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High school football semifinal previews: One win away from title game for area powers

Six games involving area teams in state semifinals

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Parkston students and cheerleaders celebrate with Luke Bormann (11) following a 27-15 win over Platte-Geddes Sept. 10, 2021 in Parkston. (Matt Gade / Republic)

The South Dakota high school football championship field will fill in Friday night with 14 semifinal games.

That includes six games of area interest ranging from Class 11B to all three nine-man classes. Here's a preview of those games:

Parkston stands between Canistota/Freeman and fourth-straight nine-man title game

Parkston and Canistota/Freeman will battle Friday for the right to be in the Class 9AA state championship game on Nov. 11 at the DakotaDome in Vermillion.

Last season, the Pride finished the playoffs winning its third-straight Class 9A state title, becoming the second team ever outside of Freeman (1997-99) to win three straight Class 9A titles. Now in Class 9AA, they’re on the same trajectory, but a well-rounded Parkston team will be standing in their way of a chance to make history again.

Last season for the Trojans ended with a loss to Hanson in the first round. They only lost three games last year and managed to bring back the majority of its roster into this season, and coach Matt Grave said they’ve only improved and banded together since.

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“The players bought into each other, that’s been the biggest thing,” Grave said. “When you get pushed to either fight or flight, you either separate or you come together, and our team comes together.”

No. 2-seeded Parkston (8-2) hasn’t lost a game since Sept. 3 and racks up 282 yards on the ground per outing. Senior Cole Prunty leads the Trojans with 13 rushing touchdowns and over 1,150 yards on the season. While he averages 144 yards rushing per game, junior quarterback Kaleb Weber leads the passing attack with seven touchdowns and completing 70 percent of his passes this season. These two, combined with a defense that has 15 takeaways on the year, will make it a difficult task for Canistota/Freeman’s attempt at reaching another state title game.

“We looked at some of their early films and they’ve really changed their philosophy on what they want to do offensively and that’s been very successful with them,” Canistota/Freeman coach James Strang said. “For us defensively, the big key is going to be trying to control them and set the edges.”

No. 11 seeded Canistota/Freeman (6-4) allows 213 rushing yards per game and 124 yards through the air per game. The Pride had three takeaways in its 14-0 quarterfinal win over Ipswich, but they also had three turnovers themselves. They averaged two turnovers per game this season and had five turnovers in its first two playoff games.

“Offensively, our offense has hit pretty much all year long,” Strang said. “We’re averaging over 30 points per game, but the big limiter in our offense has been ourselves. Miscues, penalties, turnovers, which everybody deals with, but those have been the things slowing down our offense in terms of production.”

On offense, the Pride stack up 351 yards per game, 182 rushing and 169 passing. Strang said the team isn’t focused on what historical mark they would set if they won a fourth straight state title, but instead are laser focused on taking one play at a time.

“The big thing for us that we re-evaluated once we hit the playoffs is we have to win or we go home,” “Another thing we’ve been driving home to the boys is that we’re always focused on that next play. In order to get to that next play, we have to win games. Whatever happens, happens. Whatever the past was, is the past. Every team is different and once you get into the playoffs, we’re just trying to play one more down. We’re trying to get to that next play to continue our season.”

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Howard's Taiden Hoyer carries the ball in a nine-man football game against Hanson on Friday, Oct. 15, 2021 in Alexandria. (Matt Gade / Republic)

Howard and Wall seek reversal of recent fortunes

Last season, Howard and Wall both entered the Class 9A semifinals undefeated and as the No. 1 and No. 2 overall seeds, respectively.

Neither advanced to the state championship game, which Howard coach Pat Ruml thinks has added extra motivation on both sidelines ahead of Friday’s matchup.

“We’ve both been there (in the semifinals) a lot recently, and sometimes we’ve moved on and sometimes we haven’t,” Ruml said. “Last year, I had 11 seniors and it was particularly hard for our group to get over that. I think our guys that are playing Friday remember it and how they felt after the game. It’s been playing into how we’ve been doing things all year, but especially I think here in the playoffs when you’re faced with the finality of it all.”

Neither program has shown adverse effects of coming up just short in 2020. Both teams enter at 10-0 and own just one win by less than 13 points between them. Additionally, No. 2 Howard (10-0) and No. 3 Wall (10-0) make up half of the undefeated Class 9A quartet that advanced to this stage, as 11-0 Herreid/Selby Area hosts 10-0 De Smet in the other semifinal.

“It’s what everybody anticipated it being, I think,” Ruml said. “Usually there are some upsets along the way, but everybody that’s in the final four is really good and has taken care of business all year.”

Howard has bruised teams in the running game, amassing more than 3,200 yards on the ground this season, led by more than 800 yards apiece by Ty Beyer and John Callies. When the Tigers have gone to the air, Taiden Hoyer has completed 38 of 66 passes for 796 yards and 14 touchdowns, with tight end Jace Sifore finding the endzone on exactly half of his 16 receptions.

For the Eagles, Cedar Amiotte has been a go-to weapon in both the running and passing game, accounting for nearly 1,400 yards of total offense and 17 touchdowns. Meanwhile, Burk Blasius has 15 touchdowns and 1,151 yards passing, and Mason Heath has added 413 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns.

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“Our guys were ready to play this game on Tuesday,” Ruml said. “They’re really excited about it and I know Wall will be too. … They’re 10-0 for a reason and we expect them to play that way.”

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Winner's Kaden Keiser runs the ball during the first half of a Class 11B football playoff game against McCook Central/Montrose on Thursday, Oct. 28, 2021 at Winner High School. (Branden Hull / Republic)

Winner on the doorstep of another 11B title game appearance

It’s powerhouse vs. upstart in the Class 11B semifinals Friday in Winner.

No. 1-seeded Winner (10-0) hosts Elk Point-Jefferson at 6 p.m. at Warrior Field, seeking to reach the state championship game for a third straight season and get the chance at a second-straight title game. The Warriors have won 22 straight games and 20 straight games at Warrior Field.

Winner is rushing for more than 320 yards per game, including 607 yards in a 66-28 win over McCook Central/Montrose last week in the quarterfinals. Kaden Keiser has rushed for 13 touchdowns, while quarterback Joey Cole has scored 20 total touchdowns (including nine passing), with nine rushing scores from Aiden Barfuss. The Winner offense has turned the ball over just five times in an offense that averages 383 yards per game.

Equally impressive has been the Warriors defense, which has held opponents to eight points per game and managed 21 takeaways this season. Opponents are rushing for 51.7 yards per game against the Winner defense, which is allowing 158 yards per game.

With a win on Friday, EPJ (8-2) is closing in on something they’ve never done: reach the state football championship game. The Huskies reached the Class 11B quarterfinals last season, which was EPJ’s first winning season in more than a decade. From 2012 to 2019, EPJ had a record of 17-57.

The Huskies are powered by quarterback Noah McDermott, who is a capable thrower that is also part of a three-faceted rushing attack with running backs Ben Swatek and Lucas Hueser. EPJ has averaged nearly 42 points per game, including 56 points in a first-round win over St. Thomas More and a 48-6 win over Wagner in the quarterfinals, while allowing 14 points per game over the first 10 games.

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Bridgewater-Emery/Ethan's Koby Kayser carries the ball during a Class 11B quarterfinal game against Hot Springs Oct. 21, 2021 in Bridgewater. (Marcus Traxler / Republic)

BEE meets Beresford again with Class 11B title spot on the line

It’s been a bumpier ride to the Class 11B state semifinals than recent years for Bridgewater-Emery/Ethan but the Seahawks’ goal of getting back to the DakotaDome is one win away.

The Seahawks, seeded No. 7 in the playoffs, will host No. 14 Beresford in Friday’s semifinal in Bridgewater. The game is a rematch of the matchup five weeks ago on the same field, where Beresford won 23-7 in a game that the Watchdogs led throughout. Beresford rushed 55 times for 245 yards, holding BEE to 34 rushing yards in the game and 82 yards of total offense. Peyton Fridrich ran the show with 31 carries for 129 yards and three touchdowns and quarterback Tate VanOtterloo rushing 15 times for 78 yards.

BEE has three losses this season but they’re all to the other remaining teams in the Class 11B playoffs in Winner, Beresford and Elk Point-Jefferson. Workhorse running back Koby Kayser has gotten more than half of the team’s carries, rushing for 1,254 yards and 15 touchdowns this season. Kaden Klumb has completed 63% of his passes for 813 yards and 14 touchdowns, hitting Sam Hofer for five touchdowns and Jay Storm for four touchdowns. Sutton Arend has a team-best four interceptions for a Seahawks defense that has allowed only five passing touchdowns for the season and 18 points per game. BEE’s season has surged in the postseason, including a 21-8 win over Sioux Valley in the quarterfinals to knock out the No. 2 Cossacks.

The Watchdogs have won two tight games to reach this point, including a 27-24 last-second win over Mount Vernon/Plankinton in the first round and a 7-6 overtime win at No. 6 Aberdeen Roncalli in the quarterfinals that included a game-winning two-point conversion stand.

A win would send Beresford to a state championship game for the first time since 1987, when the Watchdogs knocked off Flandreau, 7-6, in the Class 11B title game. Meanwhile, BEE has a chance to reach its fifth straight Class 11B championship game and win a second state championship in three seasons.

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Action between the Avon Pirates and Alcester-Hudson during the 9B quarterfinals on Thursday, Oct. 28 in Avon. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Matt Gade

Avon chasing ninth state championship appearance since 1981

When Avon traveled to Dell Rapids St. Mary in early September, the Pirates rolled the Cardinals, 48-14. But DRSM has since switched its offensive approach and with the heightened stakes of a Class 9B semifinal, Friday’s rematch promises to be a different type of game.

“I think our kids are excited about the opportunity, and they realized after Alcester-Hudson last week that teams are not the same as they were back in September, so we have to pick up our game,” said Avon coach Tom Culver.

Early in the season, the Cardinals were running a spread offense, but a 1-2 start made them reevaluate. DRSM reverted back to their traditional double-wing system, mixing in spread concepts, and has now won five of its last six contests with the only loss coming to undefeated Class 9A opponent De Smet.

“They’re similar to us, really,” Culver said. “They’ve got a handful of plays that they’re pretty good at, and they’re going to run them and force you to stop them.”

Led by the running of Ty Brown and Nic Gaspar, who have combined for more than 1,300 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns, the No. 5-seeded Cardinals are aiming to make their second-straight Class 9B title game (DRSM fell to Wolsey-Wessington, 32-14, last season).

While No. 1 Avon emerged as the lone unbeaten program in Class 9B this season, the Pirates have not been to the DakotaDome since being crowned champions in 2013.

But 1,733 rushing yards and 25 touchdowns from Brady Bierema and nearly 1,200 combined yards and 27 total touchdowns between passing and rushing by Riley Rucktaeschel have Avon on the doorstep of what would be its ninth state championship game in the playoff era (since 1981).

“It’s been kind of cool and it’s kind of uncharted territory,” Culver said. “The last time we were in this situation, a couple of our older kids were student managers following the team in 2013. … The only road game everyone wants to play is the one down in Vermillion, and that’s what’s at stake Friday night.”

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Platte-Geddes' Dawson Hoffman (4) and Reggie Ringling (68) celebrate during a nine-man football game Sept. 10 at Parkston. (Matt Gade / Republic)

‘Big game mentality’ has Platte-Geddes one win from return trip to Vermillion

The journey may have taken on a different form than what the Platte-Geddes Black Panthers had envisioned to start the season, but nevertheless, the 2020 state champions are one win away from the opportunity to defend their Class 9AA title.

No. 9 seeded Platte-Geddes (8-2) stumbled in road games at Parkston and Gregory during the regular season, but has earned wins away from home in each of the first two playoff rounds to reach the semifinals.

“We had high expectations going into the year,” said coach Bruce Hanson. “We may have lost a game or two, but we learned from it and we’re hitting our stride right now.”

Friday’s trip, however, is a bit more daunting. The Black Panthers will more than double the combined distance of the prior two playoff trips, as they wind their way 260 miles up the Missouri River to face No. 5 Timber Lake (9-1).

Timber Lake’s offense starts and ends with running back Hank Kraft. The 5-foot-8, 200 pound senior has racked up 1,719 yards on the ground and 27 total touchdowns on the season.

“They’re going to win or lose with him,” Hanson said. “If you stop him, good for you, but they’re going to challenge you to do that.”

Platte-Geddes is led by its own dynamic playmaker in senior Grayson Hanson, who ran for 1,100 yards and 16 touchdowns.

Due to a rash of injuries, including to senior two-way playmakers Jackson Neuman and Caden Foxley, the Black Panthers fielded identical lineups in back-to-back games just once this season. But Bruce Hanson feels confident that his team has prepared itself to make a return trip to Vermillion.

“It’s just a big game mentality,” Bruce Hanson said. “Our older kids stepped up, and for the big games they are ready to roll. Their motto is ‘refuse to lose’ and they’re not talking about the game. They’re talking about trying to win every play and the score will take care of itself.”

Dierks covers prep and collegiate athletics across the Mitchell Republic's coverage region area, focusing on Mitchell High School football and boys basketball and area high school football, volleyball and basketball, as well as Dakota Wesleyan women's basketball. He was also the lead on the Mitchell Republic Gridiron Spotlight, producing video and providing live play-by-play for the traveling weekly prep football broadcast during its first season in the fall of 2021. Dierks is a Mitchell native who graduated from South Dakota State University with his bachelor's degree in journalism in May 2020. He joined the Mitchell Republic sports staff in August 2021. He can be reached at ldierks@mitchellrepublic.com and found on Twitter at @LDierksy.
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