Howard, Deubrook Area go head-to-head for titleHOWARD – Unforeseen and unexpected are just a couple words to describe the matchup in the 9AA high school state championship.
By: Luke Hagen, The Daily Republic
HOWARD – Unforeseen and unexpected are just a couple words to describe the matchup in the 9AA high school state championship.
Howard (9-2) powered through its last two playoff wins as the eighth seed, knocking off top-seeded Kimball/White Lake and cruising in the semifinals over Clark/Willow Lake.
“To me, it’s not surprising they’re here,” Deubrook Area coach Adolph Shepardson said. “They’re one of the teams I thought had a chance to win it all this year. 9AA is a very good class this year, so their eighth seed is very deceiving. They could have easily been undefeated.”
Deubrook Area, the second seed, had some luck in its route to the DakotaDome, where the two teams will meet at 2:30 p.m. today in Vermillion for the state title.
The Dolphins (11-0) trailed late in their quarterfinal game against Potter County, but scored a touchdown on the final play of regulation to tie the contest and eventually win in overtime. In the semifinals, Deubrook trailed by 15 at halftime against Gregory, but mounted a huge comeback to qualify for the school’s first state championship football game.
“They don’t mind being behind,” Howard coach Pat Ruml said. “ ... They definitely have comeback ability, so I’ve told our guys to score a bunch of points and keep the hammer down.”
In order to find the end zone frequently, Howard is going to look to keep its running game rolling. The Tigers racked up 482 yards on the ground in its semifinal win. In its previous two playoff wins, the Tigers ran for a combined 862 yards.
Howard’s rushing threat has been dominated by sophomore Luke Loudenburg, who leads the team with 170 carries for 1,451 yards and 16 touchdowns this season and is a Class B defending state champion wrestler. Seniors Cole Potter and Evan Donahue have also made impacts on the Tigers’ ground game.
While Donahue has helped clear the path for Loudenburg in recent games, Potter has been on the sideline after suffering a knee injury against Kimball/White Lake. Ruml said Potter practiced on Tuesday but is a game-time decision for today’s contest.
Shepardson, who also has a dominant running game, said his team will be focused on controlling the line of scrimmage. He’s also taken notice of Loudenburg’s standout performances throughout the playoffs.
“He’s a hard-nosed kid, very small and a good wrestler,” Shepardson said. “We’re going to do some gang-tackling, like we always do, and it’s just a matter of wrapping him up.”
Deubrook senior running back Ryan Knutson has amassed 2,175 yards and a state rushing record 38 touchdowns this year. He averages 201 yards per game.
“He’s lightning quick,” Ruml said. “If he gets out in the open, he’s very elusive.”
Both teams also have the ability to pass the ball as well.
Howard’s Landon Laible is 49-of-75 passing for 637 yards. The Tigers’ top receiving threat is Steve Larsen, who has caught 11 passes for 184 yards and two touchdowns. Potter and Donahue each have 10 catches and have combined for 222 yards and four touchdowns.
Deubrook Area quarterback Taylor Olsen led his team to the semifinals of last year’s semifinal playoffs. In that game, the Dolphins lost to Kimball/White Lake after being tied at halftime and giving up four second-half touchdowns.
This season, Olsen has completed 66 of 134 passes for 987 yards, 12 touchdowns and three interceptions. Dustin Trooien has 27 catches for 488 yards and three scores on the year, Cory Byers has 14 catches for 231 yards and six touchdowns and Riley Hanson has 14 catches for 217 yards and three TDs.
Ruml said he’s been impressed with Deubrook Area’s offense while watching game film in preparation for today’s season-ending matchup.
“They’re 11-0 and undefeated,” Ruml said. “So we’ve continued to kind of play that underdog card with our kids. It’s just for the simple fact that when you go in as the eighth seed, everybody’s supposedly better than you.”