VICTORIA — Victoria gave Saint Francis the most adversity it had encountered this season, but it wasn’t anything the Indians couldn’t handle.
St. Francis trailed for the first time all season after the Knights grabbed the lead early in the second quarter. However, the Indians scored the game’s next 36 points and notched a 44-22 semifinal win on Friday to advance to the Eight-Man Division II championship game.
"We told them adversity was going to hit at some time," St. Francis coach Nick Fawcett said. "We’re not untouchable, and I think maybe they thought that we were."
Victoria (11-1) took a 14-8 lead on a 2-yard TD run from Carson Werth. But St. Francis scored two touchdowns before halftime. Ben Busse hit Kobe Tice for a 21-yard score, and Shadryon Blanka caught took a screen pass for a 10-yard TD with just six seconds left in the half to make it 22-14.
The Indians (12-0) then dominated the second half, opening up a 44-14 lead before the Knights got a late TD and a two-point conversion.
St. Francis, runner-up in Eight-Man Division I last year, will play Hanover (12-0) in the Division II championship game at 11 a.m. Saturday at Fischer Field in Newton. The Indians are searching for their first state title.
"Before the game we talked a lot about mental toughness, and we didn’t show a lot of that the first quarter," Fawcett said. "We kind of had to go in at halftime and reboot, talk about that mental toughness. I think they showed it the second half and I think that was probably the difference in the game."
St. Francis’ size and physicality — with Colton Neitzel (6-foot 4, 235 pounds), Jesse Baxter (6-3, 215) Adam Krien (6-foot, 200) and Colton Raile (6-foot, 235) imposing their will — was tough for the Knights to combat.
"We like to say that we play defense on offense," Fawcett said. "We just come down hill and try to smack you. Everybody’s tough in the first quarter, but not many are tough in the fourth."
Blanka, who briefly left the game twice after getting dinged up, finished with 251 yards on the ground with three rushing touchdowns and one receiving.
"That kid’s tough as nails," Fawcett said.
When Blanka left the game after appearing to hurt his shoulder in the second quarter, the Indians still scored on the same possession when Busse found Bice to take the lead.
"Shadryon, as most people know, he’s our biggest threat," Fawcett said. "And he goes out, the kids are kind of like, ’Oh shoot, what’s next?’ So for our sophomore quarterback to rise to the occasion and make a huge throw, good catch by Kobe Tice, that was huge."
Victoria’s 22 points were the most St. Francis had allowed on the year.
"Give a ton of credit to St. Francis," Victoria coach Doug Oberle said. "We had some breaks that went against us and they capitalized on everything. They played hard like we knew they would. We knew we had to play a clean game. We knew we had to get a ball here or there, and we ended up probably on the negative side of that. Just a ton of credit to St. Francis, great job, great season."
Victoria quarterback Grant Schoenrock ran for 74 yards including a 42-yard touchdown. He threw a 14-yard TD to Lucas Klein late in the game. Jayvon Pruitt finished with 64 yards rushing for Victoria.
Oberle said he was proud of what the Knights accomplished in their 11-win season.
"I don’t know if anyone thought we would be where we are at the end of the year," Oberle said. "I didn’t realize till about Week 7 that we were small. Somebody said, ’Well, you’re small, coach,’ and that was pretty obvious tonight.
"But very proud of our guys. I couldn’t ask for anything else. We put it on the line tonight. We went to toe-to-toe with them."
The Knights had a five-player senior class comprised of Pruitt, Drayden Karlin, Lucas Klein, Malachi Wilhelm and Trenton Engel.
"They’ve done a great job," Oberle said. "Some of these guys have played a lot of football for us. Good group of guys. I though they had a great summer. I told them at the end, ’If this is the worst day of your lives for the next 10 years, you’ve lived a great 10 years.’
"Putting it in perspective, proud of our guys, proud of what they did."