REMSEN, Iowa — Jaxon Bunkers knew he was the man for the job, and he proved it on Friday night.
Bunkers, a Remsen St. Mary’s High School freshman, stepped in for the injured Blaine Harpenau and helped lead the Hawks to a 34-20 win over Fremont-Mills in an 8-player state quarterfinal game at MMCRU High School.
With the win, the Hawks (10-0) will play at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls next week in the state semifinals. The Knights fell to 7-2, losing for the first time since Week 2 to Audubon.
Bunkers threw two touchdown passes and ran for one more in the win. He was also 10-for-17 for 196 yards with two interceptions.
Bunkers practiced with the Hawks first-team offense throughout the week while coach Zach Arnold and the team waited to see if Harpenau was able to play.
Harpenau was sidelined with a hamstring injury, and his status for next week’s state semifinal is still up in the air, according to Arnold.
Arnold named Bunkers the starter on Thursday, but the Hawks freshmen didn’t appear to be nervous.
“We just gave him a lot of reps in practice, get him familiar with the offense … he did a great job, and I’m proud of him,” Arnold said.
Arnold told Bunkers throughout the week to not be afraid of being great and to be decisive with his passes.
In practice, Bunkers was completing most of his passes throughout the week, and Harpenau, as well as the other Hawks, were giving him praise and encouragement leading up.
“All these guys, they’re such great leaders,” Bunkers said. “They told me I could do it and helped me get through it. I’m very thankful for such great leaders helping me every day.”
Bunkers got the Hawks on the board on their opening drive. The Hawks went 59 yards on 12 plays to start out the game, and Bunkers won a foot race to the far-side pylon for the first score of the game with 4 minutes, 58 seconds left in the first quarter.
Before that drive, Remsen St. Mary’s stopped Fremont-Mills just before it got to its red zone.
Bunkers didn’t want to take credit for his two touchdown passes since his receivers made good plays on the two point-producing plays.
The first one came in the final minute of the first half. The Hawks had started their drive in F-M territory.
After two run plays that moved the ball six yards, Bunkers was ready to throw the ball.
On third-and-4 from the F-M 24, Bunkers took the shotgun snap and took a second to assess what the defense was giving him.
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The Knights defensive line was getting in the backfield, so Bunkers rolled to his right, and a few seconds later, Bunkers threw into double coverage, but 6-foot-3 Austin Jensen was there to leap up and catch the ball where no F-M defender could.
Jensen fell with the ball, and that put the Hawks up 14-6 going into the halftime huddle.
Bunkers’ second touchdown pass was a go-get-it kind of throw to Damen Brownmiller in the fourth quarter with 10:29 left.
The Hawks were at their own 39-yard line, up 28-20.
Brownmiller had 1-on-1 coverage, and Bunkers noticed that.
Bunkers let Brownmiller make a move that got him free, and then the Hawks freshman made his best throw of the night. He led Brownmiller on a go route, and after Brownmiller caught it around the 20-yard line of F-M, Brownmiller ran into the end zone while the Hawks linemen and running backs congratulated Bunkers on a good throw.
That touchdown sealed the win for the Hawks, putting them up 34-20.
“Coach has been telling me all week that I needed to watch that safety,” Bunkers said. “That play, the safety was playing too far to the right and threw it right through a hole.”
Fremont-Mills did get into the endzone in the first quarter, just two plays after Bunkers made his score.
F-M junior running back Seth Malcom ran the ball 56 yards for the touchdown not long after the Hawks’ first score.
The Hawks broke the tie on a blocked punt by senior Skyler Waldschmiitt which the Knights had to fall on to avoid a Hawks touchdown.
Then, the Hawks senior used a spin move to evade F-M would-be tacklers to score from the 40-yard line. That score put the Hawks up 14-6 at halftime.
On the first play from scrimmage in the third quarter, the Hawks fumbled the football on a bad snap, and F-M took instant advantage of that.
The drive started from the St. Mary’s 8, and the Knights needed all four plays to score. Malcom ran the ball in on fourth down to make the score 20-12.
Then, the Knights tied the game at 20-20 on a trick pass. Malcom took the snap out of the wildcat, and he took a couple steps acting like he was going to run the ball.
Instead, Malcom found a wide-open Cooper Langfelt from 12 yards out, who is a 6-3, 265-pound junior.
Last week, Arnold thought the Hawks went into a lull, but he didn’t think this was a repeat. He remained confident that the Hawks could prevail through a small Knights run.
“We’re used to adversity by now,” Arnold said. “I wasn’t too concerned, but I thought we calmed down, got our resolve back and played good football. We ran hard, the guys played well, and they’re a good team.”
Jeremy Koenck put the Hawks up for good on a 3-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter. He led the Hawks with 92 yards on 15 carries.