You could say the prep work for Sioux Falls Christian’s opening round 49-14 Class 11A playoff win over Belle Fourche started with Coach Jake Pettingill getting the guys together in August. Or, you could say it began with a series of meetings in 2007.
Either way, the program’s progress took a big step forward this year by putting a team in the playoffs. And the 2015 team, now 9-1, added another step on Thursday night by advancing to the semifinals with a win over the Broncs.
First playoff game, first playoff win. There have been nine years of firsts, with the Chargers tackling two of the real biggies at Bob Young Field in one night.
“Our school enrollment finally got to the point where we thought we could support football along with the other boys fall sports we’re involved in,” said Sioux Falls Christian’s longtime athletic director Jim Groen, recounting the first conversations the school had about making it a fall sport. “It hasn’t been without a few aches and pains along the way, with sharing players with the soccer team and things like that, but our numbers have grown.”
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Nine seasons later, the Chargers were not messing around at The Bob. The growing numbers were on the scoreboard. Junior running back Riley Hogan went for 41 yards to go up 14-0 and then went 42 yards to make it 22-0 in the first quarter.
The Broncs, who traveled 400 miles to get to the game, had a few moments but they were always drowned out minutes later by a Christian running game that featured 152 yards rushing from Keegan Van Egdom, 124 from Jackson Olson and 120 from Hogan.
“This was the first playoff win in school history!” Chargers coach Jake Pettengill shouted, ending his post-game talk with the team.
They cheered because they already knew. Charger football history, though comparatively brief in comparison to the teams they play, has been a hot topic this year.
“It’s something that we’ve talked about a lot – getting the program going,” said Olson, who scored two touchdowns. “We’ve been working for this since eighth grade. To see all this paying off and having the support of our fans is great.”
Former Lincoln coach Bob Garry guided the program for the first five years, the first two of which the school had football for seventh grade through junior varsity. The Chargers played their first varsity game against Garretson in 2009. Still rookies, but in motion with a full roster and a full schedule.
Garry remembers the process fondly. The first year he and the coaching staff spent a lot of time just getting their extremely willing but extremely green players to put on their pads correctly. With patience and guidance they made progress that went beyond putting on a football uniform.
“It was amusing at times – a lot of the kids initially had no background in football at all, or it was just what they’d played in their backyards,” Garry said. “But it was awesome to have the opportunity to start a football program. Everybody was learning, enjoying it and appreciating the opportunity. There was no negativism – everyone was just happy to get a chance.”
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Pettengill, a Dakota State grad by way of Northern California, took over four seasons ago. He instituted an offense that keeps the ball on the ground – quarterback Sawyer Prins threw seven times against Belle Fourche – and encouraged the players to get stronger. The team came into this season with high expectations and has since confirmed them.
“This has been so good for our entire Sioux Falls Christian community,” Pettengill said. “It’s just been a blessing to see everyone rally around the team. It’s nice to see that we’re not just a basketball school, we’re a football school as well. God has blessed us with a lot of talents.”
Olson has been watching Sioux Falls Christian football since the school began putting a team on the field. He and his teammates envisioned big things when they were little people.
“My senior class – we’ve been together since junior football,” he said. “We’re all brothers and we’ve rallied around each other. This is how we always thought it was going to go.”
Football is maligned these days for its potential for injury while soccer – which continues to be a big part of the athletic scene at Sioux Falls Christian — is inching up in popularity on a national scale. Football remains a Friday night staple at high schools all over the country, however, acting as a focal point. Now the same is true at Sioux Falls Christian.
“We’re trying to make this special here,” Pettengill said. “We want our program to be different than any other program in South Dakota. Everybody does the weightroom and all that but I love our kids. I cherish the moments like this I can spend with them. If tonight was our last night, it was going to be an emotional one for me. I’m happy for the kids because they’ve never felt this before.”
High school football still has good stories to tell and there are plenty involved with the Charger program anxious to tell them.
“Wins are nice but what I really liked was that it got kids who, if we hadn’t added football, wouldn’t be involved in a fall sport,” Groen said. “They’re growing as athletes and as teammates. That’s rewarding to see.”
Closer to the fire, the topic quickly turned from appreciating history to making more of it. The Chargers’ lone loss came to Madison, its next opponent. The score was 32-26 in overtime.
“It’s exciting – it’s exciting to be in this moment,” Pettengill said. “But tomorrow morning we’re getting up and we’re getting ready to work.”
The kind of history the Chargers are trying to make can’t be built any other way.