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Defense back at it for Red Raiders

Luke Hagen/Republic Wagner's Alex Kocer intercepts a pass in front of Platte-Geddes/Dakota Christian's Dillon Werkmeister the first half of a Southeastern South Dakota Conference game played Thursday in Platte.

PLATTE -- Wagner's defense is back at it.

And at the perfect time, too.

In the regular-season finale -- only six days after Wagner lost to Tea Area on the final play of the game -- the Red Raiders nearly shut out Platte-Geddes/Dakota Christian Thursday night in Platte.

Wagner's 28-7 win Thursday helped it to the Southeastern South Dakota Conference title and the top seed in Region 3's Class 11B playoff heading into Tuesday's first round.

It was a more typical night for Wagner's defense, allowing only a single touchdown late in the fourth quarter when it was leading by 28. Last week against Tea Area, the Red Raiders -- who have four shutouts this year -- gave up 26 points, which was a season high for the defensively dominant team.

"We were more disciplined this week," said Wagner coach Jason Knebel, who added he believes his team will play Elk Point-Jefferson Tuesday but wasn't sure at The Daily Republic's press time. "Our defense came to occasion."

The Red Raiders (7-1) forced five turnovers, including interceptions from Solomon and Noah St. Pierre -- who are brothers -- and Alex Kocer. The Black Panthers also fumbled on the 1-yard line while driving deep in Wagner territory early in the third quarter.

"We turned the ball twice in the 20-yard line and once on the (1-yard line)," said first-year PGDC coach Darren DeNeui, whose team is 5-3 and finished Thursday's game with 211 yards of total offense. "If we don't do that, it's a completely different game."

The biggest play against Wagner's defense came when PGDC had a fourth-and-goal from 8-yard line and quarterback Lee Niewenhuis threw a pass to Cody Wagner, who made an impressive one-handed catch at the goal line for a score.

Niewenhuis was the Black Panthers' main threat, running the option and scrambling for large chunks of yards. He finished with 23 carries for 136 yards.

But each time PGDC put together a drive, Wagner's defense would find a way to create another turnover.

And two of Wagner's four touchdowns were created directly off Black Panther mishaps.

The Red Raiders' second score came five plays after Niewenhuis threw a pass behind the line of scrimmage, which Wagner's Trent Greger picked up as a fumble. On third-and-goal from the 12, Brett Kuca threw a bubble screen to Solomon St. Pierre for a touchdown.

Then, early in the second quarter, Alex Kocer intercepted Niewenhuis and returned it 52 yards to PGDC's 43-yard line. Five plays later, Andrew Krcil put the Red Raiders up 21-0.

"We talk about turnovers every week," said Krcil, who finished with a team-high 10 tackles. "We just go after the ball."

Krcil scored from 1 yard out in Wagner's first drive of the game that lasted less than three minutes and Kuca had a 46-yard run in the third for his team's final touchdown of the regular season.

"Our offense came around again," Knebel said. "We did a good job running the ball, and that was important."

Kuca and Kocer split the carries for Wagner. Kuca had 44 yards on eight carries and Kocer had 42 yards on five carries. Solomon St. Pierre caught six passes for 73 yards.

If Knebel is correct and his team plays Elk Point-Jefferson in the first round, that means PGDC plays Bon Homme.

First Quarter

W: Andrew Krcil 1 run (Kocer kick)

W: Solomon St. Pierre 13 pass from Brett Kuca (Krcil Kick)

Second Quarter

W: Krcil 1 run (Kocer Kick)

Third Quarter

W: Kuca 46 run (Kocer Kick)

Fourth Quarter

PG/DC: Cody Wagner 8 pass from Lee Niewenhuis (DeHaan kick)