ST. ANTHONY – As the temperature hovers around freezing and a layer of snow covers the field like a warning sign that winter is indeed here, South Fremont football players go through their practice routines.
“At least we're still playing,” Cougars’ coach Chad Hill said this week during a brisk afternoon practice.
Practicing in the snow isn’t a burden for South Fremont, which plays in its first 3A state semifinal on Saturday when the Cougars travel to Homedale.
In fact, the scenario of a potential playoff run started taking shape during a more climate-friendly time in the summer when teams were playing 7-on-7 competitions.
A lot of that optimism centered around new quarterback Kaimen Peebles, one of the school’s top overall athletes and former slot receiver who was now charged with taking over the quarterback position.
“He’s a kid that can kind of do anything,” Hill said, noting Peebles’ basketball and baseball prowess. “We just thought, in our offense, that’s the kind of guy we want as our quarterback.”
That was the message Hill relayed to Peebles during the summer, and despite having little to no experience as a starting quarterback, Peebles said he was ready.
“I like being the guy,” Peebles said. “He said go be the guy and I said OK. I take that on as a challenge.”
The Cougars beat Timberlake in their season opener and averaged nearly 42 points through their first five games. While South Fremont still ran the ball, the threat of Peebles and an enhanced passing game created problems for opposing defenses.
“This summer we worked really hard,” receiver Dallin Orme said, noting receivers ran routes and worked on building chemistry with Peebles at the helm.
“It really did work and it shows,” said Orme, who leads the team with 35 catches for 643 yards and seven touchdowns.
He’s not alone. Bridger Paulson has six touchdown receptions and averages 23 yards per catch. Tag Bair has four touchdowns and Cooper Hurt has three.
The team has also rushed for 14 touchdowns, led by Peebles with four scores.
“Coming into the season I knew we were going to be good,” Orme said. “That first game was a 3A matchup at Timberlake and we played really well. That was a big win. Things starting clicking.”
Most playoff teams face a stretch of the season that reveals their character more than their talent. For South Fremont, it was a two-week stretch in which the Cougars defeated two-time state champion and Mountain Rivers Conference power Sugar-Salem 27-21, and then lost a heartbreaker 19-13 to Teton the following week.
That forced a Kansas City tiebreaker – essentially a college–style overtime where the three teams competed against each other for the two playoff spots. South Fremont beat Teton in the tiebreaker to claim the No. 2 playoff seed out of the conference and has won two tight playoff games against American Falls and Gooding to set up the historic semifinal.
“Our kids have a goal to win our last game,” Hill said of making the push to the title game. “We’ve never been able to get over that hump.”
The Cougars lost their final four games last season and missed the playoffs.
“I wanted to turn things around after last season going 3-5,” said Peebles, who’s passed for 2,312 yards and 31 touchdowns with just eight interceptions. "I wanted to make this season one to remember and go on a championship run.”