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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The South Dakota high school football playoff state championships are here as fourteen teams will make their way to Vermillion to play in the DakotaDome.
Seven state champions will be crowned between Thursday, November 10 and Saturday, November 12.
Here’s a look at each matchup, starting in the state’s largest class.
Jefferson will be making its first ever state championship appearance and they’ll meet the defending 11AAA champions, Harrisburg.
The Tigers and Cavaliers matchup is set for 7 p.m. on Saturday, November 12.
#1 JEFFERSON CAVALIERS
Jefferson is in the 11AAA state championship for the first time in school history. The Cavs earned wins over Washington and Lincoln to advance to the dome.
They’ve relied on a healthy balance of run and pass on offense and now they’ll meet Harrisburg.
The two teams met in the first game of the season back in August, where the Cavs cruised to a 30 point win, but coach Vince Bendetto knows the Tigers are a much different team now.
“I think Harrisburg’s changed quite a bit more than we’ve changed. They ran a four man front against us the first time and now they’re a three man front. Gavin Ross gets hurt the second series of that game and he’s back now. They’ve changed a lot. They’ve found their identity and they’re playing really good football. We’ve just got to continue to play our brand of football. I don’t think we need to do anything crazy or reinvent the wheel on defense. We need to just play our brand of football,” Benedetto said.
#3 HARRISBURG TIGERS
Harrisburg entered the postseason as the three seed. The Tigers cruised past Roosevelt in the quarterfinals and met O’Gorman in the semis.
Harrisburg scored the final 28 points of the game as they earned the 42-21 win to advance to their third straight state tournament.
Dylan Elrod has thrown for 2,375 yards and 27 touchdowns this season, but the biggest addition for the Tiger offense will be running back Gavin Ross, who will play in his fourth game back, after missing seven games this season.
“When you have a team player like Gavin is, he couldn’t wait to get back and step into that role and lead us to victory. He simply did. He made multiple blocks down the stretch,” Harrisburg head coach Brandon White said. “On that fourth and one, he’s the one that kind of sprung Max along with our offensive line and tight ends. Without team players like Gavin is, we’re definitely not in this situation.”
It’ll be a familiar matchup in the 11AA championship as Pierre and Tea Area will meet for the second straight year.
The Governors rallied back from a 20 point deficit last year to knock off the Titans and clinch their fifth straight state title.
The Titans and Governors will play in Saturday’s first game with kickoff set for 1:00 p.m.
#1 PIERRE GOVERNORS
The five time defending state champions have plenty of weapons, but the offense has been led by Lincoln Keinholz who’s put up some absurd numbers this season.
The Washington commit has thrown for 3,148 yards and 43 touchdowns while also running for another 1,314 yards and 22 touchdowns. That’s a total of 4,462 yards and 65 scores on the season.
Kienholz would be the first to point to those around him for the teams success, and that’s a key component to the culture within the Governors’ locker room.
“You know I think the biggest thing is these kids play for each other, we try to be unique and do things differently, it’s why we kind of have an unorthodox offense, a little bit different style of a defense, we try and do things our way,” Pierre head coach Steve Steele said. “They play for each other and that’s always the biggest thing when we come into games like this. They’re in there to not disappoint their teammates.”
#2 TEA AREA TITANS
Outside of a five point loss to Pierre on November 14th, Tea Area has been perfect on the season. Including a win over 11AAA semifinalist, O’Gorman.
Pierre is known for their air attack, but the Titans are maybe the best running team in all the class.
Blake Thompson is just 16 yards away from reaching a thousand yard rushing season. He’s found the endzone 14 times.
Keegan DeYoung and Maddix Slykhuis each have eight rushing touchdowns, but the leading rusher for the Titans is Chase Van Tol. Senior has tallied 1,136 yards and 16 touchdowns on the season.
Tea Area will look to lean on that rushing trio as they get set for another matchup with Pierre, whom the Titans have great respect for.
“They’ve said in the past that we’ve given them their best games and we take pride in that and our philosophy goes back to when coach (Craig) Clayberg was here. We’ll play whoever, whenever and wherever,” Tea Area head coach Scott Frey said. “We may not beat you but we’re going to play you and give you one of your best games. So, that’s kind of been our philosophy and we’re going to continue that. Jumping up to ‘AA’ was a challenge because we saw different teams, different offenses and those types of things, but our kids accepted the challenge, dug in and now we’ve had some pretty successful years.”
The 11A state championship will feature a pair of teams that are quite familiar with each other.
For the fourth straight season, Dell Rapids will meet West Central in the playoffs, however this will be the first time since 2011 that the Quarriers and Trojans have met for the state championship as each of their past three meetings have come in the quarterfinals.
#1 DELL RAPIDS QUARRIERS
Dell Rapids finished the year as the lone undefeated team in 11A.
The Quarriers posted 85 total points in their playoff wins over Lennox and Sioux Falls Christian.
Dell Rapids owns the top scoring offense in the class as they’ve relied on their rushing attack that has collected 2,755 yards.
Five Quarriers have rushed for at least 200 yards this season, including Mason Stubbe who has tallied 1,077 yards and 21 touchdowns.
While the backs have been strong, coach Jordan Huska knows the offense starts up front.
“We have multiple weapons that we can go to, but ultimately, it all goes through our offensive line. Most of our work is done on the ground and if they’re not doing well, our offense struggles,” Huska said. “Ultimately, we need our offensive line to continue clicking and continue to be executing well there. Everything else goes as they go.”
#2 WEST CENTRAL TROJANS
West Central is back in the 11A state championship for the 16th time in school history.
The Trojans knocked off Madison and Beresford on their way to the DakotaDome.
West Central relied on a balanced offense and a defense that is allowing just 14 points per game.
The offense has been led by one of the top players in the state, in dual threat quarterback, Justin Zirpel.
The senior has thrown for 1,761 yards and 22 touchdowns, while rushing for another 848 yards and eleven scores.
“He’s really tough because if you say ‘okay, we’re just going to stop him from running”, then you start loading the box and that’s one of the things that we ran into this year. Teams started to load the box to keep him from running, well then we threw over the top of them,” West Central head coach Chris Hernandez said. “As teams start to drop back and drop more people into coverage, then we showed over the past couple games that we’ve been able to run the ball well and so he hurt them that way.”
The 11B championship will pit a pair of undefeated teams as two-time defending champion Winner will play Elk Point-Jefferson.
Each team has looked dominant on their way to the state championship game, as both have won every game by double digits this season.
The Huskies and Warriors will cross paths for the title on Friday at 2:30 p.m.
#1 WINNER WARRIORS
Winner will be making its fourth consecutive appearance in the 11B state championship and are seeking their third straight state title.
The Warriors enter Friday’s title game on a 34 game win streak, with their last loss coming in the 2019 state championship game against Bridgewater-Emery/Ethan.
Winner possesses one of the most dominant rushing attacks across any class, with Aiden Barfuss, Riley Orel, Karson Keiser and Jack Peterson all rushing for more than 400 yards, while quarterback Blake Volmer has added another 314 yards on the ground.
They’ll look to lean on that attack against Elk Point-Jefferson, but Winner knows it won’t be easy to move the ball against the Huskies defense.
“It comes down to execution. You have to take care of guys up front, but their two inside linebackers are outstanding players and they’re not the only two, they put 11 outstanding players on the field every play,” Winner head coach Trent Olson said. “Those two make a ton of tackles. I kind of expect to see a 4-4, where they try to protect those two a little bit. So somehow we’ve got to take care of their front and also get people to that second level and take care of those inside backers.”
#3 ELK POINT-JEFFERSON HUSKIES
Elk Point-Jefferson will be making its first ever state championship appearance after the Huskies rolled past Hot Springs in the 11B semifinals.
Offensively, the Huskies have scored more than 48 points per game with a potent rushing attack led by Lucas Hueser and Benjamin Swatek.
Quarterback Noah McDermott has thrown for more than 1,300 yards and 19 touchdowns, but as good and balanced as they’ve been offensively, defensively they’ve been equally as impressive.
They’re holding opponents to less than 5 points per game, which includes six shutouts this season.
The EPJ defense knows they’ll have their toughest task of the year when they face Winner on Friday, who comes in averaging 44 points per game.
“Slow down their run game, force them into some third downs, fourth downs, different situations and hopefully they’re not necessarily accustomed to. Try to put them into some uncomfortable situations with our defense,” Elk Point-Jefferson head coach Jacob Terry said. “Our line has been spectacular, both offensive and defensive lines, being able to rotate guys, being able to stay fresh is big for us as well. It all starts up front with that line being able to hopefully slow them down a little bit.”
Wall is back in the title game for the first time in eleven years, while Parkston returns to the DakotaDome for the first time since winning it all in 2014.
The 9AA championship will be the first of three games on Friday, November 11 with kick-off set for 10:30 a.m.
#1 WALL EAGLES
Wall took down Hamlin 26-13 in the semifinals to punch their ticket to the DakotaDome for the first time since 2011
Wall’s offense is scoring more than 47 points per game while being very balanced. They average more than 166 yards per game on the ground with Cedar Amiotte leading the way with nearly a thousand yards on the season, and more than 180 yards per contest through the air with Amiotte and Rylan McDonnell.
Blair Blasius and Stran Williams provide plenty of weapons for quarterback Burk Blasius.
After coming up just short of the state championship several times in years past, this group was finally able to break through for head coach Lex Heathershaw.
“This one goes out to all the community, all of our guys, all of our kids. You know I’ve been here six years, and we’ve been to four semifinals, this is our 4th one in six years. There’s a lot of kids that have came through in six years,” Heathershaw said. “Not only the guys behind me this one goes out and how hard they work, but all the guys who helped us get to this point too. So proud of our guys and so proud to be a part of the Wall community too.”
#6 PARKSTON TROJANS
Parkston knocked off last year’s 9A champ Howard in the quarters, and then two-seed Elkton-Lake Benton in the semifinals to secure a spot in the 9AA state championship.
The Trojans only setback of the season was an 8-6 defeat to Hanson in the fourth week of the season.
They’ve won seven straight since including wins over 9A state finalist Gregory, along with its 9AA playoff opponents.
In Parkston’s semifinal win over Elkton-Lake Benton, the Trojans were able to take care of the ball, and sustain long drives, keeping the Elks explosive offense off the field.
That’s what they’re looking to do on Friday against a potent Wall attack.
“Eliminating how many possessions their offense has, just because at any given moment they can go 80 and out of the gate. If we can control some of that tempo and pace of the game, and our defense can be solid, hopefully get a few stops here or there and allow the offense to have good field position. We have to capitalize on those moments,” Parkston head coach Matt Grave said.
Top-ranked Warner will face three-seed Gregory in the 9A state championship.
The Monarchs are looking for their first ever state championship, while the Gorillas are seeking their fifth overall state title, and first since 2017.
The two teams will square off in Thursday’s nightcap at 7 p.m.
#1 WARNER MONARCHS
The Warner Monarchs head into the 9A state title game with a perfect 11-0 record, but they do head into the Dome as a battle tested team.
The Monarchs had an eight point win over Ipswich in week three, a 45-32 victory over Faulkton Area in week five and they followed that with an 8-6 win over Hamlin.
The Monarchs would storm to a 63-20 win over Harding Country/Bison in the semis, but their most notable win came a week before in the quarterfinals, with a 17 point comeback victory against Canistota.
“You know in the second round of the playoffs, we were on this very field, we we’re down by 17 points at half time and we told our kids we’ve only had the ball four times. Two of those times we scored on, one time we stalled inside the 15 yard line and we’re alright,” Warner head coach Kerwin Hoellein said. “We just need to get some stops. If your kids don’t have that test beforehand, I’m not sure they come through in that situation.”
#3 GREGORY GORILLAS
Gregory is back in the state championship for the first time since winning back-to-back 9AA titles in 2016 and 2017.
The Gorillas knocked off Iroquois/Lake Preston, Wolsey-Wessington and Lyman on their way to the DakotaDome.
Quarterback Rylan Peck has been the focal point of the offense, leading the team in rushing with nearly 1,000 yards and 22 touchdowns, while also throwing for more than 1,200 and 18 touchdown.
Running backs Owen Hansen and Kade Stukel have complimented Peck out of the backfield and have been two of his top receiving options, along with wide receiver Eli Fogel. Fogel leads the team with 405 yards receiving and eight scores.
For Gregory, their approach to the Thursday’s state title is quite simple.
“We’ve got to play our game and keep our heads. We’ve got to play an emotional game, but not be an emotional player. Do the little things right, do our jobs and most of all, just play as a team,” Gregory head coach Mike Murray said. “We’ve got loads of talent. If we just stick together and play our game, things are going to be good.”
This year’s 9B state championship will feature two undefeated teams. Top-seeded Herreid/Selby Area will meet #2 Hitchcock-Tulare in a battle of 9B powers.
Both teams are scoring more than 40 points per game offensively, while allowing less than ten points defensively.
Now the two will meet in the first state championship of the weekend on Thursday, November 10 at 11:00 a.m.
#1 HERREID/SELBY AREA WOLVERINES
For the third time in the past four seasons, Herreid/Selby Area is headed back in the state championship.
The Wolverines suffered a 55-18 loss to Howard in last year’s 9A title game, but they’re looking to use that experience to carry them in this year’s championship bout.
Herreid/Selby Area may have the top player in all of 9-man football in running back Brenden Begeman, who is 188 yards shy of the state’s all-time rushing record.
The senior standout has rushed 2,787 yards and 39 touchdowns this year, but it’s the play of quarterback Tray Hettick that has elevated the offense.
Hettick has thrown for 1,650 yards and 27 touchdowns, which has helped to build balance in the Wolverine offense.
“We’ve got a quarterback that is starting at his third year as a starter. He’s seen a lot of different things. We put a really talented running back behind him, so at this point, we’ve pretty much handed him the keys to the car and said, go out and see what the defense is trying to do,” Herreid/Selby Area head coach Clayton Randall said. “Get us in to the right play and sometimes that changing the run to the other side, changing to a different run play and sometimes it’s him calling his own number and throwing the football.”
#2 HITCHCOCK-TULARE PATRIOTS
Hitchcock-Tulare is back in the state championship game for the first time since 2010, and the entire town is likely shutting down for the game to make the trip to Vermillion.
The Patriots have been dominant all season long with their closest matchup being a 22 point win over De Smet in the regular season.
They’d face those same Bulldogs in the 9B semifinals and the Patriots turned many heads, earning a 48-0 shutout victory.
That’s been a theme for Hitchcock-Tulare’s defense this year, as they’ve blanked seven teams on their way to the 9B Championship.
“One things that’s helped is that they haven’t necessarily believed that they’re that good. The Avon game was a big test for us and so even though the score turned out to be what it was, they mentally were challenged and they put their full effort out there in that game and it showed and it’s just continued since then,” Hitchcock-Tulare head coach Tom Salmen said. “De Smet was the same way, it was a mental challenge and they came through that. It doesn’t show that on the scoreboard but to me I have no doubt that they can keep going.”
KELOLAND Sports will have coverage of all seven games both on-air and online throughout the weekend.
You can see highlights on-air, followed by stories from each contest on KELOLAND.com.