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Bridgewater-Emery/Ethan set to take on Arlington in 9AA state championship today

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sports Mitchell,South Dakota 57301
The Daily Republic
Bridgewater-Emery/Ethan set to take on Arlington in 9AA state championship today
Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

Today is the fourth time in five years that coach Jeff VanLeur’s football team will play for a state title, as he looks for his sixth championship and third since 2010.

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No. 4 BEE (10-1) takes on No. 2 Arlington (10-1) in the Class 9AA state title game at 2:30 p.m. today at the DakotaDome in Vermillion. VanLeur led Emery/Ethan to a title in 2007 and a runner-up finish in 2009. After adding Bridgewater to the program, the Seahawks were crowned champion in 2010 and 2011.

“It is always something special for the kids, and if you looked in their eyes after that football game in Gregory, they were completely excited about going for another state championship,” VanLeur said about his team’s emotions following the Seahawks 30-8 win over the Gorillas Saturday to earn a spot in the title game.

Both teams have suffered one loss this season as BEE fell to Howard and Arlington lost to Dell Rapids St. Mary.

The Seahawks come into play today with a pair of 1,000-yard running backs.

Wade Miller leads the BEE ground game with 219 carries for 1,635 yards and 26 scores, but was held to just 38 yards on 18 touches in the Seahawks semifinal win over Gregory. Jordan Grosdidier has 1,031 yards on 144 carries and found the end zone 15 times.

Quarterback Blake Bartscher has not been asked to throw the ball much in 2013, but has completed 42 of his 64 tosses for 562 yards and six scores. The senior has contributed 94 carries for 567 yards and five touchdowns on the ground.

When the season started for BEE, VanLeur had to replace his starting quarterback Jace Connor after a summer workplace injury to his back kept him off the field. But Connor still plays an important role for the Seahawks.

“Jace has been everything to us this year,” VanLeur said. “He hasn’t missed a practice or game all year and has worked with not only Blake but the young kids as well.”

BEE has never faced Arlington, and VanLeur knows his team needs to be prepared for the speed the Cardinals bring on offense.

“They just have great team speed and in a 9-man game, that is something that can be a concern for a coach,” VanLeur said.

Arlington is making its first appearance in the state finals since 2005, when the Cardinals won their second straight 9AA title.

“It hasn’t been an easy road and we have had a number of injuries to overcome this year,” Arlington coach Steve Gilbertson said. “Now we are as healthy as we have been since the second week of the season.”

Arlington’s road through the 9AA playoffs has been bumpy. The Cardinals squeaked by Webster Area 22-20 in the first round, before a pair of five-point wins over Elkton-Lake Benton and Deubrook Area to get to the Dome.

The Cardinals have a pair of stars in Luke Weber that fill the stat sheet in a number of ways on offense and defense.

Sophomore running back Luke Weber leads the Cardinals with 161 carries for 1,173 yards and six scores. In Arlington’s three playoff games, Weber has broken the 100-yard mark each time, while racking up 459 yards and three scores.

Cardinal junior quarterback Andrew King has started all 11 games for Arlington and emerged as a dual-threat from the backfield. King has completes 59.4 percent of his passes for 1,252 yards and 14 touchdowns, while carrying the ball 142 times for 772 yards and 17 scores.

King’s top target in the passing game has been Weber, who has caught 17 passes for 472 yards and four scores. Tanner Lemme has added 12 catches for 336 yards and two touchdowns.

King and Weber are keys for the Cardinals’ defense as well. King has 51.5 tackles and four interceptions, while Weber has racked up 60 tackles and five interceptions. Arlington is led in tackles by Logan Kangas with 64. Kangas has added six sacks in 2013.

The Seahawks defense is led by Tyler Myers with 108 tackles and seven sacks, while Camden Myers has added 102 tackles and 15 sacks. Bartscher has a team-high five interceptions for the Seahawks.

CORRECTION: Bridgewater was added to the program prior to the 2010 state title. Originally state it was Ethan.