VERMILLION -- For all of the tradition in its program, Winner’s championship season was arguably unlike its previous seven titles.

The Warriors captured their eighth state football championship with an 18-14 heart-pounding win over Bridgewater-Emery/Ethan at the DakotaDome.

The two football powerhouses entered the contest with seven titles apiece, with BEE besting Winner in last year’s Class 11B championship. The Warriors (11-0) exacted revenge and delivered the football-crazed community’s eighth championship trophy in 16 tries.

“Amazing,” Winner coach Trent Olson said about the title. “You feel happy for the kids and for the whole community. It means so much in Winner.”

Winner was humming along when its longtime coach, Dan Aaker, resigned after the third game of the season. At the time, Winner Superintendent Keven Morehart was unable to specify why the resignation took place, citing personnel reasons.

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But the Warriors didn’t blink after the changing of the guard.

“We are just resilient,” said Winner sophomore Riley Orel, who was named the Friday’s Joe Robbie MVP. “We knew we just had to do our jobs and we did that.”

Winner's student section and cheerleaders root for the Warriors during the Class 11B state championship game on Friday in Vermillion at the DakotaDome. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Winner's student section and cheerleaders root for the Warriors during the Class 11B state championship game on Friday in Vermillion at the DakotaDome. (Matt Gade / Republic)

Olson -- a 1992 Winner High School graduate -- was called upon to lead the Warriors. He was promoted to head coach prior to the Wagner contest on Sept. 11. The lifelong Warrior is now undefeated as head coach, but he also praised assistant coaches Sam Olson, Kevin Keiser and Austin Calhoon for adjusting on the fly.

“Everybody had to change roles,” Trent Olson said. “Everybody had to step up and have more on their plate and I can’t tell you how great they were. But the kids. The big thing is kids. Nothing changed. There were no changes in goals, expectations, work ethic.”

The tradition is apparent in the Winner program. Friday’s victory was the 60th win for the Warriors since the start of the 2015 program, with just seven losses. That’s included championships in 2015, 2016 and 2020, all undefeated seasons.

The work ethic matched the lofty Winner expectations in 2020. The Warriors are dotted with son’s of former Winner players, only adding to the legacy and lore of the purple and gold.

Winner junior Charley Pravecek kept the most outstanding lineman award in the family. Pravecek’s brother, Oscar, received the award last season in defeat, but the younger brother picked it up in victory.

“It feels good on the other side,” said Charley Pravecek, whose father Dan was also an all-state lineman for the Warriors. “Last year my brother had this award and it was amazing. It humbled me and made me work harder.”

Orel’s father, Jason, graduated from Winner in 2003 and was an outstanding football player and wrestler for the team. The younger Orel etched his name in Winner lore with the MVP and one rushing touchdown on Friday. He also recorded a pass breakup on the game’s final play.

“It just feels like we are adding onto the legacy and we are hoping for more to come,” Riley Orel said.