CEDAR FALLS — It’s that time of year again, as the best teams around the state gather in Cedar Falls for the state football semifinals, and this year Henry County has a routing interest.
After an 8-1 regular season and two dominant road playoff wins, New London comes into Cedar Falls red hot. The Tigers blasted Gladbrook-Reinbeck 60-12, and then avenged their only regular season loss, winning 56-20 at Iowa Vally on Friday.
Their opponents have a story that is all too similar. Fremont-Mills went 8-1 in the regular season as well, dominated both playoff games just like New London, and just like New London, the Knights avenged their only loss in the quarters, knocking off Exira-EHK 61-20 on the road.
New London’s second playoff game was a carbon copy of the first. The Tiger defense shut down both Gladbrook-Reinbeck and Iowa Valley, and New London’s rushing offense was unstoppable in both wins.
In Gladbrook, junior back Jordan Johnson went for 191 yards and two scores on 13 attempts, averaging a ridiculour 14.7 yards per carry. Keontae Luckett scored four times on the ground and gained 176 yards on 16 carries, averaging 11-yards per-carry.
Johnson went down with a lower body injury early in the Iowa Valley game, but that didn’t slow down the Tigers. Luckett got the ball 20 times and ran for 233 yards and four scores, averaging 11.7 yards-per-carry.
The scariest thing for the Fremont-Mills defense might be that New London has yet to fully utilize all their weopons in the postseason. Tiger quarterback Isaac McSorley, who has thrown for 1,182 yards, rushed for 857 yards and accounted for 40 touchdowns this season, has been on cruise control due to the dominant rushing attack. McSorley has only passed the ball 13 times over the past two games, completing six of those passes and throwing for two touchdowns, both in Gladbrook, and no interceptions. He has run the ball just 12 times himself, but has found the endzone twice.
The bad news for New London? The Fremont-Mills defense has been stellar. The Knights opened the season with a couple of tough teams, falling 45-27 to Exira-EHK in week one and knocking off Audubon 39-21 in week two. Since then, the Knights have given up an average of 7.6 points per game.
Fremont-Mills’ killer defense is led by sophomore Seth Malcom, who also serves as their main running back on offense. Malcom has 89 tackles on the year, 17 which are solo tackles for loss. He also has three fumble recoveries, one of which went for an 18-yard touchdown, and one interception.
Altogether, Fremont-Mills has 26 takeaways on the year, five of which came in their two playoff games. Junior James Switzer has six picks on the year to lead the way.
The Knights’ offense is led by dual-threat senior Mason Vanatta. Much like McSorley, Vanatta is the second-leading rusher on the team, running for 871 yards and 22 touchdowns this year. The passing game hasn’t been quite as consistant, but hehas still thrown for 930 yards and 13 touchdowns, compared to just five interceptions.
Malcom is the leading rusher, running for 1,107 yards and 23 scores this year. He is also the third-leading receiver on the team, with 193 yards receiving and four scores. Jaegar Powers, a senior, is also an offensive threat, running for 707 yards and 15 touchdowns, and adding 203 yards and two scores through the air. Fellow senior Austin Gartner leads the team in receiving with 205 yards and two scores.
Much like New London, Fremont-Mills’ two playoff games have come on the backs of their running game. Malcom ran for 149 yards and three scores in a 61-8 first-round win over Lenox, and Vanatta ran all over Exira-EHK, going for 214 yards and five touchdowns, while also throwing for one.
But of course, Fremont-Mills still has to try and run the ball against the swarming defense of New London. The Tigers give up just 11.8 points per game total, despite playing in one of the best districts in Class 8-Man, and they’ve never given up more than 22 points in a single game.
Gavin Holmes leads the defense with 76.5 tackles, 8.5 of which are for a loss and three of which are solo sacks. The defense has an astounding 35 takeaways on the year, 20 interceptions and 15 fumble recoveries.
McSorley, who didn’t even need to get on the field defensively in the Iowa Valley win, leads the team with five interceptions, one of which went for a score. Mason Porter has four interceptions, including a pick-six. Keontae Luckett has four picks, and two defensive touchdowns, one being a first-quarter pick-six in the quarterfinals in Iowa Valley.
Darius Whaley has six takeaways on the year, three interceptions and three fumble recoveries. Porter and Holmes have to fumble recoveries apiece, and nine other Tigers have a fumble recovery.
With both teams having such dominant seasons, it’s no surprise that this semifinal game is expected to be one of the tightest games of the entire weekend. The BCMoore.com computer rankings have it almost dead even, favoring Fremont-Mills by less than one-fifth of a point.
Both teams would likely be favored over the winner of the first Class 8-Man semifinal, a matchup between the high volume passing attack of Southeast Warren and the cinderella story in Rockford, but there is no clear favorite for the title. The Class 8-Man title is truly up for grabs.
The semifinals will begin on Thursday, Nov. 8, with Southeast Warren and Rockford kicking off at 9 a.m. New London and Fremont-Mills are set to square off at noon.