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Elk Point-Jefferson stuns Winner for Class 11B title, ending Warriors' quest for three in a row

Elk Point-Jefferson completed an undefeated season of its own and spoiled Winner’s quest for a third consecutive state championship in a 21-14 win on Friday afternoon at the DakotaDome.

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Winner's Riley Orel (30) is tackled by two Elk Point-Jefferson defenders during the Class 11B state football championship game on Friday, Nov. 11, 2022, at the DakotaDome, in Vermillion.
Adam Thury / Mitchell Republic
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VERMILLION, S.D. — The game of the year in Class 11B South Dakota high school football did not disappoint.

And in the process, a new top dog emerged in the division.

Elk Point-Jefferson completed an undefeated season of its own and spoiled Winner’s quest for a third consecutive state championship in a 21-14 win on Friday afternoon at the DakotaDome.

The victory, which delivers EPJ its first state championship in school history, halts Winner’s 34-game win streak, as well.

“We couldn’t consistently run the ball. That was probably the biggest problem we had,” Winner coach Trent Olson said. “They’re just really good. That’s the best team we’ve seen in 11B play against us for a few years. … They’re well coached, they’re tough, they’re disciplined.”

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Winner's Blake Volmer (16) hugs and condoles Riley Orel (30) after losing the Class 11B state football championship game on Friday, Nov. 11, 2022, at the DakotaDome, in Vermillion.
Adaam Thury / Mitchell Republic

EPJ sealed the victory on a fourth-down interception from Jakob Scarmon, who jumped a long throw from Winner quarterback Blake Volmer with less than a minute left, ending a 15-play drive that included two prior fourth-down conversions.

EPJ brought the physicality and, in turn, was able to run on the Winner defense that had been allowing only 90 rushing yards a game and less than 150 yards total per contest. The Huskies finished with 253 yards on 42 carries and gained 13 of their 14 first downs in the contest on the ground. The Huskies averaged 6.2 yards per play, outgaining Winner, 303-267.

“For us to have a chance, we had to hold onto the ball and keep their offense off the field,” Olson said. “Instead, it felt like their offense was on the field the whole time and we could never consistently stay on the field.”

In preparation for the game, EPJ coach Jake Terry said he told his players that Winner was human too, especially in light of last year’s 52-14 win for Winner in the state semifinals over the Huskies at Warrior Field.

“Everyone on the field played in the game last year,” Terry said. “They were familiar with Winner, they know what they’re going to do and there wasn’t that fear of the unknown. Last year was the first time we’ve ever played Winner and I think the nerves got to us a bit … To have this stage and play well, it’s pretty awesome.”

Winner (11-1) tied the game on the first play of the fourth quarter, with Volmer throwing a 35-yard touchdown pass to Ethan Bartels and then finding Bartels again on the two-point pass to tie the game at 14-all. Lucas Hueser gave EPJ back the lead with a 35-yard touchdown run up the middle, breaking a tackle about 15 yards out and scampering into the end zone.

Hueser finished with 119 yards on 14 carries, while Benjamin Swatek had 79 yards on 15 carries for the Huskies. Riley Orel rushed for 111 yards on 13 carries, while Aiden Barfuss finished with 62 yards on 15 carries. Volmer finished with 66 passing yards, with two completions going to Bartels.

“I felt like we left it all out there,” Volmer said. “We ran into a great team today. Those guys deserve this, they battled and they played a few plays better than us.”

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After no scoring in the first quarter, EPJ led at halftime on the strength of a 1-yard touchdown run from Hueser on a fourth-down play, and a 13-yard touchdown run from Noah McDermott with less than 3 minutes remaining until halftime. Riley Orel’s 69-yard touchdown run with 4:29 left in the first half got the Warriors on the board, trailing 7-6.

Winner did not have a first down for much of the first half and gained only 22 yards on its first three drives, which were all three-and-outs. It was that first possession, when Winner didn’t move the ball and punted after three plays, that told Hueser and the Huskies they could win the game.

“It was the first drive when we were stopping them, they weren’t getting any yards,” he said. “The first half just set a tone for this game.”

The Warriors, Olson said, missed their chance for the game’s first punch when Evan Bartels blocked a punt late in the first quarter to give Winner the ball at the Husky 23. The Warriors took four plays to try to get a first down but Orel was stopped by inches on the fourth-and-two run.

“We should have been up 8-0 on that and we didn’t get it done,” Olson said. “That changes everything. We didn’t get anything out of it.”

The stark ending to the season for Winner was a shocker but Olson said it shouldn’t dampen how good the Warriors have been, especially for the nine seniors on the roster.

“These seniors, they finished their careers 40-something-and-two,” he said. “You’re going to feel sad and that’s OK, but there’s nothing we need to feel sorry for.”

The story continues below.

Related Topics: PREP SPORTSFOOTBALL
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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