CEDAR FALLS, Iowa — Every winning streak eventually comes to an end.
The Remsen St. Mary’s High School football team saw its near two-year long winning streak end on Wednesday afternoon, as the Hawks fell short in the 8-player state semifinals at the UNI-Dome.
The Hawks lost to Easton Valley, 42-36, in a thrill-a-minute shootout of a game that featured three fourth-quarter lead changes.
Remsen St. Mary's took a 30-28 lead into the final frame, but quickly fell behind when junior Easton Valley junior Carson Fuegen ran the ball in from the 11 for a touchdown 37 seconds into the quarter.
The Hawks responded with a 62-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Cael Ortmann to junior Ryan Willman. Their subsequent two-point conversion attempt failed, however, and the lead stayed at 36-35.
Easton Valley took the lead for good on its next drive, when senior quarterback Conor Gruver ended a nine-play, 65-yard drive with a five-yard pass to wide-open senior Andin Farrell in the endzone. That, followed up with the PAT, gave Easton Valley a six-point lead it would never relinquish.
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Remsen St. Mary's had one final shot on its next drive, but a pair of sacks gave the Hawks a 4th-and-20 at the 23 yard line. Ortmann heaved a desperation pass toward Willman, but the ball fell incomplete to give the ball back to Easton Valley with just over two minutes left.
After gaining one first down on the next drive, Easton Valley kneeled to seal the win.
“Defensively, we just had to play a little better there in the fourth quarter, and we kind of ran out of steam, " Remsen St. Mary’s coach Tim Osterman said, "Ran out of a couple of bodies that we wish we would’ve had there. But I give lots of credit to these kids, they fought all the way to the end, and that is the way we wanted it to be.”
With the loss, Remsen St. Mary’s fell one game short of an opportunity to defend their 2020 state title.
“I certainly wish we could’ve found a couple more plays and found the run game there in the fourth quarter,” Osterman said. “We really couldn’t get that done today. Kudos to Cael (Ortmann) and Ryan Willman for really making some big plays down the field for us in the second half. It really kept us in it.”
Losing is not a feeling that R-SM is particularly acquainted with. Before Wednesday, the Hawks’ most recent loss came on Nov. 14, 2019, when they lost to Audubon in the state semifinals.
Remsen played extremely short-handed against Easton Valley, with several of their top contributors out due to injury, including senior linemen Wesley Galles and Sean Cronin, along with junior Nathan Britt. The Hawks also lost senior wide receiver Austin Jensen to injury partway through the game.
The Hawks turned to the underclassmen to carry the load against the high-flying River Hawks. With that big-time experience, Osterman is optimistic that those players will be big contributors in the near future.
“I certainly wish we would've had a few other bodies there,” Osterman said. “... But I really don’t want that to be our story. I want it to be about the kids that did get to play, and they played their hearts out. Kudos to the freshman today that stepped up in the state semis, and hopefully that means a lot for us going forward.”
Ortmann finished the game 15-for-31 passing for 327 yards and four touchdowns. His favorite target was junior receiver Ryan Willman, who ended up with five receptions for 196 yards and three touchdowns.
Ortmann also led the team with 29 rushing yards and one touchdown on the ground. R-SM, who ranked ninth in 8-player football with 2600 team rushing yards coming into the game, managed just 57 ground yards against the River Hawks.
Easton Valley ended the day with 445 total yards of offense, 266 through the air, and 179 on the ground.
Junior running back Charlie Simpson gaining 142 rushing yards with two touchdowns, while quarterback Conor Gruver went 20-of-23 passing for 266 yards and three scores.
“We knew they were a really physical team, and they had a bunch of athletes,” Ortmann said. “It was a really evenly matched game. We went out there, played our hardest, and it just wasn’t enough.”
Over the past four years, St. Mary's senior class lost only five total games, three of them coming in 2018.
“That’s a pretty good achievement,” Osterman said. “They got to play with a really good group of seniors last year, and these guys, their story is just going to be about toughness and being able to make plays.”
Despite their status as the defending champions, Remsen St. Mary’s came into this season ready to prove the doubters wrong, after losing seven seniors to graduation. Now, with yet another season coming to an end on the UNI-Dome turf, the Hawks are eager to come back and redeem themselves in 2022.
“Coming into the year, everyone doubted us,” Willman said. “We lost so many seniors last year, and the Don Bosco game last week, we weren’t supposed to come close to beating them. But we came out and we played. To end it here, it’s special for the seniors.”
“We’ll be back.”
Easton Valley will play CAM, Anita (12-0) at 10 a.m. next Thursday for the 8-Player state championship.