Pierre (5-0) vs. Washington (4-1)
WHEN/WHERE: 6 p.m. Thursday at Howard Wood Field
COACHES: Pierre – Jayson Poppinga (third year; 19-7); Washington – Chad Stadem (third year with Warriors; 81-43)
SEASON TO DATE: The top-ranked Governors have put distance between themselves and the rest of ‘11AA’, with wins over several of the class’s other ranked teams in No. 2 Yankton, No. 3 Brookings and No. 4 Harrisburg. Save for a 28-27 double-overtime victory in Watertown to start the season, Pierre has won comfortably, and holds a 68-12 scoring margin the past two weeks with wins over the Bucks (31-0) and Huron (37-12). Washington is coming off a blowout road win over Rapid City Central, in which the Warriors busted off a 35-0 first quarter and held a 49-0 halftime lead. The Warriors have ascended to second in the ‘11AAA’ rankings, and are outscoring opponents by an average margin of 37 to 15.
TIMING IS EVERYTHING: Washington’s lone defeat came against Lincoln in the second week of the season. Pierre defeated Brookings that same week, and the Bobcats would later upend the Patriots 28-22. Why does this matter? Well, it doesn’t, because applying a who-beat-whom arithmetic would then paint the Govs as favorites and that’s be hard accept in lieu of how well Washington has played outside their one loss. Quarterback Jack Schelhaas has 14 touchdowns (10 passing, four rushing) to just three interceptions, and hasn’t thrown a pick in four of the team’s five games. Schelhaas has several options in the passing game, with red-zone ace Ty Smith (five TDs), rising sophomore Logan Uttecht and slot specialists Logan Eckhoff and Michael Enalls. In the backfield, Chayden Fitzsimmons has emerged as the feature player. Washington’s high-flying offense has scored 144 points the past three weeks.
WHAT TO EXPECT: The matchup pits championship contenders, albeit from different classes. Pierre quarterback Brevin Kaiser, like Schelhaas, has so far put together an impressive senior season. Also a two-way threat, Kaiser leads the Governors in rushing while passing for over 200 yards in three of the team’s five games. Washington’s defense effort likely starts and ends with limiting the effectiveness of Kaiser, who is 6-foot-4, 190 pounds. Pierre offers experience and size on the offensive and defensive lines, but the Warriors shine in that area and are led by anchor left tackle Matt Farniok. The main value in comparing the teams’ class distinction is familiarity with the pass. Pierre, a fairly balanced team on offense, are pass-happy by ‘11AA’ standards. Though the Warriors run the ball two-thirds of the time, their passing attack is hands-down better than any opponent the Governors have faced this season. Will Pierre’s practice experience against their own quarterback pay dividends against the Warriors? It will need to in order to come out on top.