Winner eyes return trip to state title game: Undefeated Warriors host Sioux Valley in Class 11B semis

Winner's Riley Orel carries the ball against McCook Central/Montrose on Thursday in Winner. (Ryan Deal / Republic)

WINNER -- Winner is on the brink of a return trip to the Class 11B state championship game.

After a runner-up finish in the 11-man class last season, only Sioux Valley stands in the way of the Warriors’ fourth state championship appearance in the past six years. Winner hosts the Cossacks at 7 p.m. tonight, with a trip to the DakotaDome on the line.

“I think it helps playing in big games. Kids are used to things, and hopefully that helps,” Winner coach Trent Olson said. “I think it’s been a big motivating factor when you lose a heartbreaker first-and-goal at the 1-yard line in the state championship game and can’t get it in. That really drives your players to work hard all offseason.”
Winner (9-0) could get a shot at avenging its loss to Bridgewater-Emery/Ethan, which hosts Mobridge-Pollock in the other Class 11B semifinal. First, though, the Warriors need to worry about slowing down Sioux Valley (9-1).

It’ll be a matchup of a streaking offense running into a stone-wall defense. Sioux Valley has scored 100 points in its two postseason wins, while Winner has three straight shutouts. The Warriors allow 5.3 points per game, with only Chamberlain reaching double-figures in a 52-14 Winner victory on Oct. 2.

Winner has limited big plays to not allow a point since facing the Cubs. Five of its seven touchdowns allowed have been 35 yards or longer this season, including three of at least 66 yards.


“I’d say the biggest thing is we haven’t given up big plays. That’s how teams have scored on us this season -- big plays,” Olson said. “Teams have a hard time driving on us, but I think if you watch any film of any high school football games, scores most of the time come on a big play or set up by a big play. Not giving those up is the whole key.”

In the postseason, Sioux Valley has scored 10 touchdowns of at least 30 yards (4 passing, 4 rushing, 2 on returns).

The Cossacks’ offense is led by the versatile running back/wideout Jaxton Schiller, who became the program’s all-time leading scorer in the first round against Chamberlain. He scored a touchdown on a run, reception, kickoff return and punt return versus the Cubs. But 6-foot-3 quarterback Parker Puetz has also been consistent, completing 13 of 16 passes for 314 yards and five touchdowns.

“They’re so good. They have so much talent,” Olson said. “... Big guys up front. They have several running backs and receivers that can get the job done. A very talented, well-coached team.”
Meanwhile, Winner remains one of the most efficient rushing teams in the state. It gained 352 yards on the ground against MCM. On the season, the Warriors have four 300-yard rushers, including Sam Kruger’s 714 yards and 10 touchdowns and Riley Orel rushing for 570 yards and nine scores.

The Warriors only held an 8-0 lead at halftime a week ago, though. Olson credits MCM’s defense, but also wants to see better execution and more discipline after Winner committed seven penalties for 60 yards.

“We can’t shoot ourselves in the foot with penalties,” Olson said. “We have to be more consistent in communication, execution. We can’t have those negative plays and penalties that halt a drive.”

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