LITTLE CHUTE - Nathan Peters entered Friday night's Division 4 Level 3 playoff game hardly a secret.
The junior running back was coming off a 307-yard, 5-touchdown performance in a Level 2 win over Marshall, and for the season had more than 1,700 rushing yards.
For Little Chute, he was a marked man, and for two quarters Friday, the Mustangs had Peters' number. However, in the second half Little Chute was off the mark and it paid dearly.
Peters scored four second-half touchdowns, and after being limited to less than 70 yards in the first half, Peters finished with 316 yards as the No. 8-seeded Irish defeated rival No. 2 Little Chute, 36-7, advancing to Level 4 next Friday against Big Foot at West Bend.
"It's huge," Freedom coach Clint Kriewaldt said. "We had confidence coming in. Being a No. 8 seed is what everyone wants to talk about, but I told the kids from Day 1, ‘It's not about the seed, it's about the matchup.' We had three good matchups."
Added Peters: "It's awesome. Going into the game everyone doubted us and we wanted to prove everybody wrong and that's what we did."
Peters shreds the Mustangs
Freedom (9-2) knew if it was going to win Friday its ground game would have to be clicking. The Irish don't throw much and Friday it didn't have an official pass attempt.
Freedom's only pass was successful as it resulted in a 15-yard pass-interference penalty, but statistically it's not an attempt because of the penalty. The lack of balance on offense didn't matter because Peters was in the backfield.
The 5-foot-7, 170-pounder pounded Little Chute's defense all game and in the second half he wasted no time in taking control. On the second playoff the third quarter, Peters scampered 67 yards for a touchdown to put Freedom up, 14-7.
The ensuing three Freedom possessions resulted in three more Peters TD runs, including a 72-yarder for the final points of the game. While Peters may not be big, he runs tough, falls forward, can outrun defenders and has great cutback ability.
"He's outstanding," Kriewaldt said. "I told the big boys this is going to be won in the trenches. Nathan runs extremely hard and he's talented."
Peters talked about his long touchdown runs and what he saw.
"They were over pursuing both times, so I knew I had to cut it up," Peters said. "The line did great and I ran my hardest."
Peters didn't start the season as Freedom's top back, but after Robert Kasper suffered an injury against Little Chute in Week 3, Peters stepped in and has been brilliant ever since.
Peters has 2,060 yards and 22 touchdowns this season and in three playoff games he has 784 yards and 11 TDs.
"Once Bo went down, I knew I had to step it up," Peters said. "I had to work my hardest."
Peters said his second-half performance was indicative of what usually happens to opponents. Freedom sticks to the run regardless of the situation and believes its physical style will win out.
"That's how it usually goes," Peters said. "We pound and pound and pound and they get sick of it. Then 4-yard runs turn into 30-yard runs."
Defense also plays big
While Peters' performance was the story of this game, the Irish defense wasn't too bad either. After Little Chute (9-2) beat Freedom, 13-6, earlier this season, Little Chute averaged 42.8 points per game in its next seven games.
Furthermore, Little Chute scored 61 points in a win in Level 2 at Sturgeon Bay.
Friday, the Irish picked off quarterback Mitch Ciske four times, as for the second time this season the Mustangs were held to 13 points or less, both times coming against Freedom.
"They're very potent and balanced," Kriewladt said of Little Chute. "The big thing is we have a lot of guys that go both ways. They're in the flow of the game, the offense gets moving the ball like that, the clock keeps running and it puts them in a panic mode. It just played into our style of football."
Two wins from a state title
Freedom has never won a state football title, but now is just two wins away from achieving that goal. Nonetheless, the Irish has to deal with Big Foot, which arguably was the favorite to win the Division 4 state title when the postseason started.
Still, the way Freedom has played this postseason you can't count out the Irish, especially with Peters in the backfield.
"It's crazy," Peters said. "I've never had this feeling before. It's awesome."
- Notes: Ciske was 21-for-38 for 187 yards. … In the postseason, Freedom has defeated No. 1-seeded Chilton, No. 4 Marshall and No. 2 Little Chute by a combined score of 97-46. … Big Foot beat Lakeside Lutheran, 52-17.
- Game ball: Peters, who ran all over Little Chute's defense.
- Numbers game: 2 Straight games Peters has rushed for more than 300 yards.
(8) FREEDOM 36, (2) LITTLE CHUTE 7
Freedom……0 6 16 20 - 36
Little Chute...0 7 0 0 - 7
FREE: Andrew Philibeck recovers fumble in end zone (kick failed). FREE 6-0.
LC: Jed Albers 7-yard catch from Mitch Ciske (Turner Botz kick). LC 7-6.
FREE: Nathan Peters 67-yard run (pass good).
FREE: Peters 1-yard run (run good). FREE 22-7.
FREE: Peters 7-yard run (pass good). FREE 30-7.
FREE: Peters 72-yard run (run failed). FREE 36-7.
Follow Doug Ritchay on Twitter @dougritchay
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