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Five season storylines to monitor to start the 2022 high school football campaign

South Dakota high school football resumes Friday with the kickoff of the nine-man classes and Class 11B. The upper 11-man classes begin their seasons on August 26.

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Winner's Aiden Barfuss fights to break a tackle from a Bridgewater-Emery/Ethan defender during the Class 11B State Championship on Friday, November 12, 2021, at the DakotaDome in Vermillion.
Mitchell Republic file photo
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MITCHELL — A new high school football season brings not only a fresh start for all teams but also its share of questions to be answered over the coming two-and-a-half months.

From across the Mitchell Republic’s coverage region, we address some of the prominent questions ahead of the 2022 season as four of the seven classes begin play on Friday night.

Can anyone interrupt Winner’s imperial march?

Winner has been the final boss of Class 11B for some time now and will hold on to that label until further notice. Since 2015, the Warriors have won four of seven Class 11B titles, falling to the eventual state champion squad in two of the three years they weren’t crowned in Vermillion.

Though not always indicative of how standings will shake out in the end, the two-time defending champions open 2022 as the heavy favorites again in the preseason media poll, garnering all 18 first-place votes. Bridgewater-Emery/Ethan, which has been to the DakotaDome for five straight seasons, received the most attention for the top contender spot, earning 66 votes — 24 fewer than Winner but 26 more than third-place Elk Point-Jefferson.

The Warriors — who have nine seniors and seven juniors on the roster — have an interesting schedule this season, breaking off from its past mix of Big Dakota and Southeast South Dakota Conference contests. Instead, they will face opponents ranging from Beresford to Lead-Deadwood to Webster Area, with stalwart programs Bridgewater-Emery/Ethan, Tri-Valley and West Central on the slate.

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How will defending champions adjust to realignment?

Realignment has created a logjam at the top of Class 9AA, at least for now.

Defending Class 9A champion Howard makes the jump up to Class 9AA, where the Tigers were recognized with the No. 1 preseason ranking by the media poll. Wall — the team Howard defeated, 21-17, in the state semifinals last season with both teams entering the contest undefeated — also moved up and was tied for second in the poll with two-time defending class champion Platte-Geddes.

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Howard's Griffin Clubb (30) fends off the arm tackle of Herried/Selby Area's Trevor Gill (14) during the Class 9A State Championship on Thursday, November 11, 2021, at the DakotaDome in Vermillion.
Mitchell Republic file photo

Not to be forgotten, Hanson, which started last season 7-0 before falling to Howard in the last game of the regular season and Platte-Geddes in a Class 9AA quarterfinal overtime thriller, isn’t far behind at No. 4.

For what it’s worth, three 2020 champions — Tea Area (Class 11A), Canistota/Freeman (Class 9A) and Wolsey-Wessington (Class 9B) — were bumped up one classification in 2021. Two of them — Tea Area in Class 11AA and Canistota/Freeman in Class 9AA — returned to the DakotaDome, though both ultimately fell in close contests.

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After rolling to a 12-0 record and a 55-18 win in the state title game in the DakotaDome last year, Howard is making the jump to 9AA for the 2022 season and still has the state title in its sights.

Will it be more of the same for Canistota?

The Canistota football program was top-notch prior to and during its recently-dissolved co-op with Freeman, so there’s not much reason to believe a return to being a standalone program will change that fact for the Hawks.

Prior to the co-op, Canistota won a Class 9B title in 2010, which was followed by Class 9A titles in 2011, 2012 and 2015. Under the co-op, Canistota/Freeman dominated Class 9A, three-peating as champions in 2018, 2019 and 2020. A move up to Class 9AA provided a stumbling block at first — Canistota/Freeman entered the postseason seeded 11th — but, ultimately, the Pride still made their way back to Vermillion and came close to yet another title.

With plenty of top talents from that squad set to return in a Hawks uniform this season and the exodus of programs such as Howard and Wall to the Class 9AA ranks, Canistota was voted as the No. 1 team in Class 9A to begin this season, with more than double (83) the votes of second-place Gregory (40).

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Are there playoff possibilities in Chamberlain?

An ascent up the ladder in Class 11A — which looks likely to be among the most hotly contested divisions near the top once again — presents a steep climb for Chamberlain in 2022. However, with some top talent and experience returning, the Cubs could be looking at a playoff berth after narrowly missing out last season.

If Chamberlain is to break into the top eight, expect senior Noah Hutmacher — one of 11A’s best on both sides of the football from his fullback and linebacker positions — as well as key 2021 contributors such as Cruz Soulek and Ty Graesser to be among those leading the charge.

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Mitchell quarterback Treyson Schulz (12) sheds a Brandon Valley tackler during a high school football game on Friday, October 8, 2021, at Joe Quintal Field.
Mitchell Republic file photo

Is there room for Mitchell to climb in Class 11AA?

A late push that included back-to-back victories to end the 2021 regular season elevated Mitchell to the No. 5 seed in the Class 11AA postseason, which is where the Kernels will look to pick up in 2022.

Mitchell starts the year ranked No. 5 in the South Dakota Prep Media preseason poll and has a schedule that leans to the favorable side, as five of nine opponents finished lower than Mitchell in the 2021 standings, including two that missed the postseason altogether. Aside from Pierre, which appears to be a clear favorite in the division as the unanimous preseason No. 1, the other top teams from last season — Tea Area, Yankton, Brookings and Aberdeen Central — all have promise but must also answer questions of their own.

Prior to Pierre’s active run of five-straight state titles, the last team to hoist the championship trophy was the 2016 Mitchell Kernels. Now, another state championship might be an ambitious expectation, but there certainly appears to be an opportunity for Mitchell to continue closing the gap on other contenders this season.

Area games and all four Kernel road games will be broadcast at the Mitchell Republic's website

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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