we’ll start scouting them on the way back. I don’t know you stop it because you have to cut their scoring by a lot.”
The Eight-player state title game will kick off at 10 a.m. Thursday.
DB 06 08 00 16 30
FM 00 12 06 14 32
DB – Ryan Naughton from Cael Frost, 10 pass (two-point conversion failed).
FM – Jake Malcom, 6 run (two-point conversion failed).
DB – Frost, 12 run (two-point successful).
FM – Seth Malcom, 2 run (two-point conversion failed).
FM – Seth Malcom, 74 (two-point conversion failed).
FM – Seth Malcom, 8 run (two-point conversion failed).
DB – Carson Tenold, 30 fumble return (two-point conversion successful).
FM – Seth Malcom, 50 run (two-point conversion successful).
DB – Naughton from Frost, 32 pass (two-point conversion successful).