South Dakota Gridiron Report: In the largest playoff classes, it's No. 1 versus the field
In this edition of the South Dakota Gridiron Report, we look at the top of Classes 11AAA, 11AA and 11A, where Sioux Falls Jefferson, Pierre and Dell Rapids enter the postseason as the undefeated No. 1 seeds and favorites to take home state championships.
MITCHELL — In each of the state’s three largest football classes, only one program made it to the regular season finish line without a blemish on their record — Class 11AAA’s Sioux Falls Jefferson, Class 11AA’s Pierre and Class 11A’s Dell Rapids.
Having established themselves as the No. 1 seeds and favorites to hoist a state championship trophy in three weeks' time, there’s a sense that this year’s title chase is a race of one team against the field across all three classes.
Here’s a closer look at those No. 1 seeds:
At the top, Jefferson has been historically dominant. Since the inception of Class 11AAA in 2013, the state champion has gone undefeated in five of the nine seasons, so that wouldn’t be new. However, the form in which the Cavaliers have cut a swath through their schedule is nearly unparalleled.
Jefferson has not failed to score at least 30 points in any of its nine games and has won each of them by at least 17 points by pairing the class’ best scoring offense (44.1 points per game) with its top scoring defense (10.9 points allowed per game.
The beatings are indiscriminate, with the opposition taking a hard tumble regardless of their quality. In games against the other four consensus top-5 teams — Harrisburg, O’Gorman, Sioux Falls Lincoln and Brandon Valley — this season, Jefferson rolled to a combined score of 153-57, an average of around 38-14.
Only Lincoln’s 2013 team even comes close. Those Patriots played just one game closer than 21 points all season. The next year, Lincoln went undefeated again but played five games decided by 14 points or fewer.
Sioux Falls Washington’s 2016 and 2017 squads also played their share of close games. The former had four games decided by 10 points or fewer, while the latter eked out three one-point wins.
Just last season, Harrisburg went unbeaten, but the Tigers played in four one-score games (decided by eight points or fewer).
This season, second-seeded O’Gorman and third-seeded Harrisburg have the inside track for another chance at the Cavaliers in Vermillion, but there’s no reason to pick against Jefferson right now.
Going for six
In Class 11AA, what more can really be said about Pierre?
The Governors have displayed a similar dominance to their Class 11AAA counterparts, though a 35-30 win at home against No. 2 Tea Area — which appears to be the only viable challenger to a Pierre six-peat as Class 11AA champions — and a 43-34 road win at Class 11AAA Brandon Valley, showed they can win close games, as well.
But in the other seven contests, the Governors haven’t played a game closer than 34 points, putting up an average of 48.6 points per game. Once again, the top-ranked team pairs the No. 1 scoring offense and defense, as the Governors’ aggregate score this season stands at 437-121. Without the two close encounters, that total is 359-57 for a per-game average of 51-8.
It sure looks like Pierre is preparing for another state championship trip, if not making room in the trophy case for more first-place hardware.
Slow and steady
Unlike the top two classes, Dell Rapids has not yet matched up with the team expected to be the top challenger for the title.
It’s an interesting quirk of the schedule considering the Quarriers and No. 2 West Central, two of the stalwarts in Class 11A, are longtime rivals within 30 miles of one another. Regardless of the geography, its fairly uncommon for one of the three largest classes not to have the top two teams meet in the regular season due to their size (Class 11A has only 14 members this season).
But since the Quarriers and Trojans — who have just one loss, which came to Class 11B No. 1 Winner, meaning they are also still unbeaten against Class 11A competition — haven’t met and would not until a potential state championship affair, differentiating the two programs becomes a bit tricky.
For example, both own a pair of one-score wins over other Class 11A competition but were relatively unbothered in the other games against their peers. Further, even with West Central’s loss figured in, the Quarriers and Trojans have both posted similar numbers for scoring offense (33.7 to 33.0 points per game) and scoring defense (16.2 to 14.3 points allowed per game).
The biggest difference comes when considering the strength of schedules. Dell Rapids played five games against teams with winning records, while West Central played three. The Quarriers went, of course, 5-0, as the Trojans went 2-1. This created a considerable gap in the final seed point standings, with Dell Rapids (46.667) far and away No. 1 and West Central (43.778) much closer to No. 3 Beresford (43.222).
As such, the battle-hardened Quarriers are the favorites to hoist their first state title trophy since 2014.
Latest road report
A look at travel for Classes 11B, 9AA, 9A and 9B for the state quarterfinals
- There is only one trip of longer than 280 miles one-way, with Class 11B No. 7 Hot Springs making the 384-mile trek to No. 2 Aberdeen Roncalli.
- Though there are fewer trips of longer than 300 miles, the total number of 200-plus-mile trips is eight, only two fewer than the 10 from last week. That total accounts for half of the 16 quarterfinal games to be played across the four classes.
- Three trips of sub-100 miles, with the shortest being Class 11B No. 5 McCook Central/Montrose at No. 4 Mount Vernon/Plankinton at 50 miles between Salem and Mount Vernon.
Three wins from the weekend of high school football that deserve your attention:
- Sioux Falls Lincoln thumps Aberdeen Central: The Golden Eagles were among the hottest teams in the state, having won five straight games after a 0-3 start, but the Patriots put a swift end to that run, rolling to a 42-7 road win. As a result, Lincoln will carry a four-game win streak into the Class 11AAA quarterfinals.
- Hot Springs ends BEE’s Dome streak: It had been a decade since the Bison last won a postseason contest, but playing on its home field, Hot Springs ended that stretch in emphatic fashion by eliminating the five-time defending Class 11B state finalists of Bridgewater-Emery/Ethan, 45-6. Next up is a trip to Aberdeen for a matchup with undefeated Roncalli in the quarterfinals.
- Irene-Wakonda upsets Corsica-Stickney: In the largest first-round playoff upset by seed, the No. 12 Eagles erupted for a 61-52 victory over the No. 5 Jaguars, who had not given up more than 32 points in a single game all season. Now I-W, which also scored 64 points in a win over Garretson on Oct. 7 during one of its three regular-season wins, will look to keep surging at Sully Buttes in the Class 9B quarterfinals.
One extra game this week, because it was the start of the playoffs and we can’t help ourselves...
- Avon tops Faulkton Area in first-round shootout: Ranked third in Class 9B to begin the season, expectations were high for Avon before an up-and-down regular season. But the Pirates found their footing in a big way during the first round of the playoffs. Having scored more than 36 points just once this season (all the way back on Aug. 26), No. 8 Avon exploded for a 74-48 win over Faulkton Area to set up a quarterfinal date with No. 1 Herreid/Selby Area.
Recognizing the top performances of the week:
- As Avon notched its 74-48 first-round win over Faulkton Area, Cade Faulkner and Brady Bierema both went over 200 yards rushing. Faulkner racked up 266 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries, while Bierema rumbled for 201 yards and four scores on 13 rushes. In the loss, Faulkton’s Roman DiMaria reeled in 13 receptions for 197 yards and two scores.
- Winner’s Aiden Barfuss and Riley Orel combined for five carries and scored on four of them. The former gained 49 yards and reached the endzone on all three of his attempts, while the latter carried twice for 78 yards and a touchdown and added a 53-yard punt return score.
- Will Cleveland scored three times, taking the opening kickoff back 79 yards for a score before hauling in a pair of touchdowns from 30 and 56 yards out as part of a seven-catch, 98-yard night. On the throwing end, Boston Katzer went 14-for-17 passing for 155 yards and three touchdowns for McCook Central/Montrose in a 34-19 win over Sioux Valley.
- Bon Homme’s Riley Rothschadl scored in three different ways and found the endzone five total times. As the Cavaliers defeated Ipswich 42-20, Rothschadl rushed for 170 yards and two touchdowns, three for 116 yards and two more scores, and returned a punt 59 yards for a touchdown.
- Though Howard is known for running over opponents, quarterback Taiden Hoyer got it done through the air in a 48-8 first-round win over Britton-Hecla. Hoyer completed 10 of 16 passes for 194 yards and three touchdowns, with Luke Koepsell on the receiving end of two touchdowns with three receptions for 60 yards.
- Riley Tschetter and Maddox Kihne led the way as Freeman/Marion/Freeman Academy emerged as 36-30 winners over Florence/Henry in the program’s first-ever postseason contest. Tschetter finished 15-for-23 for 244 yards and four touchdowns through the air, as Kihne caught 10 passes for 135 yards and two touchdowns and added 70 rushing yards with a touchdown pass of his own. Plus, Evan Scharberg was the hero on the game's last play.
HE GONE😲— Matt Kerney (@MattKerney) October 21, 2022
Here's the thrilling end of the Freeman/M/FA & Florence/Henry game. F/M/FA had the ball at the F/H 24. #24 Evan Scharberg made a catch & ran it into the endzone as time expired.
#7 F/M/FA takes on #2 Elkton-Lake Benton in the 9AA quarterfinals#SDPreps #SDFootball22 https://t.co/90ZSJ2mdyB
- Canistota earned a 42-24 road win over Alcester-Hudson, and Tage Ortman’s five total touchdowns were a big reason why. Ortman completed 6 of 14 passes for 115 yards and two touchdowns and rushed 17 times for 157 yards and three touchdowns.
- Rylan Peck was responsible for four Gregory touchdowns, as the Gorillas advanced with a 50-0 win over Iroquois/Lake Preston. Peck rushed for a pair of scores, threw for one on his lone completion of the game and returned a punt for a score.
- Hanson topped Platte-Geddes, 42-18, behind Jackson Jarding’s 202 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 16 attempts along with a 36-yard reception on his only catch of the game.
- Hot Springs’ Preston Iverson rushed for four touchdowns, as the Bison defeated Bridgewater-Emery/Ethan, 45-6, for the program’s first playoff win in a decade.
- Elk Point/Jefferson defeated Rapid City Christian, 58-7, as Lucas Hueser racked up 102 yards and two touchdowns on just five rushing attempts.
- Harding County/Bison’s Rylee Veal rushed 26 times for 207 yards and three touchdowns, helping the Ranchers to a 38-10 win over Chester Area.
- Owen Quail was a workhorse for Deuel, cruising to 224 yards and two touchdowns on 35 rushing attempts and also recording an interception on defense in a 27-10 win over St. Thomas More.
- Brookings’ three-headed backfield monster of Israel Caldron, Tyson Brandt and Jaxton Eck powered the Bobcats to a come-from-behind win over Mitchell, combining for 381 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 37 attempts. Caldron led the way with 190 yards and two scores, while Brandt also eclipsed the century mark with 130 and Eck found the endzone twice on eight carries.
Three we’re waiting for
Here are three games on next week’s schedule we’re fired up for:
- Class 9AA quarterfinals | No. 6 Parkston at No. 3 Howard: Though both the Trojans and Tigers were state semifinalists last season (Parkston in Class 9AA, Howard in Class 9A), only one gets to make a return trip in 2022. True to form, the two programs, each boasting a top-six defense in the class, gave up a combined 14 points in their first-round matchups in the warmup for what should be a defensive slugfest.
- Class 11B quarterfinals | No. 5 McCook Central/Montrose at No. 4 Mount Vernon/Plankinton: One of the more interesting clashes of style, run-heavy MVP welcomes an MCM team that can (and will) go to the ground, but also has a variety of playmakers in the passing game. Both defenses are very good, too, each giving up fewer than 14 points per game.
- Class 9A quarterfinals | No. 9 Canistota at No. 1 Warner: The Monarchs were the only team to make it through the regular season unbeaten and rolled to a first-round victory. Warner’s reward is getting to host Canistota, which has made eight trips to the DakotaDome (including as part of the Canistota/Freeman co-op) since 2010. The two programs have a head-to-head history in that run, too, as Warner was denied the championship by Canistota in 2012 and Canistota/Freeman in 2020