FROID — In just three years, the Froid-Medicine Lake football team has progressed from one win in 2018 to this year’s 4-0 start.
And it’s no secret to third-year coach Michael Reiter how his Redhawks have done it, either.
“We’ve grown up,” he said. “We’ve become juniors and seniors. We’ve really matured as in how we’re going to handle things. … I trust our team with any kind of problem that we might have in the future that we’ll be able to solve it and do it in the right way.”
Though the Redhawks have faced adversity this season — they overcame a 16-point deficit to come back for a 50-19 win at Savage, according to Reiter — it’s a far cry from the hardships of previous years. The 6-Man East has been a gauntlet during Reiter’s head coaching tenure and has produced the past three state champions: Jordan in 2019, Wibaux in 2018 and Westby-Grenora in 2017. Richey-Lambert has seemingly always had a solid team during this run of East dominance, too.
Annually facing some of the best teams in the state, Froid-Lake had to take its lumps. Playing with a lot of younger athletes, the Redhawks went 1-7 (0-7 conference) in 2018 and 3-5 (1-5 conference) last year. They’re already 4-0 this season and have clinched the 6-Man East conference championship and No. 1 seed for the state playoffs, which comes with home-field advantage for as long as the Redhawks are playing in the postseason.
“We’re starting to join that fray (of top teams in the conference), where we have a good system in place that works, and then our kids are just becoming the seniors and juniors, the older kids around,” Reiter said. “It’s our time to start playing better and quit using that word potential. Just start showing it.”
That potential has turned into production in 2020, and it’s more than just a one- or two-man show for Froid-Lake. There are five seniors — Isaac Johnson, Colt Miller, Jason Eylander, Jaxon Stangeland and Walker Ator — on this year’s team. With the exception of Stangeland, they’ve all played under Reiter since they were eighth graders and he was the junior high coach. Stangeland started playing as a freshman and has “helped our team out a bunch,” according to Reiter.
Juniors Ashdyn Hobbs, Connor Huft and Brett Stentoft have roles on both offense and defense, and a couple younger guys — sophomore defensive end Quinn Abar and freshman quarterback Mason Dethman — have also provided a lift. Reiter’s assistant coaches, Jalen Hendrickson and Ian Logan, have also been essential to the year-over-year improvement.
“The thing I always like to say to my assistant Jalen is, we underutilize everybody, and that’s a good thing,” Reiter said, “because we have so many guys that can contribute. We try to spread it around with the running game. When we throw, we try to spread that around, too. Get everybody involved and there’s no drop-off.”
The Redhawks are averaging nearly 65 points per game, but the defensive side of the ball is what separates contenders from pretenders in 6-Man football. It’s unrealistic to expect frequent shutouts in the wide-open, high-scoring game, but Froid-Lake has allowed only six, 12, 19 and 36 points this season. The 36 points allowed came last week in a 73-36 win over Richey-Lambert in a game in which both teams entered with unblemished records.
“We were locked in from the start,” Reiter said of the game with Richey-Lambert. “We needed to come in locked in, no silly mistakes and just play a disciplined game, which we did. We played a very disciplined game. We had no turnovers and we forced three. Penalties, we didn’t have a ton of those. We played a good all-around game. It was clean. We didn’t have anything that shot ourselves in the foot.”
Reiter added that two of Richey-Lambert’s touchdowns came on special teams, meaning the Froid-Lake defense allowed only 19 points against a Fusion squad that has made a habit of lighting up the scoreboard.
Now, for the first time in Reiter’s tenure, Froid-Lake is playing meaningful football in October. The Redhawks have just one regular-season game remaining, a rescheduled contest with Wibaux that’s now set for Oct. 10. The 6-Man state playoffs will kick off the weekend of Oct. 23 with Froid-Lake hosting the third seed from the 6-Man South.
It’ll be Froid-Lake’s first-ever appearance in the 6-Man playoffs and first postseason berth since 2005 when it qualified for the 8-Man playoffs, and the communities have taken notice.
“Our crowds at games have been awesome, they’ve been phenomenal,” Reiter said. “… We’ve had people at the games. I’ve heard people yelling at the games. You could almost say it’s an electric atmosphere. That Richey-Lambert game, it was awesome. Our sideline was full of people, you could hear them all cheering, supporting our kids. Same with the Savage game, same with Bainville, Jordan. Our sideline’s been awesome. People coming out to support our kids, just coming out to the game and watching it, it’s been awesome. I’m so happy we have those people that come and do that, because they make a huge difference for our boys.”