CEDAR FALLS, Iowa | They can ask all they want -- and they have – but it is a topic that will not be discussed until the job is done.
Remsen St. Mary’s coach Ryan Hajek was the starting quarterback for the Hawks the only time the school won a state title as he piloted the eight-player squad to the 2004 championship with his father, Ken as the head coach.
Hajek now returns to the UNI-Dome Thursday for a state semifinal against Fremont-Mills (9-2) at 12:08 p.m. leading his own group of undefeated Hawks (10-0) looking to make big memories of their own over the next two weeks.
“The kids always ask me every day (to compare the teams) and what I tell them is we are not quite there for the comparison,” he said. “We still have some work ahead of us to be in the same conversation. I am hoping we can be in that same conversation.
“Our goal this week is to not just go there to play one game in the dome. We want to play two games in the dome, and hopefully at the end of the season we can have that comparison of how the ’04 team would match up with the ’17 team.”
Hajek, who said his father still helps him with things around the program, may not want to play the comparison game, but it doesn’t mean he fails to realize the importance of what his team has done to get to the dome.
“It is exciting, you know it is something you think about when I first got into coaching how it would be pretty cool to go back there as a coach,” said Hajek, who is in his second-year leading the Hawks. “But it is all about these kids and the kids I coach now. I just want them to be successful and I could care less about myself.”
The second-ranked Hawks feature one of the most dynamic running backs in the state in senior Canaan Cox. The University of South Dakota commit has been at his best in the postseason as he ran for 197 yards and four touchdowns in the first-round victory over Boyer Valley and followed that up 285 yards and four more scores against Audubon last Friday.
“Keep it simple as much as we can,” Hajek said. “The first game was tremendously windy and why throw if you don’t have to and that has kind of been our philosophy all year.
“We have 13 unbelievably talented seniors they are great leaders that are very excited about this moment.”
Cox has run for 1,834 yards this season, second in eight-player, and 35 touchdowns while fellow senior wideout Carter Kuchel, an Iowa State commit, is third with 897 receiving yards and 12 scores.
“Carter and Canaan are special individuals that can make plays anytime they get their hands on the ball, so it will be exciting to see how fast those two look on Thursday morning,” Hajek said.
Not to be forgotten is senior quarterback Derrick Schorg who has completed 54 percent of his passes for 1,401 yards, 19 touchdowns and five interceptions.
“I think a lot of opposing coaches don’t give him a lot of credit as much as he deserves,” Hajek said. “He can make plays. We haven’t asked him to make a lot of plays but he can. He is an unbelievable athlete and plays all four sports.”
The Hawks had several lopsided scores throughout the regular season and in the first two rounds of the playoffs – St. Mary’s closest game came against district foe Graettinger-Terril/Ruthven-Ayrshire 27-24 – but their path to this point through a rugged district that had as many as five teams ranked in the top 10 at once was a double-edged sword.
“We played a lot of very physical football teams, we had to face a lot of adversity throughout the season, throughout games, so I think it only helps us in the postseason,” Hajek said. “On the flip side of things, we might not be as fresh as a team like (quarterfinal foe) Audubon that had a lot of rest in the second half of games. We had to play four quarters in most of our games.”
The Knights, who are making their eighth straight trip to the playoffs having won the eight-player title in 2011, are led by junior Jaeger Powers who has run for 1,116 yards and 11 touchdowns and junior dual-threat quarterback Mason Vanatta, who has thrown for 1,426 yards and run for 1,097.
“They have some athletes for sure, some playmakers, very big up front with some good size,” Hajek said. “It is a team that isn’t very heavy on the seniors but they have been there before so they just expect to be there.”
Fremont-Mills fell to Harris-Lake Park in the state semifinals a year ago 35-21 in a game the Wolves were able to shut down the Knights’ rushing attack. However, the Knights have defeated a pair of ranked teams in No. 10 Stanton and No. 5 Sidney to make the semis.
The St. Mary’s defense has forced seven turnovers in its first two playoff games and Hajek believes it is a group that will be looking for more on the turf in Cedar Falls.
“Our defense is just underrated and a lot of teams don’t know how physical we are, and they might think we don’t have a lot of playmakers,” he said. “We lead the state in eight-player for interceptions and I am excited to see how well our defense is playing. The big thing is they take pride and even though we score a lot of points they would rather play defense and make some big plays too.”