As has been the case all season in Class 11AA, it’s anybody’s guess as to who the best team is. Of course, with eight of a total nine teams advancing to the playoffs, the regular season is mostly for beating up on one another.
To that end, three of Thursday’s matchups have already played out: top-seed Yankton defeated No. 8 Huron 45-18 on Oct. 9; No. 3 Mitchell edged No. 6 Spearfish 49-42 at the season’s midpoint on Sept. 25; and four-seed Harrisburg clipped No. 5 Brookings 21-20 in overtime on account of a missed extra point.
Two-seed Pierre (7-2), the winningest team in the field, will get its first shot against Douglas (2-7). The Governors should be able to tame the Patriots.
For Harrisburg, the challenge to best the ESD rival Bobcats for the second time in three weeks gets an added degree of difficulty without senior quarterback Kain Kittelson, whose season was lost to a leg injury.
Sophomore Hunter Headlee takes over for Kittelson, and will lean on the blocking of older brother, Jacob, a 270-pound senior lineman. Running back Dylan Tams joins Brody Mouw and Jacob Klemme as the team’s threats out of the backfield.
“From what little I saw of their sophomore QB from the Yankton game, he does seem to throw the ball quite well and move around alright,” said Brookings coach Lee Schmidt. “With a whole week to practice, we’re looking for some of the same things.”
Trench play will play a role for both teams, each which offer size and physical styles of play.
The Bobcats get back Eddie Miller, a 6-foot-5, 250-pound senior, but after surgery on his right thumb the right tackle will have to wear a “club” cast on his hand. Brookings is still without all-state tackle Kurt Reed, a two-way player who was injured against the Tigers in their game.
Brookings does bring in star senior running back Gerald Maxwell. At 5-10, 210 pounds, Maxwell plays with a rare blend of power and speed. He’s just as capable of running over players as he is running past them.
“If we can go down and play more consistent than we did in Harrisburg, we can take care of business,” Schmidt said.
Yankton’s roller-coaster season — which started with the preseason No. 1 ranking then saw the team ailing at 3-3 — has the Bucks once again sitting pretty. The Bucks steamrolled Harrisburg 28-0 on the road last week, which helped answer whether the team was truly back after posting wins over 2-7 Huron and Douglas the previous two weeks.
A horrific rash of injuries and subsequent scoreless losses to Pierre and O’Gorman represented the team’s low point. Yankton’s won three straight since then to earn a rematch with eight-seed Huron. If the Bucks prevail, they’ll face the Brookings-Harrisburg winner.
Mitchell, riding the much-improved play of quarterback and future Jackrabbit Kanin Nelson, the Kernels won six of seven games to finish the season. That stretch included high-scoring wins over Lincoln (42-35) and Brookings (49-41), as well as their opponent Thursday. The Kernels defeated Spearfish in a 49-42 on the road Sept. 25.