CEDAR FALLS, Iowa | For Remsen St. Mary’s to claim its second state championship it will have to do it by going through the team that has set the standard in eight-player football.
Top-ranked Don Bosco (12-0) is playing in the championship game for the fifth time in the past six seasons having won two titles and finished as the runner-up twice. The Dons won last year's championship with a 48-21 victory over Harris-Lake Park, but it has been a Siouxland team that has sent Don Bosco to its two defeats Marcus-Meriden-Cleghorn (51-16) in 2012 and again in 2015 (57-52).
“There is one game left and we know we have to play our best football this Thursday so we have stayed very grounded, humbled,” Hawks Coach Ryan Hajek said. “The odds are stacked against us because Don Bosco is as good as advertised. They have a long winning streak ahead of them so we have a lot ahead of us.”
Don Bosco, which beat Midland 80-12 in the semifinals, carries a 20-game winning streak into its matchup with the Hawks.
Quarterback Wyatt Sawvel led the Dons against Midland as he ran for 161 yards and four scores and threw for 187 and four more TDs.
Sawvel leads the Dons with 1,200 yards rushing on the season and 1,362 through the air. Don Bosco has three other very capable backs with Austin Svoboda (902), Austin Hellman (576) and Thomas Even (572) having all rushed for more than 500 yards and at least 10 touchdowns.
This is hardly a David versus Goliath matchup as the Dons and Hawks (11-0) rank first and third, respectively, in scoring in eight-player with St. Mary's having played one fewer game. The Hawks defense also leads the way with 23 interceptions and gives up just 16.6 points a game while the Dons yield 12.9.
Hajek said his team is used to going into games as an underdog having played in a district that had five teams ranked in the top 10 at once during the season.
“We have been in that role all year,” he said. “No one has given us credit really. People thought we were going to get beat by Harris-Lake Park, people thought Baxter was going to come here and beat us, going on the road to Newell-Fonda people thought we were going to get beat. We have played that role before and it is nothing new to us.”
The tests that came Remsen St. Mary’s way each week is something that Hajek believes will pay off during Thursday’s title tilt at 10 a.m.
“This district was no joke and it is a shame only two of our teams were able to make it to the playoffs because there are a couple teams that were as good as some teams in the playoffs,” he said. “To win this Thursday would be unbelievable for these kids and how much work they have put in and just how tough the road, the journey, was for them.”
The Hawks are led by Canaan Cox, the eight-player second-leading rusher, with 2,059 yards and 29 touchdowns while quarterback Derrick Schorg has thrown for 1,523 yards and 21 scores. Cox, a University of South Dakota commit, and receiver Carter Kuchel, an Iowa State verbal, are two dynamic playmakers for the Hawks. Kuchel has 29 receptions for 935 yards and 12 TDs.
The Remsen St. Mary’s offensive line of junior Will Galles and seniors Zach Ruden and Mitchell Schiltz has been up to the task all season and will be called upon one more time.
Points will be scored, as is the norm in eight-player, but the Hawks will look to limit the dual-threat ability of Sawvel who is completing better than 70 percent of his passes.
The Hawks are in the playoffs for the eighth time in school history and first time since 2013. With a victory Hajek would join his father Ken in leading teams to state championships. Ken coached Remsen St. Mary's to the eight-player title in 2004 when Ryan was the quarterback of that team.
A victory against Don Bosco would make Ken and Ryan just the second father-son duo in state history to both win state football titles. They would join Barry and Cory Brandt with the latter accomplishing the feat with last year's Class 2A state title winners from Boyden-Hull/Rock Valley.