It’s been a long time coming for the Baltic football team. The last time they had a winning season, going 6-3 in 1983, Return of the Jedi led at the box office. And now, on the heels of a 6-2 regular season — the program’s first above .500 in 32 years — the Bulldogs are back in the playoffs.
“There’s been a lot of hype around here, because it’s been a long time,” said Coach Jason Aberson, whose team will host No. 3 seed Arlington/Lake Preston (4-4) in the opening round of the Class 9AA playoffs Tuesday night at 7 p.m.
The closeness of the Region 2 matchup could well depend on the status of Arlington/Lake Preston quarterback Luke Weber. The senior has been an all-purpose playmaker, but a back injury has sidelined Weber the past two weeks.
“We’re preparing for him playing,” Aberson said. “He’s a good quarterback — he does everything.”
Outside of Weber’s availability, the biggest area of focus for Baltic will be on the line of scrimmage.
“They’re big — they’re huge. I don’t believe that we’ll have faced a team with as large a line as they have,” Aberson said. “But we think our speed will overcome that size and we’ll be able to have that advantage.”
Football playoff pairings; Thursday’s final scores
Baltic has leaned on a deep backfield and ball-control style on offense in accruing six wins. The Bulldogs’ only losses came against top-ranked Langford Area, a narrow 27-24 defeat, and Alcester-Hudson, another playoff team
Senior running back Sam Clark eclipsed 1,000 yards on the ground, while junior Kadin Wolff and senior Austin Row racked up efficient yardage. The play of those three players and Baltic’s offensive line could go a long way to deciding Tuesday’s outcome.
For the rest of the ‘9AA’ field, Aberson thinks there could be some surprising outcomes. Undefeated one-seed Webster Area (8-0) takes on a scrappy 4-4 Britton-Hecla squad that has only suffered losses to quality opponents. When the teams met Sept. 4, Webster won narrowly, 24-22.
Three-seed Bon Homme (5-3) is also a potential upset candidate against Clark/Willow Lake (6-2). Defending champion Gregory (5-3) visits Stanley County (7-1) in Fort Pierre, and given the Gorillas’ much harder schedule, a win there shouldn’t surprise.
The remaining games in ‘9AA’ favor the home teams: No. 1 Chester Area over No. 4 Deuel; No. 1 Woonsocket/Wessington Springs/Sanborn Central over No. 4 Mt. Vernon/Plankinton; No. 1 Herreid/Selby Area over No. 4 Lyman; and No. 2 Wolsey-Wessington over No. 3 Miller.
‘9A’ opening round mostly one-sided matchups
Opening-round playoff games often aren’t close, as evidenced by the narrowest margin of victory in last year’s ‘9A’ first round being a nine-point win by Chester Area over Tri-State.
The rest were largely one-sided, and Tuesday’s ‘9A’ slate could go the same way. No. 1 Waverly-South Shore (7-1) is a heavy favorite over Castlewood/Estelline, as is the field’s only undefeated squad, 8-0 Canistota, which takes on Gayville-Volin (4-4).
Remaining 7-1 squads Warner, Sully Buttes and Scotland should have the edge against Eureka-Bowdle, Potter County and Andes Central/Dakota Christian, respectively.
The two remaining matchups could offer some intrigue.
The matchup between Colman-Egan (5-3) and Parker (5-3) could go down to the wire. The Pheasants haven’t won since Oct. 2, with an open week and losses against Baltic and undefeated Chester Area in the regular-season finale.
“I’ve said all year that those would be the toughest two games on our schedule, and they were,” said Coach Derrek Sattler. “But really, we came out of the Chester game feeling pretty good. We got some lessons learned there.”
Colman-Egan, meanwhile, lost three of its last four games to end the season.
Sattler said balance will be the key for the Pheasants on offense, with quarterback Landon Leberman providing the vertical threat while Kordell Buyck gives Parker a threat on the ground. Defensively, Sattler said his team will need to bottle up talented C-E targets Josh Giese and Riley Voelker, as well as sophomore quarterback Bodee Groos.
“There are some good teams out there right now in ‘9A’,” Sattler said, “but it’s going to come down to who can execute.”
Looking at the final matchup, Irene-Wakonda finished the season below .500 at 3-5 and will visit Hanson (4-4) for a chance to move on from Region 3. But I-W’s losses this season have come against squads with a combined 31-9 record. That includes a tight 34-28 loss against Baltic last week. Likewise, Hanson’s losses have come against quality opponents in Gregory, top-ranked ‘9AA’ Woonsocket/Wessington Springs/Sanborn Central, undefeated Canistota and 6-2 Mt. Vernon Plankinton.
‘9B’: DRSM faces stiff first test with De Smet rematch
When a Dell Rapids football team gets attention, usually it’s the ‘11A’ Quarriers and not the ‘9B’ Cardinals. With public school taking a step back this season, the limelight is on DRSM, which returns to the postseason but will face a stiff opening-round task Tuesday against De Smet.
Senior running back Josh Brown has retained his workhorse status for the Cardinals, and is a threat to score every time he touches the ball. As an indication of what he’s capable of, Brown rushed for 309 yards and seven touchdowns in an earlier win over Deubrook Area.
DRSM has another talented rusher in 6-foot, 195-pound senior Christian Schnieders.
DRSM (6-2) and De Smet (6-2) both play in Region 2, and the Cardinals came out on top 40-34 when the two teams played on Sept. 11. Each sport lopsided wins, and their only losses have come against quality opponents.
Elsewhere in ‘9B’, there’s unlikely to be much in the way of close games outside of a Region 4 matchup between Faith (6-2) and Timber Lake (5-3). Faith defeated Timber Lake 28-26 in Week 5.
Top-ranked and undefeated Langford Area (8-0) hosts last year’s runner-up, Faulkton Area (3-5), while defending ‘9B’ champion Hamlin (6-2) gets Bison (4-4). Alcester-Hudson (6-2) takes on Wall (3-5); Colome (7-1) hosts Lower Brule (5-3); Harding County (7-1) battles Edgemont (5-3); and Corsica-Stickney (7-1) gets another shot at Burke/South Central after already beating the Cougars 28-6 in the regular season.