Remsen St. Mary’s prevails over Lenox in 8-player semifinals
CEDAR FALLS — No. 1 Remsen St. Mary’s prevailed over No. 4 Lenox in an 8-player football semifinal Wednesday at the UNI-Dome. The Hawks won by a final score of 42-20.
Senior Cael Ortmann was happy with the way his team fought a tough team to get the win.
“We know it’s our senior year, we know we’ve just got to give it everything that we’ve got,” Ortmann said. “We played a solid ball club with a bunch of big fellas. They might have been a little bit bigger than us, but no one is going to out-grind us, out-tough us.”
The first 30 seconds of the game might have had RSM fans thinking back to their semifinal game against Montezuma two years ago which resulted in a high-scoring 108-94 win for the Hawks.
The two teams got off to a fast start by scoring on each of their first plays from scrimmage which had the looks of a potential shootout.
The Hawks struck first as Ortmann connected with Ryan Willman for a 55-yard touchdown play at the 11:41 mark.
Willman said it was nice to get the fast start.
“Coach talks about fast starts and we usually try to get off to a fast start,” Willman said. “Whether that’s by a big run or a big catch, we usually have it. That lead really set the tone for today.”
The Hawks added the 2-point conversion on a pass from Ortmann to Alex Schroeder to take an 8-0 lead.
The Tigers responded on their first play from scrimmage as Isaac Grundman connected on a 65-yard pass play to Gabe Funk just nine seconds after RSM’s touchdown. Funk failed on his run for the 2-point conversion, leaving the score at 8-6.
“Hats off to Lenox, they came back the very next play and they hit a shot,” RSM Head Coach Tim Osterman said. “We talked about that play and we just lost our eyes for a second.”
The fast pace of scoring didn’t quite keep up the rest of the game although each team did add some scores on big plays.
A quality connection
Ortmann and Willman have been a nearly unbeatable quarterback and receiver combo this season and that continued in the semifinals.
“We’ve been together since fourth grade throwing the ball together and then last year, once I got the nod to quarterback, right away something clicked and we just started playing really well together,” Ortmann said.
Along with the touchdown on the opening play of the game, the two connected for two more first half touchdowns and Willman added another sensational grab by using his height to wrestle a ball from the grasp of a Lenox defender.
“He’s kind of had to grow into this role to be the main receiver and this year he certainly has done that really well,” Osterman said. “I’m glad Cael and him have that rapport.”
A 41-yard touchdown reception came at the 4:03 mark of the first quarter and made it 15-6 after a PAT kick from Jaxon Bunkers. After Lenox responded with a 61-yard touchdown run from Funk and the subsequent 2-point conversion in the second quarter to pull to within one at 15-14, the duo was successful again, this time on a 20-yard pass play.
Willman ended with five catches, three of those for touchdowns, for 163 yards which made up a bulk Ortmann’s 10-of-17 passing game for 220 yards.
Hawks fight through injuries
After staying mostly healthy throughout the season, the Hawks dealt with a rash of injuries to many starters during the semifinal contest.
“Some guys stepped up after the injuries and it was a really good team win for us today,” Willman said. “We know we do have depth and that depth is ready to step in whenever needed. We hope we can be full-go come championship day. We’re lucky it’s eight days so we’ve got some rest.”
Schroeder was knocked out for a little bit of the game after making a catch, but then getting hit hard by a Lenox tackler which led to a fumble which was returned by the Tigers to RSM’s 17-yard line in the first quarter.
The Hawks made a defensive stand and forced a fumble, but the Tigers recovered while Brenden Fisch, who made a diving attempt to secure the loose football, left the field for a few plays after rolling awkwardly going after the ball. The defense pushed the Tigers back and forced them to punt the possession away.
The athletic training staff kept busy by tending to several other maladies during the game. Ortmann also dealt with an injury, getting taped up during the game, which led to Bunkers taking over some of the snaps in running situations as Ortmann’s mobility was limited. Ortmann was held to just 13 rushing yards on nine carries.
Bunkers ended with two rushing touchdowns as he gained 44 yards on six carries. His first, a 27-yard run, came with 1:12 left in the first half to give the Hawks a 30-14 advantage entering the intermission. He later capped off the scoring with a 1-yard run with 50 seconds left in the contest.
RSM got their other score early in the fourth quarter as Ortmann made a backwards pass to Schroeder while about to be sacked. Schroeder ran down the sidelines for a 63-yard touchdown which was considered to be a run play, making him the leading rusher with 116 total yards on 10 carries. Schroeder also finished with three catches for 30 yards.
Ortmann said it is good to have so many weapons to keep the offense moving while different playmakers were in and out of the game.
“We know how much stress it puts on a defense,” Ortmann said. “They can’t just single cover any of our guys because they’re all weapons. Any of them in the open field are dangerous. We just use that to our advantage and just get the ball to them.”
The Hawks hope to be healthy when they return for the championship game on Thursday, eight days after their semifinal contest.
“Hopefully this plus day of rest will allow us to kind of get back and we’ll have to figure out what we’re going to do practice-wise to make sure that we’re healthy all the way through so we can play this game next week,” Osterman said.
Defense holds strong in second half
After giving up two scoring plays of over 60 yards in the first half, the RSM defense made Lenox work for every yard in the second half. The Tigers did wear down the Hawks on an 11 play, 73-yard drive which lasted nearly half of the third quarter. Funk, the leading rusher for the Tigers with 154 yards on 17 carries, capped off the drive with a 5-yard scoring rush. The Lenox quarterback failed on his 2-point conversion pass as he ended 8-of-21 passing in the game.
The Hawks forced an incompletion on the first play of the fourth quarter as Lenox turned the ball over on downs after 4th-and-goal from the RSM 7-yard line. The Hawks forced two more turnovers on downs in the fourth quarter. The Tigers ended just 1-of-5 on both fourth down conversions and red zone scoring opportunities in the game.
“Kadden Groepper and Nate Britt and Lenny Steichen really stepped up in the second half,” Osterman said. “Ty Tritz and Hunter Pick did all their stuff in the first half, but when they started getting tired and banged up, those guys had to step up. Our secondary and linebackers were really worn down so just in this case, I’m going to give my hats off to the defensive line. They really didn’t give them anything, especially in those last couple of drives. We got them into throwing situations and then we were able to make the plays that we needed to make.”
The defense was led by Bunkers who had 9.5 tackles with 4.5 for loss. Groepper was next with 8.5 tackles and Fisch added eight tackles.
Hawks return to title game
Lenox finishes the season with a record of 11-1 following the semifinal loss in their 18th playoff appearance.
Remsen St. Mary’s (12-0) advances to the championship game where they will face WACO (13-0) at 9:30 a.m., Thursday at the UNI-Dome.
It is the fourth time the Hawks have advanced to the title game. They won in 2004 and 2020. The team fell short in their 2017 title game appearance.
“It feels great to be back, back in that one game that everybody wants to be in,” Willman said.