TYNDALL -- Bon Homme is about to put the importance of experience to the test.

The Cavaliers surprised many by snapping a 23-year state title drought last season with a 20-point come-from-behind win over Kimball/White Lake, but the defending Class 9AA champs have to replace some key cogs this fall.

Despite losing several crucial players, the Cavaliers topped the first South Dakota Prep Media poll and reshuffling in classifications throughout the state could put them in position for a successful title defense.

“We’ve got five or six guys that could play for anybody,” Bon Homme head coach Byron Pudwill said. “We need to stay healthy. That’s painfully obvious at the nine-man level, but our No. 1’s are really good and our No. 2’s are great kids, but not as old or experienced.”

Pudwill was uncertain about some of the other teams in Class 9AA -- while pointing toward Deuel as a surprise contender -- but felt his team had potential to once again be in the mix when the playoffs roll around.

Bon Homme is replacing a pair of all-state players that starred on both sides of the ball in John Kubal, and Joey Slama. The Cavaliers deployed Slama in as a do-it-all quarterback that racked up 369 total yards and five touchdowns in the state championship game, while also leading the team in tackles.

Taking the snaps this season is another all-state player and two-time state wrestling champion Josh Crownover. The 6-foot-4 senior was an all-state pick at linebacker and played running back last season, and while Pudwill joked his lone quarterback experience was “beating up his brother in the backyard,” he wanted to take advantage of his athleticism.

“Boots is very athletic, very smart and very competitive,” Pudwill said of Crownover. “He may not be Joey 2.0, but he’s going to be a definite asset. At the quarterback position, they touch the ball every play and it’s the face of the program, so you the guy to be athletic and smart. I think he’s going to fit the bill nicely.”

Crownover has plenty of weapons in speedy receiver Nate Scieszinski, along with running back Noah Heesch — a 200-pounder that placed in the hurdles at the state track meet and put up 300 pounds on the bench press over the summer. Cole Bares moves to tight end from guard, where he was an all-state pick last year.

As the offense has a new look, Bon Homme hopes to rely on a defense that allowed 14.5 points per game in the playoffs last year. The unit is led by Crownover and Bares, while adding newcomers such as Kaleb Kubal (6-2, 190 pounds) at defensive end and Hunter Lindula and Mato Two Eagle, both of whom weigh in at more than 270 pounds.

That defense is going to be tested with opponents such as Wolsey-Wessington, Gregory and last year’s Class 9A champion Canistota/Freeman on the slate this year.

“Defense has always been our thing,” Pudwill said. “That’s our baby, we take pride in it and it’s going to win you games. … We could be very good with Kubal at defensive end and we moved Noah Heesch to defensive end.”

Bon Homme begins the season against Platte-Geddes at 7 p.m. Friday in Platte.