Winner answers Sioux Valley challenge to return to the Dome
Warriors top Cossacks to advance to second straight state title game
WINNER -- Winner is in a familiar spot.
Another trip to the Class 11B state championship game was booked on Friday. A 28-14 win over Sioux Valley sent the Warriors back to the DakotaDome for its fourth state championship game appearance in the past six years.
For the second straight year, Winner will meet Bridgewater-Emery/Ethan at 2 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 13.
“It feels good,” said Winner’s Kaden Keiser, who had 32 rushing yards and four tackles. “We feel we have something to prove. We know we’re not done yet. We have one more game and the job’s not finished yet.”
The Warriors (10-0) remained undefeated on the season, and despite allowing their first points of the postseason, they handled the Cossacks’ potent offensive attack. Sioux Valley (9-2) gained 195 yards, but by containing Jaxton Schiller (27 rushing yards and 45 receiving yards) with sound tackling on the outside, Winner forced two three-and-outs and Keiser’s first-quarter interception set the table for an early 14-point lead.
The Cossacks picked up third and fourth downs to extend drives and stay close to Winner, but it couldn’t find a stop on defense. The Warriors scored on nearly every drive, which was enough for a defense that allowed double-digit points for just the second time this season.
“(Sioux Valley) is so fast, you try to keep them off the edges and we ended up giving up some stuff in the middle,” Winner coach Trent Olson said. “We may have been a little too cognizant of them getting outside and gave up something inside. … We were very happy to keep them to two scores.”
Schiller’s four-yard touchdown catch cut Winner’s lead to 20-14 at the start of the fourth quarter, but like all night, the Warriors converted chances into points.
Winner converted a 4th-and-1 from Sioux Valley’s 46-yard line. The biggest play came when Brady Fritz executed a quarterback draw to perfection, running out of a collapsing pocket for an 18-yard gain on 3rd-and-17.
“The (defensive tackle) crashed down right in the middle and I kind of bumped it out,” Fritz said. “I kind of faked a guy in going down the sideline. I saw the first-down marker and put my head down.”
It kept the drive alive, and the toughness Winner prides itself on continued to show. Keiser eventually scampered in for a 3-yard touchdown run and a 28-14 lead with 4:18 to play. It was the final big play of another productive rushing game for the Warriors. They gained 207 yards on the ground, as Fritz (69 yards) and Sam Kruger (48) each rushed for a touchdown.
Winner chose opportune times to pass, such as its second drive when Fritz completed an 8-yard pass to Ethan Bartels on 4th-and-8, and then tossed a 15-yard touchdown to Kruger to make it 14-0.
“It’s always a good thing,” Olson said. “It’s always better to be ahead than behind.”
A touchdown in each quarter kept Sioux Valley from getting closer than a touchdown, even as Parker Puetz threw for 112 yards. He also connected with Damian Danzeisen for the Cossacks’ first touchdown.
Landon Thieman (11 tackles), Charlie Pravecek (7) and Preston Norrid (7) paced a Warrior defense that had six tackles for loss. Jackson Vesely had two sacks, including a crucial one on Sioux Valley’s ensuing drive after Winner went up 14 late in the fourth quarter.
As a result, all that’s left between Winner and its first state title since 2016 is Bridgewater-Emery/Ethan.
“Coming into the year, we were kind of hoping for it to turn out this way after last year,” Fritz said. “We’ve been working all year to get another shot at them. We kind of knew it would be us two at the end of the year, and we just need to go in and get another stab at them. Use the bad blood from last year.”