Canistota/Freeman, Gregory each land four players on 9A all-state team
Canistota/Freeman recorded wins against a pair of undefeated teams en route to its second consecutive Class 9A championship.
In the title game, Canistota-Freeman defeated top-seeded and undefeated Britton-Hecla, 46-34.
Helping Canistota/Freeman to defend its title with an 11-1 record were four players named to the Class 9A all-state team, which was selected by the South Dakota Football Coaches Association.
Britton-Hecla (10-1) landed five players on the team, while Gregory (9-2) had four players. Sully Buttes (10-1) and Warner (6-3) each had three players named to the team, while Burke (7-3) and Kimball/White Lake (5-4) were each represented by two players and Howard (8-2) had one player selected.
Quarterback: Nick Wittler, Sully Buttes, Sr. (6-2, 170). Rushed for 1,855 yards on 179 carries (10.4 avg) and 27 touchdowns, while completing 94 of 156 passes for 1,716 yards and 24 touchdowns.
Fullback: Jackson Eklund, Gregory, Sr. (5-8, 150). Had 104 carries for 1,024 yards and 14 touchdowns. He also had 13 receptions for 128 yards. “Jackson is a hard-nosed, physical runner. He was always capable of breaking a long run at any given moment,” Gregory coach John King said. “He was one of our team captains and led by example on and off the field.”
Running back: Stanley Haskins Jr., Britton-Hecla, Sr. (5-8, 185). Rushed for 1,233 yards with a 9-yard average and scored 18 touchdowns. He finished with 1,538 all-purpose yards.
Running back: Tyce Ortman, Canistota/Freeman, Jr. (5-11, 180). Carried the ball 142 times for 1,465 yards (10.3 avg) and 18 touchdowns. Also had 25 receptions for 329 yards and six touchdowns. “Tyce is a worker football player with great vision,” Canistota-Freeman coach James Strang said.
Wide receiver: Grant Johnson, Sully Buttes, Sr. (5-11, 190). Had 41 catches for 943 yards (23 ypc) and 12 touchdowns. Also carried the ball 19 times for 222 yards (11.7 ypc) and four touchdowns.
Wide receiver: Jaden Frank, Burke, Sr. (6-2, 175). Hauled in 30 passes for 548 yards and 10 touchdowns. Also had six catches for conversions. “We have moved him around from tight end to wide receiver to quarterback throughout his career,” Burke Coach Mike Sebern said. “He has excelled wherever we need him. He is a captain on our team and a high-energy player.”
Tight end: Justin Becker, Kimball/White Lake, Sr. (6-8, 215). Had 34 catches for 722 yards and eight touchdowns, while carrying the ball 21 times for 136 yards and two touchdowns. He also completed two passes for 75 yards and a touchdown. “Justin is a rare athlete who combines tremendous size and ability,” Kimball/White Lake coach Kenny Huether said. “He was a matchup nightmare for teams trying to cover him. He was a great kid and very coachable.”
Lineman: Alex Braun, Warner, Jr. (6-1, 202). Blocked for a team that rushed 303 times for 1,956 yards (6.3 avg) and threw for 802 yards. Team averaged 35.3 points per game.
Lineman: Jett Lamb, Sully Buttes, Sr. (6-3, 265). Led an offensive unit that gained 4,500 yards and had 62 touchdowns this season. Finished with 526 points (47.8 ppg).
Lineman: Nick Nelson, Britton-Hecla, Sr. (6-5, 270). Blocked for a team, which rushed for 2,937 yards.
Lineman: Micah Swensen, Canistota/Freeman, Sr. (6-0, 170). Cleared the way for a team that rushed for more than 3,000 yards on 379 carries, and had more than 4,000 yards of total offense. “Red is undersized, but is as tough, hardworking, quiet and dedicated player you can find,” Strang said. “He has great feet and hands.”
Lineman: Finn Hanson, Burke, Sr. (5-8, 170). Recorded 65 tackles, had five tackles for a loss, two quarterback sacks and recovered a fumble. “Finn was a four-year starter on defense for the Cougars. He was a captain and a valuable leader for our team,” Sebern said. “He always brought his ‘A’ game and created a lot of havoc with his quickness.”
Lineman: Rhoss Oliver, Gregory, Jr. (6-0, 230). Finished with 68 tackles, 16 tackles for a loss, six quarterback sacks and had two fumble recoveries. “Rhoss has been a two-year starter for the Gorillas. He has a unique ability to shed blocks and get to the ball,” King said. “He is a physically strong player, but has the speed to run down running backs.”
Lineman: Wyatt Bray, Britton-Hecla, Jr. (6-3, 215). Had 58 tackles, including 39 solo stops. Recorded 15 tackles for a loss and had eight sacks that resulted in 51 yards lost.
Lineman: Clayton Smith, Canistota/Freeman, Jr. (6-3, 220). Recorded 35 tackles, including 25 solo. He had 8.5 sacks, 19 tackles for a loss, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. “Clayton is a hammer,” Strang said. “He is athletic and tough and controls the edges.”
Linebacker: Bailey Sage, Canistota/Freeman, Sr. (6-1, 170). Tallied 56 tackles this season. “Bailey is always first. First to the ball and first to lead,” Strang said. “He is an amazing player.”
Linebacker: Trevor Zuehlke, Britton-Hecla, Jr. (6-2,195). In seven games, recorded 50 tackles and had three tackles for a loss. He had an interception and return 102 yards for a touchdown.
Linebacker: Paul Winker, Howard, Sr. (6-0, 170). No statistics available.
Linebacker: Luke Murray, Gregory, Sr. (5-9, 157). Had 86 tackles, 12 tackles for a loss, two interceptions and a fumble recovery. “Luke has been a two-year starter for the Gorillas. He was one of the most physical players on our defense,” King said. “He has a tremendous ability to find the ball and make plays. He is an outstanding student athlete on and off the field.”
Defensive back: Isaac Kraft, Timber Lake, Sr. (5-11, 180). Recorded 37.5 tackles and had 5.5 tackles for a loss to go with three interceptions and two forced fumbles.
Defensive back: Landon Leidholt, Warner, Jr. (6-3, 173). Tallied 66 tackles and had five interceptions.
Kicker: Spencer Ketterling, Warner, Sr. (5-9, 170). Converted on 34 of 34 point after attempts.
Punter: Evan Juracek, Gregory, Sr. (5-11, 180). Had 28 punts for 1,078 yards (38.5 avg). “Evan has started for the Gorillas for three years,” King said. “He is a very unselfish football player.”
Player: Caden Lenz, Kimball/White Lake, Sr. (5-10, 170). Had a total of 1,211 all-purpose yards and scored 11 touchdowns. “Caden was such an all-around athlete, who was willing to play where we needed. He helped us everywhere — all special teams, offense and defense,” Huether said. “Also he did all of this while playing the entire season with a torn labrum in his shoulder.”
Player: Cole Fosness, Britton-Hecla, Sr. (5-9, 175). Had seven kick returns for 118 yards (16.9 avg) and had four punt returns for 64 yards (16 avg) and a touchdown.
Honorable mention: Trey Ortman, Canistota/Freeman, Sr.; Riley Genzlinger, Howard, Jr.; Kaden Eng, Castlewood, Sr.; Gavin Sandal, Wall, Sr.; Kolter Clark, New Underwood, Sr.; Evan Juracek, Gregory, Sr.; Jaxon Kampshoff, Howard, Jr.; Rafe Kiehn, Kimball/White Lake, Sr.; Will Matson, Oldham-Ramona/Rutland, So.; Blair Blasius, Wall, Fr.; Jet Jones, Phillip, Sr.