South Dakota Gridiron Report: A full first-round playoff breakdown

A web-exclusive look at the top stories in high school football this week

South Dakota Gridiron Report

It wasn’t until early Saturday morning, but we learned the layout of the South Dakota high school football playoffs for the Class 11B and nine-man classes.

With those brackets now known, let’s take a look at the pairings and the top stories we’re keeping an eye on as the postseason gets underway.

Class 11B

First-round games — Thursday, Oct. 21

Upper bracket

No. 16 Clark/Willow Lake (4-4) at No. 1 Winner (8-0)


No. 9 McCook Central/Montrose (6-2) at No. 8 Woonsocket/Wessington Springs/Sanborn Central (5-3)

No. 12 St. Thomas More (5-3) at No. 5 Elk Point-Jefferson (6-2)

No. 13 Wagner (5-3) at No. 4 Groton Area (7-1)

Lower bracket

No. 15 Deuel (5-3) at No. 2 Sioux Valley (7-1)

No. 10 Hot Springs (7-1) at No. 7 Bridgewater-Emery/Ethan (5-3)

No. 14 Beresford (5-3) at No. 3 Mount Vernon/Plankinton (7-1)

No. 11 Redfield (5-3) at No. 6 Aberdeen Roncalli (6-2)


Top storyline: Winner, the victors of their last 20 games in a row, stand as the undisputed favorite in Class 11B. Who has the firepower to hang with the Warriors? Winner has averaged 50 points per game and allowed just 6.6 points per game. They’ve already defeated five of the other teams in the playoff field.

Action between the Winner Warriors and Tripp-Delmont/Armour/Andes Central/Dakota Christian Thunderhawks during a Class 11B game on Friday night at Armentrout Field in Armour. (Matt Gade / Mitchell Republic)
Matt Gade

Seeding reactions: Sioux Valley and Mount Vernon/Plankinton stand as the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds in the bracket. The Cossacks haven’t been to the DakotaDome since 1988, and have a great shot this year, while MVP has never made it in its current co-op form. Groton Area could host Aberdeen Roncalli in the second round, just a few weeks after the Tigers defeated the Cavaliers 26-9 at home. St. Thomas More, by the product of Friday’s results and a seven-point loss to Class 11AA Sturgis, went from potentially hosting a home playoff game to having to make the 408-mile drive east to Elk Point to face the Huskies after dropping to the No. 12 seed.

Underseeded team to watch: Elk Point-Jefferson is lurking as the No. 6 seed, down slightly from its No. 4 standing in the Oct. 11 media poll. The Huskies have won four of five, including victories over No. 14 Beresford and No. 7 Bridgewater-Emery/Ethan. EPJ’s only loss in that span was a contest with No. 2 Sioux Valley decided by six points. With an average scoring margin of plus-25.5 this season and scoring nearly 40 points per game, the Huskies will be a tough out.

Mount Vernon/Plankinton's Reed Rus carries the ball during the first half of a high school football game Friday, Sept. 10, 2021 in Mount Vernon. (Marcus Traxler / Republic)

Most intriguing first-round game: McCook Central/Montrose and Woonsocket/Wessington Springs/Sanborn Central is the No. 8/No. 9 game and a pretty obvious choice here. So let’s go a little further down the board and go with No. 14 Beresford at No. 3 Mount Vernon/Plankinton. The Watchdogs had their signature win of the season with a 23-7 victory at Bridgewater-Emery/Ethan on Oct. 1. MVP has marched to a 7-1 record but they’ve played just three fellow Class 11B playoff teams to this point. If they win, the Titans are going to be home for the first two rounds of the playoffs but the Watchdogs are a tricky first-round opponent.


Class 9AA

First-round games — Thursday, Oct. 21

Upper bracket

No. 16 Elkton-Lake Benton (3-5) at No. 1 Hanson (7-1)

No. 9 Platte-Geddes (6-2) at No. 8 Chester Area (6-2)

No. 13 Stanley County (5-4) at No. 4 Lyman (7-1)

No. 12 Leola/Frederick Area (4-4) at No. 5 Timber Lake (7-1)

Lower bracket

No. 15 Bon Homme (3-5) at No. 2 Parkston (6-2)

No. 10 Garretson (4-4) at No. 7 Hamlin (7-2)

No. 14 Lemmon/McIntosh (4-4) at No. 3 Ipswich (7-1)

No. 11 Canistota/Freeman (4-4) at No. 6 Florence/Henry (7-1)

Top storyline: Despite a shutout home loss on Friday night to Howard — the No. 2 seed in Class 9A — Hanson stays at No. 1 in Class 9AA at 7-1. It’s a product of a class that is super strong, but does not enter the postseason with an undefeated team. The Beavers close the regular season with victories over the eventual No. 2, No. 8, No. 10 and No. 11 seeds in this bracket.

Action from the Howard Tigers at Hanson Beavers game on Friday, Oct. 15, 2021 in Alexandria. (Matt Gade / Republic)

Seeding reactions: Lyman took care of business in a 54-0 win over Jones County on Friday night but fell from No. 1 to No. 4 in the seed-point standings after the final week. Parkston, which opened the season 1-2, closed the season with a strong victory to cap a five-game win streak over Wolsey-Wessington to finish at No. 2 and lock up home-field advantage through the playoffs. Ipswich has been a quiet team in Class 9AA but is rewarded for a great regular season with the No. 3 seed, as the Tigers have had no bad losses this season, falling only to Herreid/Selby Area. Timber Lake has a good draw in the No. 5 slot to potentially make a run toward the DakotaDome.

Parkston's Cole Prunty attempts to run past Hanson defender Keenan Waldera (3) during a game on Aug. 20, 2021, in Parkston. (Landon Dierks / Republic)

Underseeded team to watch: Maybe this isn’t the year for Canistota/Freeman, which has finished 4-4 and will be seeded No. 11 in this year’s bracket after moving from Class 9A to Class 9AA. But the Pride’s losses have come to four teams with a combined record of 27-5 and it’s a program with the championship pedigree. They likely won’t flinch at the idea of going on the road to face Florence/Henry team in Round 1.

Action from the Canistota/Freeman Pride's homecoming game against Irene-Wakonda on Friday, Oct. 1, 2021 in Freeman. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Matt Gade

Most intriguing first-round game: No. 9 seed Platte-Geddes, the defending state champion in Class 9AA, makes the trip to No. 8 seed Chester Area. Both teams were ranked in the top-five of the Oct. 11 media poll (Chester Area was third, P-G was fifth), but the seed points race did not shake out in the favor of either 6-2 program.

Action from the Kimball/White Lake at Platte-Geddes on Friday, Oct. 15, 2021. (Matt Gade / Republic)

Class 9A

First-round games — Thursday, Oct. 21

Upper bracket

No. 16 Northwestern (2-6) at No. 1 Herreid/Selby Area (9-0)

No. 9 Castlewood (5-3) at No. 8 Kadoka Area (5-3)

No. 13 Britton-Hecla (3-5) at No. 4 De Smet (8-0)

No. 12 Philip (3-5) at No. 5 Warner (5-3)

Lower bracket

No. 15 Kimball/White Lake (2-6) at No. 2 Howard (8-0)

No. 10 Oldham-Ramona/Rutland (4-4) at No. 7 Wolsey-Wessington (5-3)

No. 14 North Central (3-6) at No. 3 Wall (8-0)

No. 11 Burke (5-3) at No. 6 Gregory (5-3)

Top storyline: Four teams — Herreid/Selby Area, Howard, Wall and De Smet — reached the postseason with unblemished records. With all being slotted in as top four seeds, there’s a strong possibility that the semifinals could feature a pair of matchups with undefeateds fighting for two spots in the DakotaDome.

Action from the Howard Tigers at Hanson Beavers game on Friday, Oct. 15, 2021 in Alexandria. (Matt Gade / Republic)

Seeding reactions: De Smet and Wall have to feel bummed after their undefeated regular seasons were rewarded with prospective three-plus hour trips to Selby and Howard, respectively, should all four of those programs reach the semifinals. Traditional powers Warner, Gregory and Wolsey-Wessington slot in at seeds 5, 6 and 7, setting them up to play the role of spoiler in the quarterfinals should they advance to face one of the undefeateds.

Underseeded team to watch: Wolsey-Wessington is a No. 7 seed no one wants to play. The Warbirds, champions of Class 9B a season ago, enter the postseason with a 5-3 record, but the three losses came to De Smet, Parkston and Platte-Geddes — teams that combined for just four losses.

Most intriguing first-round game: No. 11 Burke makes the familiar 10-mile trip up Highway 18 to face No. 6 Gregory in the first round. The neighboring schools matched up during the regular season when Gregory won 34-6, but Burke comes in on the heels of a win over Class 9B No. 4 Gayville-Volin and is playing its best football of the season. The Gorillas are the more battle-tested of the two teams, as its opponents posted a combined winning percentage of .547 compared to .419 for the Cougars’ opposition, but anything goes in a rivalry rematch in late October.

Burke receiver Bryce Frank (11) turns up field as teammate Gunnar Stephens blocks Corsica-Stickney's Carter Wright during a nine-man high school football game Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021 in Burke. Frank scored on a touchdown on the reception. (Marcus Traxler / Republic)

Class 9B

First-round games — Thursday, Oct. 21

Upper bracket

No. 16 Estelline/Hendricks (1-7) at No. 1 Avon (8-0)

No. 9 Sully Buttes (4-4) at No. 8 Alcester-Hudson (4-3)

No. 13 Langford Area (1-7) at No. 4 Gayville-Volin (5-2)

No. 12 Corsica-Stickney (2-6) at No. 5 Dell Rapids St. Mary (4-3)

Lower bracket

No. 15 Colome (1-7) at No. 2 Faulkton Area (6-2)

No. 10 New Underwood (3-4) at No. 7 Harding County (5-3)

No. 14 Jones County (1-7) at No. 3 Potter County (7-2)

No. 11 Faith (3-5) at No. 6 Hitchcock-Tulare (6-3)

Top storyline: Avon has continued to prove they deserved the No. 1 seed in this class, with wins over Gayville-Volin and Hitchcock-Tulare in the final four weeks of the season. For the year, they have wins over seeds 4, 5, 6, 8, 12 and 15 in this bracket. After all of the turnover at the No. 1 spot in the Class 9B media poll earlier in the year — four teams at the top in the first four weeks — Avon took hold of the top spot and never let it go.

Avon's Jaden Stahl tries to escape a tackle from Gayville-Volin's Kyle Hirsch on Friday, Sept. 24, 2021 during a Class 9B high school football game in Gayville.(Sam Fosness / Republic)

Seeding reactions: The top seeds in the lower half of the bracket — No. 2 Faulkton Area (2014), No. 3 Potter County (2013), No. 6 Hitchcock-Tulare (2010) and No. 7 Harding County (2012) — all have memories of Dome trips in the last decade, so which one can get back this year?

There are also a lot of teams with rough records in bottom half of the seeds, taking their lumps from Class 9AA and 9A teams. For seeds No. 6 through 16, the teams have combined for only one win over a team with a record of .500 or better this season. (Alcester-Hudson beat a 5-3 Burke team on Oct. 1.) Is there a team that can rally through the bracket and make a run?

Underseeded team to watch: It’s worth watching No. 6 Hitchcock-Tulare, who might be thinking about revenge if they get past No. 11 Faith. The Patriots have three losses this season: by six points to Potter County, whom they could see again in the quarterfinals; by four points to Faulkton Area, who loom in the semifinals; and Friday night’s two-point loss to Avon, which could be waiting again in a potential championship matchup.

Most intriguing first-round game: It’s the No. 8 and No. 9 game, but Sully Buttes at Alcester-Hudson is appetizing for the distance involved — 285 miles on a Thursday night is no easy jaunt — and for the differing ways they’ve won games. Alcester-Hudson has won four games in a row and is averaging 35 points a game and giving up nearly as many per contest. Sully Buttes is scoring just 18.5 points per game, so can the Chargers summon the offense to hang with the Cubs? The two teams both defeated their only common opponents in Colome and Corsica-Stickney.

Eye-opening victories

  • Burke stormed back from a 18-point fourth quarter deficit against Class 9B No. 2-ranked Gayville-Volin. Ben Witt went 17-of-24 for 231 yards and three touchdowns, including two touchdowns in the final 52 seconds. Witt connected with Taron Serr for a six yard touchdown pass with 52 seconds left remaining. Burke recovered an onside kick and Witt connected with Serr again for a 51-yard touchdown pass, giving the Cougars the 40-34 win.

  • Class 9A No. 2 Howard took down Class 9AA No. 1 Hanson on the road , to earn its fifth victory over an opponent from the higher class this season. The Tigers held Hanson to 140 of total offense and zero points. The Beavers hadn’t scored less than 34 points at home this year and at least put up 22 points in every game. Howard’s defense has shutout four separate opponents in its eight wins.

  • Chester Area rolls past Garretson in a 49-point win, making the Flyers winners of three of their last four games. With the win, Chester Area earns a home, first-round playoff game, an important distinction to host a team like Platte-Geddes.

Game balls

Let’s recognize some of the outstanding performances from Week 8 of South Dakota high school football:

  • Koby Kayser had three rushing touchdowns in the first half, from 15, 17 and 26 yards out, to help Bridgewater-Emery/Ethan snap a two game losing skid and earn a Class 11B victory to end the regular season.

  • Ipswich’s Carson Gohl and Luke Peterson scored two rushing touchdowns each as the Tigers beat North Central 54-0 at home, for its third-straight win to end the regular season. Gohl had six carries for 107 yards and two touchdowns from 12 and 34 yards out, while Peterson had five carries for 65 and two touchdowns from six and 39 yards out. Ipswich rushed for a total of 338 yards.

  • Arlington/Lake Preston ran for 432 of its 494 total yards and Caleb Clark led that charge with 35 carries for 347 yards and six touchdowns. Clark scored two touchdowns in the first, second and fourth quarter to help the Badgers earn back-to-back wins to end the regular season.

  • Corsica-Stickney quarterbacks Shad Bosma and Tyson Wentland lead the Jaguars to a win at home over Centerville. Bosma went 10-of-13 for 106 yards and a passing touchdown, while rushing eight times for 25 yards and three touchdowns. Wentland completed nine of his 11 passes for 112 yards and caught three receptions for 35 yards and a touchdown.

  • Parkston’s Cole Prunty ran for 260 yards and four touchdowns to help the No. 2-ranked Trojans win their fifth-straight game.

Harding County’s Rylee Veal went 4-of-8 for 89 yards for three touchdowns, as the Ranchers ended the game early against Faith by the 50-point rule at halftime. Veal connected with Keegan Hett for two touchdowns for 71 total yards and also connected with Cade Martian for an eight-yard touchdown.

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
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