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Tiospa Zina wins All-Nations football championship

Tiospa Zina's Elijah Kawalzek (24) fights out of the grip of Winnebago's lucian DeCora during the first half of the All Nations Championship game on Thursday at Joe Quintal Field in Mitchell. (Matt Gade / Republic)

By Ryan Deal

Mitchell Republic

MITCHELL — Tiospa Zina put an exclamation point on its dominant All-Nations Football Conference spring season.

The Wambdi captured the ANFC title with a convincing 38-8 win over Winnebago (Neb.) on May 27 at Joe Quintal Field. The win put a stamp on Tiospa Zina’s 7-0 season and its first-ever state football championship.

“It’s just nice to see a good end to all our hard work,” Tiospa Zina coach Michael Peters said. “We worked really hard and we wanted to make a positive impact on these young men and give them something to be proud of.”

On Thursday, the Wambdi prided itself on defense and kept Winnebago (5-2) out of the end zone for 2 1/2 quarters on a rainy, drizzly evening in Mitchell. 

“It was so big,” said Tiospa Zina quarterback/defensive back Jayden Fryer, who was named the offensive MVP. “I am not even going to lie, I wasn’t expecting it. I was expecting them to score more than eight points.”

Tiospa Zina, which won a 30-20 decision over Winnebago in the regular season, bottled up Winnebago quarterback Caleb Kearnes and bruising running back Antrell Harlan to key the defensive surge.

Tiospa Zina linebacker Azeriah Eastman, who was named defensive MVP, said communication was the key to its defense. 

“We talked and we played through it and we communicated all the time,” Eastman said. “We just got hyped and we kept the momentum going throughout the whole game.”

Fryer and Kearnes traded touchdown runs on back-to-back possessions in the second quarter. Kearnes’ eight-yard touchdown run and the ensuing two-point conversion gave Winnebago an 8-6 lead midway through the second quarter. 

But Tiospa Zina responded with 32 unanswered points to punctuate the win. Osceola Bluehorse II plowed in for a six-yard touchdown run after Kearnes’ touchdown. 

In the third quarter, Mike Smith added a nine-yard touchdown run for a 22-8 advantage. In the fourth quarter, Fryer had a rushing touchdown and passing touchdown to Courage Brown. 

Fryer stepped up in the absence of starting running back Elijah Kawalzek, who was sidelined in the first half with a knee injury. 

“I put it toward him and Anthony Benda, who got hurt earlier in the season and knowing they had my back through anything,” Fryer said. “It just gave me the confidence to play like I did tonight.”

The All-Nations Football Conference debuted in 2019, with Crow Creek winning the inaugural championship over Lower Brule at the DakotaDome in Vermillion. 

After the 2020 fall season was canceled due to the pandemic, Lower Brule, Cheyenne-Eagle Butte, Marty, McLaughlin, Tiospa Zina, Omaha Nation (Neb.) and Winnebago (Neb.) opted to play this spring.

In the fall, the league will continue with its regular season. In addition to the seven schools playing this spring, Red Cloud, Oelrichs, Takini, Little Wound, Crazy Horse, Crow Creek, St. Francis, Marty, Pine Ridge, Todd County and Standing Rock (N.D.) will round out the 18-team league.

“I want to put a shoutout to (Lower Brule Superintendent) Lance Witte and the rest of the coaches in the league and all those other teams about to play in the fall,” Peters said. “This is a great opportunity for our youth and I think it’s just a real honor to be a part of it.”

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