Tripp County sends two teams to the domeExcitement builds in neighboring Winner, Colome.
By: Anna Jauhola, The Daily Republic
They grow ’em tough in Tripp County. That’s been proven this football postseason with the advancement of Colome and Winner, the only two high school football teams in the county, to separate state title games. Colome head coach Kevin Keiser said the players’ agricultural backgrounds and heavy tradition in the sport contribute to both Colome’s and Winner’s success. Keiser is a Winner native and has been coaching and teaching at Colome for seven years.
Excitement is noticeable in both towns, which are separated by only 11 miles in the south-central part of the state. The area is known as ranching country.
Keiser said the students haven’t been able to concentrate all week. Signs adorn the hallways of the school, congratulating and encouraging the team toward victory.
“I hate to tell my principal this, but my class has kind of been study hall all week,” Keiser said with a laugh.
The Colome Cowboys will play in the Class 9B football championship game at 7:30 p.m. today against the Harding County Ranchers at the DakotaDome in Vermillion.
Winner head coach and athletic director Dan Aaker also said football is a strong tradition in both towns, which has helped the teams achieve playoff and championship successes. He added that the blue collar, workhard attitudes in the communities contribute to how the teams play.
The Warriors will play Tri-Valley in the 11B state championship at 2:30 p.m. Friday.
The small town of Colome, population 293, is bursting with anticipation for its title shot.
For the last two playoff games, the school had more than $8,000 in ticket sales. Business Manager Lavonne Ring said she sold 300 adult tickets to the championship game and 110 student tickets as of Wednesday afternoon.
The atmosphere in Winner, population 2,897, is slightly more subdued. There are no signs in the hallways cheering the Warriors to victory but a few businesses have notes on electronic signs offering congratulations.
The Winner school secretary said Wednesday that Aaker is trying to keep the students and players grounded. Aaker agreed.
“We’ve tried to treat this like any other game,” he said. “Our community support is phenomenal year-round and we’re just trying to treat it like a regular game. I think sometimes the extra hoopla can be a distraction.” He said his team is not nervous, but is excited. The seniors on this team played on the team that won the state 11B championship in 2009. “It was this team’s goal to get to the championship, so they’re obviously excited to play,” he said. “But they still have to focus.”
Although the halls are not decorated in school colors and there will be no pep rally, Aaker said there’s plenty of energy coursing through the school.
Keiser said Colome’s success is a result of a team effort all season long. He said the offensive line helped move the team ahead.
The five players — Lane Fawcett, Colin Stenson, Paul Temple, Zack Ekberg and Cohl Ratermann — are excited about the game. They all agreed football requires some guts and a lot of hard work. Plus, it’s fun hitting the opponents.
The Cowboys know they face a tough team in the Ranchers, who hail from the isolated northwest corner of the state.
“It’s pretty desolate out there. They have to be tough,” Keiser said about Harding County players.
Although Harding County’s team is big, Keiser said he’s proud to have offensive line players who average 276 pounds each.
This is the first time the Colome players will play a game at the DakotaDome.
“It’s tough work. We’ve worked hard for it,” Temple said, who plays center.
Keiser kept his players’ routine the same as they prepared for the big game, with the exception of improving their passing defense and reviewing Harding County’s strategies.
“We always expect to play well. We’ll prepare the best we can,” Keiser said. “And whatever happens, happens.”
The school will hold a pep rally at 11 a.m. today before leaving town at 11:30 a.m.
Both schools will leave to some fanfare as signs will line Highway 14 offering congratulations and luck as they head to the DakotaDome.