Defending state champ Don Bosco is final obstacle for RSM

Thursday, November 23, 2017
(Sentinel Photo By Allen Hamil) Above, Remsen St. Mary’s Head Coach Ryan Hajek leads his team out onto the field prior to last week’s state semifinal game. On Thursday, he will lead his team out onto the field for the Hawks’ first state championship game since Hajek himself capped his senior season with a state championship. Hajek was the quarterback of the 2004 state title team that defeated Adair-Casey 56-8 to finish a perfect season.

Remsen St. Mary’s (11-0) vs. Don Bosco, Gilbertville (12-0)

Thursday, November 16, 10:06 a.m. at UNI-Dome, Cedar Falls

Remsen St. Mary’s has faced a tough string of dual-threat quarterbacks along their postseason trail and have done a good job of limiting them to below their season averages. The next on the list is Don Bosco quarterback Wyatt Sawvel. The senior has a total of 56 touchdowns which is second-most in the 8-player game. His run-to-pass ratio is split almost evenly with 29 rushing scores and 27 passing touchdowns. He has carried the ball 111 times for 1,200 yards for an average of nearly 11 yards per carry. In the passing game, Sawvel has connected on 59-of-82 attempts for 1,362 yards.

With Sawvel taking over control at the QB spot from Brandon Bagby, the offensive leader for last year’s state championship team, the Dons haven’t skipped a beat. Don Bosco has gone undefeated this season and have won 20 consecutive games dating back to last season.

The team will have more of a home-field advantage with Gilbertville less than 20 miles away from the UNI-Dome. The Dons don’t have a long tradition of success, but since making their first playoff in 2011, the team is 22-4 overall in the postseason with a pair of state titles. The first came in 2013 when they defeated Exira/Elk Horn-Kimballton 18-14 and the second occurring was last year when they knocked off RSM’s district counterpart Harris-Lake Park 48-21. This will be Don Bosco’s fifth championship game appearance within the past six seasons as the team has also finished as runner-up twice, losing each time to Marcus-Meriden-Cleghorn. In 2012, the Eagles capped off their championship season with a 51-16 victory over the Dons and they also won in the 2015 finals by a score of 57-52.

The RSM defense will have a challenge in front of them as Don Bosco has eclipsed 60 points in each of their games that wasn’t a forfeit. The Dons are coming off of an 80 point performance against Midland, Wyoming in the semifinals. Sawvel accounted for eight total touchdowns in that game. He was 6-of-7 passing for 171 yards and four TDs and rushed for another 176 yards on 17 carries and four more scores.

While Sawvel will be the biggest threat, the Dons aren’t without other weapons. Austin Svoboda has seen his workload decrease from last year, but has still managed 902 yards and 13 touchdowns rushing. He was the featured back in the team’s state championship win over H-LP last year with 178 yards and four scores. Svoboda is also a threat in the passing game with 18 catches for 428 yards and eight TDs this season.

Austin Hellman and Thomas Even each have around 575 yards rushing with 11 and 10 touchdowns, respectively.

Cael Tenold is the leading receiver for the Dons with 20 catches for 518 yards and 12 TDs. He also leads the defense with five interceptions and is second on the team with 60.5 tackles.

One area the Hawks should look to exploit is in the area of special teams. Hellman has handled most of the kickoff duties this season, but has only had 37 percent of his kickoffs result in touchbacks. Teams have avoided kicking off to Canaan Cox this season and with good reason. Cox has returned kicks for touchdowns on two of his three opportunities this season. Even if the ball doesn’t get to Cox, Kenny Bohnenkamp and Brody Ricke have put together some decent returns this season for the Hawks

The Dons will go for two if and when they score and have not attempted a PAT kick or field goal this season.

The Hawks will have to rely on another good defensive outing, starting up front with stopping the running game. RSM has held their three playoff opponents to just over three yards per carry with a total of just 218 yards. If they can do that again, it opens up opportunities for adding on to their state-best 23 interceptions. While Sawvel enters with just two interceptions thrown, the Hawks have intercepted at least two passes in every playoff game. These came against QBs who entered those games with similar numbers to Sawvel.

The RSM offense will look to put up points against a Dons defense that has allowed just 12 points in three playoff games. Canaan Cox surpassed 2,000 rushing yards for the season in the semifinals as he now has 39 TDs. Cox will try to do better than Austin Smith did against the Dons last week as the state’s leading rusher with with 2,892 yards and 47 TDs was held to just 60 yards and one score on 22 attempts. Smith found more success in the passing game as he caught four passes for 112 yards and a touchdown. The Hawks may have to be creative getting the ball in Cox’s hands by running some screens or swing passes to try to get him into open space.

Receivers Bohnenkamp, Ricke and Carter Kuchel will also need to get some catches for the RSM offense in a game that may see the Hawks air it out a bit more than usual.

These teams are undoubtedly the best two in the state and it’s good to see them meet in the state championship game. These are two programs that have put up similar numbers both offensively and defensively. While it’s difficult to say whether this will turn into a shootout or be a defensive battle, it is likely going to come down to whoever makes the most defensive plays. They say defense wins championships. We’ll see how true that rings on Thursday, Nov. 16.