VERMILLION, S.D. (KELO) — Winner is the two time defending state champion in 11B, but this year the Warriors were dethroned as Elk Point-Jefferson made the climb to the top of the class.
Elk Point-Jefferson saw their 2021 season come to a close with a semifinal loss to Winner, the same team they’d meet in this year’s state championship.
“When we lost to Winner last year in the semifinals, we knew that we’d see them again this year. We figured it would be in the dome and we were ready,” Elk Point-Jefferson senior Noah McDermott said. “We knew they’re a pretty good team, 34 wins in a row, I think.”
“I was confident in our team. I knew that we were ready to go. The mindset all week, everyone was so focused. I knew we were going to come in here and punch them in the mouth,” Elk Point-Jefferson senior Benjamin Swatek said.
Both the Huskies and Warriors walked through their schedule on their way to the DakotaDome, making their contest the first time the two had faced late game adversity.
Winner tied the game at 14 on the first play of the fourth quarter, but that was followed with a scoring drive from EPJ to reclaim the lead.
“I think that goes back to how our team deals with adversity. They score a touchdown and we’re like, ‘whatever, who cares, let’s go score ours.’ We went down there. We drove it full field and punched it in,” Swatek said.
“They did such a great job responding. It was a big deal and then to be able to get a stop on defense. I about had a heart attack. It was an unbelievable game,” EPJ head coach Jake Terry said.
The Huskie defense was pushed to its limits, but they would come up with a stop to win the game as Jakob Scarmon sealed the victory with an interception.
“Our depth really came up big this week and in this game. Being able to rotate eight or nine guys on the defensive line, is huge,” Terry said. “They’re our unsung heroes at defensive line, to allow our linebackers to go and make those plays. They did an awesome job.”
In front of their large community showing, Elk Point-Jefferson would kneel out the clock, to claim a 21-14 victory in the 11B state championship.
“This whole team, we’re just a family together. I’m so proud of them and how far we’ve come from freshman to senior year. It’s awesome, it’s just so cool to see. To win this moment, look up in the crowd and we’ve got a whole community behind us, that’s so cool to see,” Swatek said.
“To play a great team like Winner and even just have the opportunity to play them is awesome. They’re the epitome of a program. They’re what you want to strive to be if you’re a football program in the state of South Dakota, Winner is what you want to be. They’re so well coached, they’re such a well disciplined great program, not just a team, just a program. Just be able to step out onto the field, let alone come away with the win, is pretty surreal, it really is,” Terry said.
Elk Point-Jefferson’s win in Vermillion was their first ever trip to the state championship and they hope it’ll pave the way for future teams.
“We’ve never won a state championship before, so this is awesome. We did this for all the old teammates that we used to have. We’re here because of them, they taught us the way,” McDermott said.
“Hopefully it lays the groundwork for good things to come. We’ve got to enjoy this one, because it’s special,” Terry said. “Hopefully these younger guys want to have this experience again and are willing to work for it, like the guys who did this year.”
Senior running back, Lucas Hueser was named the Joe Robbie Most Valuable Player. He rushed for 119 yards and two touchdowns in the win.