Pirates lean on veterans in chase for Class 9B crown
AVON — The last time the Avon Pirates played in the Class 9B state championship at the DakotaDome running backs Brandon Kocmich and Devin Tolsma were young pups.
Kocmich was a sophomore and Tolsma was a freshman on the 2011 squad that lost 58-24 to Waverly-South Shore. In that game, Tolsma carried the ball two times for three yards and had four tackles. Kocmich ran the ball four times for 11 yards, adding 3.5 tackles.
Today, Kocmich, a senior, and Tolsma, a junior, look to play a much bigger role as the No. 2 Pirates (11-0) take on the No. 1 Hamlin Chargers (11-0) in the 9B state title game at 11 a.m. at the DakotaDome in Vermillion. It’s the only championship contest with two undefeated teams facing off.
“I think the big thing this time is that we have more speed and our line is a little bigger and more athletic than the last time we were in the Dome,” said Avon football coach Tom Culver, whose team won its most recent state title in 2008.
This season, both players have rushed for more than 1,000 yards and double-digit touchdowns. Kocmich has a team-leading 1,829 yards and 27 touchdowns on 122 carries. Tolsma has 1,202 yards and 17 touchdowns on 99 carries.
“I think Brandon and Devin will be pretty important,” Culver said. “We have told our kids all week that we have to be pretty physical. We know that they are going to put eight or nine men in the box which is no different than what anybody else does to us.”
The Pirates will also look to junior quarterback Logan Mudder to provide stability in the run and pass game. Mudder has completed seven passes this season for 57 yards, while rushing for 458 yards and six touchdowns.
Charged with the responsibility of stopping the Pirates is the Hamlin defense, which is led by senior defensive lineman Alex Holzwarth and junior lineman Tristen Leiseth.
Holzwarth has a team-leading 13.5 sacks and 84 tackles, while Leiseth has 10 sacks. Junior Brody Grantham leads the Chargers in tackles with 87.
“I think it is going to be a hard-hitting, run-oriented football game,” Hamlin football coach Jeff Sheehan said. “They don’t throw a lot and we like to run the ball, too, so I think it is going to be a hard-fought football game.”
Avon won’t be the only team with two 1,000-yard rushers on the field today. Hamlin also has a prolific rushing tandem in quarterback Grantham and senior running back Dustin Quiram.
Quiram has a team-leading 1,233 yards on the ground and 21 touchdowns. Grantham has rushed 154 times for 1,158 yards and 15 touchdowns. Grantham has also been deadly through the air, completing 39 of 79 passes for 577 yards, nine touchdowns and two interceptions.
“It will be huge for Brody to have a good game,” Sheehan said. “He has to play a smart game and if he gets going, it will be a very interesting football game.”
Avon looks to its defense, which has allowed an average of 9.5 points per game, to slow down the Charger attack.
Tolsma leads the Pirate defense with 140 total tackles, with 16.5 for a loss. Sophomore lineman Alex Balvin comes into the game as Avon’s top pass rusher with two sacks and 30 tackles.
NOTES: Hamlin’s last appearance in the state title game was in 1999. The Chargers fell 21-14 to Vermillion that season in Class 11A. … This is Hamlin’s fifth year playing 9-man football. Last year, the Chargers fell in the first round of the 9A playoffs to Arlington. Prior to its arrival in 9-man football, Hamlin competed at Class 11B where it won its most recent state championship in 1996. The Chargers have won four total state football titles. … The Pirates have won four state titles (2002, 2004, 2005, 2008).