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Seahawks take aim at 11B title against Chargers

Bridgewater-Emery/Ethan running back Dustin Weber stiff arms a Winner defender during the Class 11B quarterfinals Oct. 26 in Winner. The Seahawks will play for the Class 11B championship today. (Ryan Deal / Republic)

It's a familiar feeling but a new challenge for the Bridgewater-Emery/Ethan football team.

BEE will play for its fourth state championship in an eight-year span today at the DakotaDome in Vermillion, but it will be the Seahawks' first chance at title in Class 11B. BEE (9-2) takes on Sioux Falls Christian (10-1) for the state title at 1 p.m. today.

The Chargers, on the other hand, are in their eighth season of high school football and making their first championship appearance. The meeting presents similar styles, as both teams emphasize running the football and tough defense.

"They're patient and methodical and it's not a big secret about where they're running the football," BEE coach Jeff VanLeur said about SFC. "They want to break you down and hit that big play. We can't let that happen."

BEE averages 315 yards per game on offense, with 262 of those coming through the ground game and 43 rushing touchdowns. Jamin Arend has ran for 1,229 yards on 158 carries and 18 touchdowns, while Dustin Weber has ran for 604 yards and 11 touchdowns. Both backs can bruise defenses with power and run with speed.

"It's good because we know they can't load up to stop either of us," Arend said of the backfield duo.

Quarterback Brady Hawkins has thrown for 533 yards and four touchdowns. Mason Potter is BEE's top receiving threat (seven catches, 193 yards). Defensively, he has five interceptions.

Sioux Falls Christian running back Parker Nelson is the primary back for the Chargers, running for 1,894 yards and 19 touchdowns and SFC uses two quarterbacks, with Dawson Mulder rushing for 617 yards and 12 touchdowns. Jacob Just is the primary passer, throwing for 116 yards and SFC's only two passing touchdowns this season.

"He lives on the big play," running back and linebacker Jamin Arend said of Nelson. "We have to be able to take that away from them."

The Chargers have ran for 3,471 yards as a team and has lost five fumbles this season, including one from Nelson on 243 carries. SFC coach Jake Pettingill said his team has worked on taking the ball away in practice, which has helped in protecting the ball. The Chargers stand plus-eight in turnover margin this year.

"Every day we do some sort of turnover circuit," Pettingill said. "We learned early on that if we don't practice taking the ball away in practice, we're going to fumble the ball."

For all of the history for the Seahawks' program, none of the players on the team have played in the DakotaDome, which allows VanLeur to guide his team on how to handle the championship experience. In the playoff era, Emery/Ethan won the Class 9AA title in 2001, 2003, and 2007, before BEE won in 2010, 2011 and 2013. Bridgewater won the Class 9B title in 1981.

"We have to play four quarters," said VanLeur, adding there's not much different about this year's experience in Class 11B. "We can't get all excited early and take ourselves out of the game. We have to carry the intensity for the entire game."

The teams met during the 2015 and 2016 seasons, with Sioux Falls Christian winning both meetings. This will be a different experience, one in which Arend and the Seahawks are eager to participate.

"Ever since I was a freshman, I wanted to be playing in the Dome on that turf. And to get there, you have to play in the cold. That's always motivated me and watching them play (in 2013), that's motivated me a lot."