Gregory heads to DakotaDome eyeing Class 9A state title
The Gorillas are 10-1 on the season and the No. 3 seed in Class 9A taking on top-seeded Warner
VERMILLION — For the first time since 2017, Gregory is back in the DakotaDome.
After topping second-seeded Lyman 41-6 in the Class 9A semifinal, No. 3-seed Gregory is set to take on top-seeded Warner in the DakotaDome at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 10 for the Class 9A state title.
The Gorillas haven’t been to a state title game since they won their third Class 9AA title in four years in 2017. But this year they’ve been one of 9A’s best teams all season, posting a 10-1 record while scoring nearly 40 points per game and giving up a class-low 11.2 points per contest.
But it isn’t one player on offense or defense that makes the team go, according to coach Mike Murray, it’s a combination of everyone.
“I think the biggest strength is that we're really jelling as a team; we rely on each other,” Murray said following the win over Lyman. “We know that if we do our job, the teammates are going to do their job. … If there's a big play, it's no big deal. … We don't get down and we just keep moving forward.”
For running back and safety Kade Stukel, he pointed to experience as one of the biggest assets Gregory carries to the Dome.
“We’ve had three-year starters, we’ve had this team since my sophomore year,” the now-senior said after the semifinal victory. “We just have extreme experience, it’s pretty surreal.”
Defensively, the Gorillas have several difference-making players. Eli Fogel leads the team with 12 sacks on the season, while Trey Murray has a team-best 87 tackles to go along with four sacks, three fumble recoveries and a defensive touchdown. Owen Hansen has three interceptions and two defensive touchdowns and Rylan Peck has a defensive score and three interceptions, as well.
Mike Murray described his team’s defense as “aggressive,” with all nine players swarming the ball on every play. That was evident against the Raiders, holding them to 22 rushing yards and limiting Tance Wagner — who had over 1,000 yards going into the game — to just three yards on the ground and no rushing touchdowns for only the second time all season.
However, as good as the defense is, Gregory has arguably just as much firepower on the offensive side of the ball. Led by Peck at quarterback, the Gorillas were the fourth-highest scoring team in Class 9A and were tied for the ninth-highest scoring offense in all of nine-man football across the state.
All season, Peck has been a force with his both his arm and his legs, rushing for 986 yards on 104 totes with 22 touchdowns. He added 1,226 yards passing and 18 touchdowns on the year, and against Lyman, he really showed off his arm, going 6-for-9 through the air for 175 yards and three scores. That showing included a 60-yard connection with Stukel and a 30-yard strike to Fogel that he dropped in stride into triple coverage.
“It’s so nice,” Stukel said of having Peck as his quarterback. “It’s so good because he’s connecting with all of us.”
Stukel has been one of Gregory’s biggest weapons offensively, too, with 10 total touchdowns, including a trio of scores in the Class 9A semifinals. Hansen has been the second-leading rusher for Gregory, netting 687 yards on the ground with five scores while hauling in 14 catches for 296 yards and three touchdowns, and Fogel has scored on eight of his 13 receptions this season.
The high-powered Gregory offense is going up against one of the state’s most stout defenses, though, in the Monarchs. Warner is second in the class — behind only Gregory — in points given up per game at 12.7.
With a perfect 11-0 record this season, Warner also boasts the highest-scoring offense in Class 9A at 44.2 points per game and is fresh off a semifinal contest against Harding County/Bison in which the Monarchs dropped 63 points in a 63-20 win. They’ve only scored less than 26 points once this season and haven’t been held under 48 since an 8-6 win against Class 9AA semifinalist Hamlin back on Sept. 30.
Despite all the numbers, though, this year’s Gregory squad is more than just a team to Mike Murray. Having his son Trey on the team, Mike said he’s watched these players grow up and has pictures of them from when they were younger in photo albums. But the relationship with the team isn’t adding any extra pressure to what lies ahead of the Gorillas.
“It's like family; it's like coaching family,” he said. “I wouldn't say that this is more important than any other year, it's just an opportunity we have.
“We know that these opportunities don't come every year. So the urgency is that it's there for us and it’s laid out for us. … So I don’t think there’s more pressure, it's just an opportunity we want to take advantage of and really enjoy.”