The Class 11AAA postseason kicks off Thursday. It’s a Metro Conference affair with the four Sioux Falls schools and Brandon Valley headlining the field. Here’s a look at the matchups:
Rider defense remains sharp as any amid injuries
A lot has changed since Sept. 25.
It’s no mystery that Rapid City Stevens has struggled against Sioux Falls teams. This season alone, the Raiders went 0-4 against teams from the state’s largest city. In each case, the opposition posted 40 or more points.
Back on Sept. 25, then-undefeated and now second-seed Roosevelt (7-2) tuned up the Raiders 40-9 at Howard Wood Field. But that game’s biggest takeaway wasn’t the shellacking doled out by the Rough Riders, but rather the health of one of their own. Defensive end Piercen Evans, who lay motionless on the field for several minutes, left in an ambulance.
Evans regained full feeling in his extremities not long after, but the injury nevertheless put an end to the promising defensive end’s football season.
The week before the contest, the Riders lost stalwart linebacker Andrew Batt and starting lineman Austin Boen to injuries. In the weeks since, the injury count has multiplied at a stunning rate, claiming another season last week with senior quarterback Jett Thune.
Thune broke a bone in his right foot on the Riders first possession against cross-town rival Washington in a game that decided the No. 1 seed in Class 11AAA. But while the Riders have had to plug new faces into the mix, one thing that hasn’t changed among the cavalcade of injuries is the team’s championship-level defense.
Roosevelt held off the full force of Washington’s attack, mitigating the Warriors big horses up front. Nothing came easy against the Rough Riders, who still have a complement of playmaking pieces.
The game tied in regulation, Washington’s own defense came up with a pair of turnovers in overtime before Brock Walker made good on his third field goal attempt of the game to lift the Warriors 10-7.
There can be no replacing Thune, a sure-fire all-state selection who dazzled with precise throws and extended plays with sneaky athleticism. Few quarterbacks — Washington’s Jack Schelhaas is another — had as much command at the line as Thune. As a junior, Thune stepped in at quarterback after Taryn Christion’s season ending injury, so sadly the Riders are accustomed to being forced to reload at the game’s most important position.
Thune was able to grow into the position throughout last season, a luxury that won’t be afforded to Torren Devericks. The junior quarterback’s first start will be a playoff game. Thursday’s game could go a long way to aid the signal-caller’s development and give him a boost of confidence into the semis.
No. 1 Warriors look to keep on rolling
Top-seed Washington expects a stiffer challenge from Watertown than the last time the two teams played, on Oct. 9 in Watertown. The Warriors scored a pair of defensive touchdowns and won 45-0.
“The last time we played Watertown, they did some nice things against us but our defense did a great job,” said Coach Chad Stadem. “We’ve had a good week in practice and we’re focusing on getting better. It’s one game at a time and our seniors know that.”
Having allowed just three touchdowns in their past five games, the Warriors have been dominant on defense with playmakers at every level. Offensively the unit has been just as impressive, though points were hard to come by last week and in the team’s only loss, in Week 2 to Lincoln.
It all starts with Washington’s offensive line — led by senior Matt Farniok, a nationally ranked offensive tackle who Wednesday was officially named to the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. The Warriors have other horses up front, as well as a two-horse backfield with senior Chayden Fitzsimmons occasionally giving way to Josh Thomas.
Having a playmaker under center has also helped explain the Warriors resurgence. Jack Schelhaas runs nearly as much as he throws, but what do the Warriors care if their senior quarterback makes plays in both facets? A three-year starter, Schelhaas has made the biggest strides this year as a passer. What’s more, he’s got a lot of talented targets, led by Ty Smith.
“Jack believes that I believe in him. ” Stadem said. “I’ve given him full reign.”
“There’s no stress anymore. He just plays.”
Knights must slow down AC air-attack
O’Gorman (7-2) must ready to defend the pass against Aberdeen Central (3-6). Golden Eagles quarterback Gabe Swanson has a favorite target in Layne Tieszen, who could draw double teams from the Knights.
“It’s going to be a challenge because they’re going to throw the ball downfield and they do that very well,” Kueter said.
But over the season’s second half, O’Gorman has been vastly improved on the defensive side of the ball. Since Sept. 25, the Knights have outscored opponents 208-24.
“We were a little front-loaded playing good teams early, but on the same token I feel that we’ve gotten better as the season went on,” said Coach Steve Kueter, who surpassed Yankton’s Max Hawk for all-time wins (285) after the Knights defeated Stevens Oct. 9.
Kueter credits the steady play of his team’s linebackers — on the outside, pass-rushers Jimmy Pio and Sam Burnison; on the inside, Dodi Makwinja and Billy Daniel — as well as the the play of a trio of juniors along the line, with the team’s defensive strides. Erik Wuestewald, John Milone and Jacob Tupper have steadied the ship in the trenches. On offense, center Gage Hillberg makes up for his smaller frame with tenacity and technique.
Lincoln, Brandon ready for another old-school skirmish
Outside of whatever potential highlight-reel plays made by receivers Lee Ransom and Chase Grode, Thursday’s ‘11AAA’ contest in Brandon between No. 4 Brandon Valley and No. 5 Lincoln should be a ground-heavy, physical affair.
That was the case the last time they met, two weeks ago in 24-19 Lincoln win. In that game the Patriot offense was dormant for the better parts of three quarters before scoring a pair of late touchdowns.
“My feeling is pretty much the same as going into the last one — two teams that match up pretty well and are both physical,” said Lincoln coach Aaron Beavers. “It’s going to come down to the old coach’s cliche, ‘Whoever makes the least amount of mistakes.’”
Beavers’s defensive staff committed an extra defender in the box to limit Brandon’s ground game a few weeks ago, and the strategy was a success. Lynx quarterback Alex Waltner did throw for two scores and nearly 200 yards, though, so Brandon will likely try to mix things up.
“Waltner I thought played a fantastic game against us,” Beavers said. “At times we had kids there to make plays, but he put the ball in such great places that we didn’t.”
Consistency has plagued both teams at times this season, as the Lynx loss to Lincoln came a week after their most impressive victory of the year, a 21-7 win over Roosevelt. The Patriots, a youthful team to start with following several key departures from their back-to-back championship teams in 2013 and ’14, have been as injured a unit as any other this season. (And before the year started, Lincoln lost quarterback Mason Nelson to a torn ACL).
The Patriots get back DeyShon Davis, a powerhouse offensive tackle who has missed much of the season to injury. Lincoln returned defensive back Kade Walker, one of the team’s top players, last week. He’ll move to corner, his more natural position, after playing free safety a week ago.
“Those two coming back has helped quite a bit,” Beavers said. “We’re still without some guys, but this is my team right now, and this is most likely going to be our team from here on out. We feel good.”
Expect to see Brandon Valley’s all-state linebacker Andrew Sorensen again flying to the ball. He’s been a lock for double-digit tackles every week out. Under coach Chad Garrow, the Lynx are always a feisty bunch and Sorensen sets that tone on defense.