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One quarterfinal matchup to watch from Class 11B, each nine-man bracket

With only eight teams remaining in each class, these four games stand out in the state quarterfinal slate set for Thursday night.

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Mount Vernon/Plankinton's Drew Gerlach clings to the football after making a reception in a Class 11B playoff game against Tri-Valley, on Thursday, Oct. 20, 2022, at Heroes Field in Mount Vernon.
Adam Thury / Mitchell Republic
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MITCHELL — Only 56 teams remain in the hunt for a South Dakota state high school football championship, and by Thursday’s end that number will be cut in half once more, as all seven classes compete in the playoff quarterfinals.

In each of the four classes — 11B, 9AA, 9A and 9B — that started the postseason march with a round of 16 last week, a starting pool of 20 to 29 members has been whittled down to the eight best. At this stage, hardly anything is a foregone conclusion, as teams vie for a semifinal spot.

Here’s a look at one notable matchup that includes at least one area program from each class:

Class 11B | No. 4 MVP vs. No. 5 MCM

Though relatively close geographically — Salem to Mount Vernon (50 miles) is the shortest of all 16 quarterfinal trips in the four smallest enrollment classes — there’s not much of an existing regional rivalry between Mount Vernon/Plankinton and McCook Central/Montrose.

The programs have played just once since MVP moved up to 11-man football in 2017, a 50-28 MCM win in 2020. There aren’t many similarities, at least on offense, when the teams take the field, either, which should make for a fun contrast of styles come Thursday night.

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MVP rarely throws, often packing the offense in tight as part of the double-wing formation and relying on a stable of capable backs to move the ball down the field. On the other side, MCM spreads out, taking to the air more frequently with a talented array of pass-catchers, though the Fighting Cougars are not afraid to run, either. Despite their differences, MVP (36.6 points per game) and MCM (30 points per game) rank fourth and eighth, respectively, in scoring this season.

Where the Titans and Cougars are most similar is on defense, where neither squad gives up many points. MVP (13.7 points allowed per game) and MCM (9.1) both rank in the top nine of Class 11B for scoring defense, as that side of the ball has been key for both teams rolling to 8-1 records (the losses are to No. 1 Winner (MVP) and No. 3 Elk Point-Jefferson (MCM)) ahead of their showdown.

Class 9AA | No. 3 Howard vs. No. 6 Parkston

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Howard's Taiden Hoyer (12) carries the football (teammates Jack Neises (3) and Karsten Hamilton (22) also pictured) during a Class 9AA high school football game against Hanson on Friday, Aug. 19, 2022, in Howard.
Adam Thury / Mitchell Republic

Perhaps the matchup that most plausibly could have happened one (or even two) rounds later if the seeding had lined up differently, a pair of semifinalists from different classes a season ago meet to decide who makes a return trip to that stage this season.

Howard, the defending Class 9A champion, and Parkston have combined to go 17-1 to date. The only loss was Parkston’s 8-6 stumble against fifth-seeded Hanson, a game in which Parkston’s defense didn’t allow a touchdown.

On paper, it’s hard to imagine a more even quarterfinal. Howard (39.7 points per game) and Parkston (33.3) rank fifth and seventh, respectively, in scoring offense within Class 9AA. On defense, the Trojans’ fourth-ranked scoring defense (10.1 points allowed per game) has a slight edge over the Tigers (12.6), ranked sixth.

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Parkston's Kolter Kramer (7) attempts to shed a Hanson tackler near the goal line during a Class 9AA prep football contest on Friday, Sept. 9, 2022, in Alexandria.
Landon Dierks / Mitchell Republic

Again, despite their proximity (68 miles), the two schools haven’t met this season, or any time recently. However, they shared two common opponents from the regular season. Howard defeated Kimball/White Lake, 9-6, and Hanson, 20-12, in two of its first three games. Parkston downed KWL, 36-8, to start its season before the two-point loss to Hanson in early September.

Both programs have a rich football tradition and the talent to continue a run all the way to Vermillion, which should make for one of four excellent quarterfinals (No. 8 Bon Homme at No. 1 Wall; No. 7 Freeman/Marion/Freeman Academy at No. 2 Elkton-Lake Benton; and No. 5 Hanson at No. 4 Hamlin being the others) in a deep Class 9AA loaded with championship caliber teams.

The story continues below.

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Class 9A | No. 1 Warner vs. No. 9 Canistota

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Canistota's Tage Ortman throws a pass during a nine-man footbal game against Platte-Geddes on Friday, Oct. 14, 2022, in Canistota.
Adam Thury / Mitchell Republic

It’s hard to imagine a more sour reward for Warner earning Class 9A’s No. 1 seed on the back of the class’s lone undefeated campaign than the Monarch’s path back to the DakotaDome running squarely through Canistota.

Warner has participated in the Class 9A championship game thrice since 2012 but came up short all three times. On two of those occasions, it was a Canistota program that denied the Monarchs a title (as Canistota in 2012 and more recently as Canistota/Freeman in 2020).

This year, the Monarchs appear to have the upper hand, owning a 9-0 record and playing on their home field, but a simple glance at the Hawks’ 5-4 record and No. 9 seed doesn’t paint the whole picture.

Canistota, Class 9A’s preseason No. 1, had to navigate the most challenging schedule in the class, with opponents owning a .681 win percentage in the regular season. All four losses were to Class 9AA schools that made the postseason, including to seed Nos. 2, 3 and 5, with two of those coming by a single score.

It bears an eerie similarity to the 2021 Canistota/Freeman team that endured Class 9AA’s toughest schedule, went 4-4 in the regular season and still charged to Vermillion as a No. 11 seed, ultimately coming up just short of a state title. Last year was the eighth time since 2010 that either Canistota or Canistota/Freeman played for a state championship and the first time they hadn’t won inside the DakotaDome.

In this clash of perennial nine-man powers, the winner will surely have earned their place in the semifinals.

Class 9B | No. 1 HSA vs. No. 8 Avon

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Avon's Jaden Stahl carries the ball as Corsica-Stickney's Waylon Bolle attempts to make the tackle during a nine-man high school football game on Friday, Sept. 23, 2022, in Corsica.
Zech Lambert / Mitchell Republic

This matchup is the default pick in Class 9B since Avon is the only area team remaining, but after last week’s results, it also has a significant claim to being the most exciting quarterfinal in the class.

Top-seeded Herreid/Selby Area (9-0) did what it has done to almost everyone this season in the first round, running over No. 16 Lemmon/McIntosh, 56-6. Meanwhile, Avon (5-4) found the offensive spark it's been looking for most of the season, pulling away from ninth-seeded Faulkton Area late for a 74-48 win.

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Prior to the round of 16, the Pirates had scored more than 36 points just once all season, that coming all the back on Aug. 26. But if Avon is able to replicate some of that success against the Wolverines, perhaps another shootout isn’t out of the question.

HSA’s offense, which is averaging a class-best 53.6 points per game and hasn’t scored fewer than 44 points since its season opener, should be able to hold up its end. The likely deciding factor will be how the HSA defense plays. For the season, the Wolverines have given up just 10.9 points per game, the second-fewest in the class, and allowed a high of 26 points (twice).

It’s a bit of a longshot, but if Avon can keep the ground game churning, the Pirates might be able to put a good scare into a team that hasn’t been tested much to date.

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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