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Cavaliers trip up Gregory in 9AA showdown

TYNDALL--It wasn't a final score that screamed two offensive-minded nine-man football powers. But instead No. 1 Gregory and No. 3 Bon Homme bludgeoned each other with defense and turnovers to win a Class 9AA high school football showdown, 7-6, at...

Bon Homme's Joey Slama, center, hands the ball off to teammate Nate Scieszinski, right, during a high school football game Friday in Tyndall. (Marcus Traxler / Republic)
Bon Homme's Joey Slama, center, hands the ball off to teammate Nate Scieszinski, right, during a high school football game Friday in Tyndall. (Marcus Traxler / Republic)
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TYNDALL-It wasn't a final score that screamed two offensive-minded nine-man football powers.

But instead No. 1 Gregory and No. 3 Bon Homme bludgeoned each other with defense and turnovers to win a Class 9AA high school football showdown, 7-6, at Jim Flevares Stadium in Tyndall on Friday night.

The Cavaliers salted the game away over the final five minutes with a 12-play, 41-yard drive that included a pair of 4th-and-1 conversions. The victory ended the win streak of the two-time defending state champion Gorillas, who had won the last 28 contests entering the contest.

The contest left both coaches surprised by the low final score but relishing the style of play.

"It reminded me of the old days, that Southeast South Dakota Conference football where seven points could win a ball game," said longtime Bon Homme coach Bryon Pudwill, referencing the team's days in the 11-man conference. "It was just a battle out there and you can't help but be proud of the team."

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The Cavaliers (5-1) emerged with the game-clinching drive, thanks to the engineering of quarterback Joey Slama. A 10-yard jump pass conversion on 3rd-and-short to John Kubal was followed by a pair of fourth-down conversions. The first went to Noah Heesch on a sweep play to gain nine yards to the Gregory 18-yard line with a little more than a minute left. Moments later, with Gregory burning its timeouts and again facing a fourth-and-short, Slama ran a quarterback sneak to gain the needed yard and to spark the celebration.

"It just is a great feeling," Slama said. "Our guys worked so hard, and we just kept talking about moving the chains and keeping the ball. We executed and made the plays we needed to win the game."

Heesch and Slama connected for the eventual game-winning touchdown late in the second quarter, again striking on its last chance. With a 4th-and-7 play from the Gregory 12, Slama threw a jump ball to the left corner of the end zone and Heesch pulled it down. Joshua Crownover's extra-point kick put Bon Homme ahead for good at 7-6 with 1:01 remaining in the first half.

That precipitated a turnover-filled second half for both teams, as each side turned the ball over three times in the third quarter. Bon Homme notably had a 60-plus-yard interception return from Tyler Kopp in the third quarter that seemed to have the Cavaliers poised to expand the lead. But an ensuing 15-yard penalty and a key defensive stand from Gregory led to a turnover on downs.

Just before the third quarter ended, Gregory's J.J. Beck picked off Slama and ran it back 58 yards for a possible touchdown, only to be called back on a block in the back. All in all, the miscues spoiled a terrific defensive effort, Gregory coach Brian Allmendinger said.

"It's a shame because our defense really played great," Allmendinger said. "For our defense to hold that team to seven points and for our offense to waste it like we did, we're going to regret that."

Both teams regularly score 40 points per game but yards didn't come easily for either team, with Gregory (4-1) outgaining Bon Homme, 208-143, but the Gorillas finished with four turnovers. Caleb Stukel, who ran for Gregory's lone touchdown in the first quarter, had 90 yards on 14 carries and Beck had 77 yards between rushing and receiving. Slama threw for 93 yards to pace Bon Homme, with 46 yards going to Crownover in the passing game.

The Cavaliers won't rest long, as they prepare to head to Class 9A No. 4 Warner on Friday.

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"It's out of one frying pan and right into another," Pudwill said of the schedule.

Meanwhile, Gregory will play Platte-Geddes at home on Friday. And following their first loss since the 2015 postseason. Allmendinger suspected he his team would be angry and prepared to handle bouncing back from a loss.

"I don't like losing but I'm glad the streak is over," he said. "It's good that we don't have to talk about that and now we can focus on what we need to do the rest of the way."

Scoring summary

First quarter

G: Caleb Stukel 26 run (pass failed)

Second quarter

BH: Noah Heesch 12 pass from Joey Slama (Joshua Crownover kick)

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Traxler is the assistant editor and sports editor for the Mitchell Republic. He's worked for the newspaper since 2014 and has covered a wide variety of topics. He can be reached at mtraxler@mitchellrepublic.com.
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