Fighting Cougars ready for Tri-ValleyBefore McCook Central/Montrose took the field against Winner in their 11B semifinal game Saturday, an announcement was made that the winning team would face Tri-Valley in the state championship.
By: Justin Rust, The Daily Republic
Before McCook Central/Montrose took the field against Winner in their 11B semifinal game Saturday, an announcement was made that the winning team would face Tri-Valley in the state championship.
The Fighting Cougars scored three second-half touchdowns and defeated Winner 28-7, earning a berth to the state championship game.
It’s safe to say that McCook Central/Montrose got a shot of incentive when notified of its potential 11B title game opponent.
“There was a lot of motivation just in playing in the semifinals,” McCook Central/Montrose senior running back Andy Kappenman said. “And then to play Tri-Valley made it even better.”
The last two years, Tri-Valley has knocked McCook Central/Montrose out of the playoffs, and in both games the Fighting Cougars have held late second-half leads.
At 7:30 p.m. today at the DakotaDome in Vermillion, the teams match up for the Class 11B state high school football championship.
“The last two years, it’s been a heart-breaker for us,” said Kappenman, who has 1,477 rushing yards this season and 23 touchdowns. “We finally get a chance against (Tri-Valley), and it’s at the Dome.”
Two weeks ago, McCook Central/Montrose defeated Groton on the road to advance to the state semifinals. After boarding the bus, Fighting Cougars head coach Ryan Evans displayed game video on Winner for the ride home.
On Saturday night, Evans had video on Tri-Valley ready in case of another road victory for his team in need of something to watch on the ride home. After the victory in Winner, the team immediately started focusing on Tri-Valley, an 11-0 team this season.
“They’ve got us twice and they’ve got these exact kids twice in the past,” Evans said. “They want this game and want this chance to go after (Tri-Valley).”
In 2009, the Fighting Cougars led 13-7 with 8 minutes remaining in the game before eventually losing 28-13. Last year, McCook Central/Montrose led by a touchdown at halftime, but allowed a late third-quarter touchdown and lost 8-6. Both games were played on the road and both were first-round playoff match-ups.
Evans said he hasn’t shown the team game film from either of the playoff losses, but there have definitely been remarks made about the games. The third-year head coach, who took over the newly formed cooperative in 2009, said his team will not relax if it has a lead tonight and it will “keep smelling blood.”
This season, McCook Central/Montrose has won all but one of its games, losing 10-7 on Sept. 2 to Flandreau, a team the Fighting Cougars took revenge against in the first round of the playoffs with a 28-7 win. Whereas the last two years, McCook Central/Montrose lost close games to Wagner, Platte-Geddes/Dakota Christian and Garretson, this year the team is beating most of its opponents handily.
The Fighting Cougars are averaging about 28 points per game and their closest game of the season was the loss to Flandreau. The team edged out a two-touchdown win over a three-win Parkston team, but is riding a nine-game win streak into tonight’s championship.
“It’s a tricky balance between talking about this year and what’s happened in the past,” Evans said. “This is a totally different team now that we’ve taken some extra steps. But at the same time, those memories are there, and they make them hungry.”
Kappenman leads a three-headed rushing attack for the Fighting Cougars. He averages 134 yards per game.
Dominic Blindert and quarterback Gavin Gassman also are helping in the run game. Blindert has 818 rushing yards on the season with nine touchdowns and Gassman has 488 rushing yards, has completed 48 percent of his passes for 412 yards and has had a hand in five touchdowns.
“It seems too good to be true to get to play them one more time,” senior tight end Jordan Wolf said. “One last crack at them.”