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Seahawks, Gorillas meet for Dome spot

After meeting in the first round the past two seasons, even more will be on the line when Gregory hosts Bridgewater-Emery/ Ethan in a Class 9AA state semifinal at 7 p.m. in Gregory.

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The Gorillas (8-1) and Seahawks (8-1) are meeting for the third consecutive season in the state playoffs, with the winner earning a spot in the finals Thursday at the DakotaDome in Vermillion.

“We are excited about still being alive and having a shot at playing in the semifinals,” BEE coach Jeff VanLeur said.

VanLeur has coached the Seahawks to five state titles in his 34 years with the team, including back-to-back championships in 2010-11. Bridgewater took the first-ever 9B state title in 1981 prior to the school joining Emery/Ethan.

Gregory knocked the Seahawks out of the playoffs in 2012 in the first round in a thrilling 36-34 matchup, returning the favor from 2011 when BEE ended the Gorillas’ season 68-16 in the first round.

“I think last year was the first year we beat them since we started facing them,” sixth-year Gregory coach Brian Allmendinger said. “It was one of the best games I have been a part of since being here.”

Gregory will be looking for its 10th trip to the state championship with a win. The Gorillas’ lone state playoff title came when the school was competing in the Class 11B division in 1998.

Offensive weapons will be on display for both teams tonight, as the Seahawks and Gorillas have had little trouble scoring points in 2013.

Gregory junior quarterback Kurt Braun has carried the ball 150 times for 940 yards and 14 touchdowns, while adding another 15 scores through the air.

“They can really spread you out,” VanLeur said about facing Gregory’s offense. “If you bite on the run they are ready to throw it over the top.”

The Gorillas have a stable of running backs for Braun to hand off to.

Paul Taggart has run 41 times for 492 yards and two scores, while Derek Stukel has found the end zone eight times, carrying the ball 56 times for 388 yards.

“Our offense has been clicking pretty well recently and we can cause some problems for teams,” Allmendinger said.

Jonah Beck has chipped in for the Gregory backfield with 59 carries for 359 yards and six touchdowns.

Andrew Taggart leads the Gorillas receiving corps with 10 receptions for 256 yards and four touchdowns, and Gavin Thomas has hauled in eight receptions for 262 yards and six scores.

For the Seahawks it is all about the ground game, and VanLeur has plenty of options to choose from in his backfield.

Senior running back Wade Miller leads BEE with 199 carries for 1,639 yards and 26 touchdowns on the ground. Miller is averaging 8.2 yards per carry on the season.

“Their running backs have some great speed and they block about as well as you can on offense,” Allmendinger said about the BEE running game.

Junior Jordan Grosdidier has given the Seahawks a successful one-two punch, rushing 137 times for 979 yards and 15 scores.

“Being able run the ball and take control of the clock will be a big part of it,” VanLeur said. “Our young line has been doing a great job opening up holes for our running backs.”

BEE quarterback Blake Bartscher has completed 36 of 52 passes for 453 yards and two scores in 2013.

On defense, Brandon Warnke has recorded a team-high 96 tackles and two sacks for the Gorillas, while Beck has contributed 79 tackles.

The Seahawks defense is led by Tyler Myers with 89 tackles and seven sacks, while J.D. Shape has 77 tackles and four sacks this season.

The winner will play either No. 2 Arlington or No. 3 Deubrook Area for the Class 9AA state title at 2:30 p.m. Thursday in Vermillion at the DakotaDome.