We’re on the tail half of the regular season, so it’s time to start thinking about the playoffs and possible matchups, as well as what certain teams might need to get from the outside into the playoffs:
Starting in North Dakota, class AAA and class AA both still have three regional games remaining, so it’s a tough call right now, but this much is known: The WDA is dominating class AAA to the tune of an eight total victory advantage over the east. When Grand Forks Red River is the only team above .500 in the east, and the usual suspects out west (Mandan, Minot and both Bismarck schools) could be set to run over the rest of the state. The balance is a little better in class AA, but there’s still plenty of time for the teams on the lower end of the standings to get back into things, but Grafton and Bottineau have been established as the teams to beat.
In class A, the top four are set up nicely in region 1. Northern Cass, currently in fifth place, can still get in, but they’ll likely have to win against current playoff residents Maple Valley-Enderlin, who they play this week, and Linton, who they play next week to vault their team into the playoffs. Region 2 is still wide open, but Harvey/Wells County and Park River will break the tie atop the region on Friday night. Stanley-Powers Lake is in firm control in region 3, while Watford City and Williams County will play a game next week that could decide the final spot in that region. Region 4 is pretty well set, with Hazen, Heart River, New Salem-Glen Ullin and Killdeer all currently two games clear of the rest of the region.
As far as nine-man goes, region 1 has three of their four playoff spots pretty much spoken for, but there’s a five-team glut behind that fighting for the final spot. Atop this region, Napoleon-Gackle-Streeter will face Wyndmere-Lidgerwood on the final night of the regular season in what could be a battle of undefeated squads for the region title. Regions 2 and 3 are both top-heavy. In region 2, Cavalier and North Border will likely be playing into late October, but Lakota-Adams-Edmore, Hillsboro, New Rockford-Sheyenne, and Drayton-Valley-Edinburg are fighting right now for the other two slots. Region 3 is even more top heavy though. North Star is 6-0, and Benson County, TGU and Mohall-Lansford-Sherwood are all 5-1 and three games clear of the rest of the region. It’s a pretty safe bet that quartet will be representing region three in the North Dakota playoffs.
Region 4 looks a lot like region 1 right now – A pair of 6-0 teams heading the region (Central McLean and Divide County) that aren’t facing each other until the season’s final day, with Mott-Regent a win away from punching their playoff pass, and three others dueling for that last spot. Should make for an interesting final three games.
South of the border, things get even cloudier. Class 11AA dropped their playoffs from 16 to 12 teams this season, and Huron and Aberdeen Central reside firmly on the bubble at in the 11th and 12th playoff positions. Huron lost some power points by choosing to play class 11A Harrisburg a few weeks ago, so they’re likely going to need at least one more win to qualify. The same goes for the Golden Eagles of Aberdeen Central. For the four outside the playoff picture, It’ll likely mean two or three wins and some help to get in.
Madison and Lennox are the teams on the outside of the playoffs in class 11A, and things don’t seem to be looking up for either team, except for the fact their game against each other next week could put the winner into the playoffs, but they’d still likely need one more win and some help to get in.
We knew class 11B would be wide open, but Tri-Valley may have shut the door on that notion with their win in Dell Rapids last week. They stand 5-0 and are executing very efficiently on both sides of the ball. They don’t play any of the other four undefeated teams in this class in the regular season, so we may end up with a situation like two seasons ago, when the 11B semifinals featured four undefeated teams. With still half the season remaining for most teams, there’s still a lot that could go on between now and then.
As far as the nine-man classes go, in class 9AA, the playoff-bound teams seemed to have separated themselves from the pack thus far, but with only two undefeated teams, it has become apparent that the power in nine-man football is in the lower classes.
Class 9A, region 1 features what likely will be five playoff teams, and another (Highmore-Harrold) that has the power points to qualify with another win or two. Their schedule sets up well for them, with Hitchcock-Tulare and Sunshine Bible Academy left after this week. Corsica/Stickney is putting together another nice season, but must keep healthy so they don’t fall the way they did last season, and Irene-Wakonda could prove to be a real deal sleeper despite their relatively weak schedule given to them. The Wall Eagles have put together another nice season as well, but the question remains – Can anyone compete in the same league as Canistota in class 9A?
Many of the usual suspects top class 9B this season, such as Avon, Harding County, and Sully Buttes. Langford and Waverly-South Shore have put together great squads this season, and Castlewood is still undefeated right now as well. With eight teams in this class still undefeated in this class, this is the most wide-open state championship run at this point.
With that, on to this week’s previews.
SOUTH DAKOTA GAMES OF THE WEEK
1. Sioux Falls Roosevelt (5-0) at Yankton (5-0)
Who would have thought that five games into the season, the Yankton Bucks would be one of the two remaining undefeated football teams in class 11AA? We sure didn’t, but the real test of just how good this team is starts this week. After this week they play at Sioux Falls Washington, at Mitchell and home against Brandon Valley to finish the regular season, which is a tough stretch to be sure. Roosevelt comes with a spread attack that can rush the ball, but with injuries to Mikal Smith and Justin Warne and quarterback Scott Tyler not 100% the running attack could be put on the back burner. Tyler can also throw the ball to his talented array of receivers, and coupled with a ball-hawking defense will definitely throw a wrench into the Bucks’ offense, which has opened up under quarterback Michael Rucker. They can still run the ball too with Connor Fitzsimmons, Evan Schroeder and Brady Knodel ramming the ball down the field.
THE PICK: I like what Yankton has done, but Roosevelt’s depth will come in handy as they control the game with their defense and short passing game. I’ll take the Riders in a close one.
2. Canistota (4-0) at Viborg/Hurley (4-0)
If no one in Canistota’s class can run with the Hawks, maybe the Viborg/Hurley Cougars, who were able to reach a state title game last season in 9AA can. Though the Cougars have lost their all around stud quarterback Cory Jacobsen, but have been able to pick up where they left off last year with several other key players back including Tyler Gerdes and Trever Jacobsen. Their challenge, as so many other teams have painfully found out, is figuring out just how to even slow down the strong backfield running behind an incredibly efficient line that Canistota will bring into Viborg on Friday. The Hawks just finished off Hanson and Mt. Vernon back to back beating them by a combined 98-0 in the last two weeks.
THE PICK: I think Viborg-Hurley will fare better than the Hawks last two opponents but Canistota will still roll in this one.
HOLDING IT TOGETHER
3. Dell Rapids (4-1) at Tea (3-1)
As if being down their fullback Cole Langer weren’t enough, last week Dell Rapids quarterback Channing Barber sustained an injury as well, he played hurt but you could tell that the Quarriers attack was slowed significantly. That only compounds the problem of being saddled with their first loss of the season. They must be able to hold their team together and get everyone ready to head into Tea, a true wild card in class 11A this season. Tea is still trying to find an identity, and must find it pretty quickly. Like Yankton, the Titans face a very difficult road in the second half of their season. After this game, they get Tri-Valley, Harrisburg and Dakota Valley to close their season. If they can get a huge win at home, that will set the Titans up to gain loads of confidence against their remaining opponents and heading into the playoffs. Dell Rapids is still a very well coached team, and they still have quite possibly the fastest player in class 11A, Zachary Barber. His speed around the outside alone could be enough to win this game on the road.
THE PICK: Dell Rapids regains some momentum with a win but Tea will earn some respect with a hard fought game.
WEST RIVER GAME OF THE WEEK
4. Harding County (5-0) at Wall (4-0)
Both the Harding County Ranchers and Wall Eagles have played some great football so far this season. We pretty much expect this from Harding County, who are almost always a threat to reach the title game in any given season. But watch out for Wall. Both teams have vast amounts of speed, which is essential for nine-man football. Wall rushes out of a wishbone offense led by running backs Tyler Trask and Chavis Shull, which primarily runs outside the tackles, while Harding County, as we saw in last year’s championship game, will confuse defenses by running out of a lot of different formations and have a great quarterback in Jess Feist, and run with Chek Giannonatti and Ryne Baier which should keep Wall’s defense on their heels.
THE PICK: Harding County should get past Wall with a big game from Giannonatti.
NORTH DAKOTA GAMES OF THE WEEK
1.Century (4-1) at Minot (4-1)
Last week Minot used Adam Melom and Kolton Larson to power the running game. Both went over the century mark in yards but will have a harder time going against Century this week. I believe Minot will take to the air against the big bad Patriot defense. Minot quarterback, Alex Yanosko has proven that he can move the ball down the field to his playmakers. Both teams feature an excellent offensive line with the two best offensive linemen in the state going at it, Dustin Adams for Minot and Conrad Schwartzkopf for Century. Most people will pick Century in this game but don’t be surprised if Yanosko has a big night and gets Minot going. Century has weapons to work with too, Jared Fischer has turned in a nice year at quarterback and Ben Kraft is making a case as the best power back in the state this year.
THE PICK: In the end I expect Century to win this one in the fourth quarter with a heavy dose of Ben Kraft to seal the game.
2. Grand Forks Red River (4-1) at Mandan (5-0)
Red River is on a roll winning four in a row after an opening loss to Williston. Taylor Steen has been able to lead this team by passing very efficiently. He has accumulated 11touchdowns and 688 yards in five games with just one interception. He’ll be looking for Jeff Dennison and VaShawn Pope as they try to keep up with the track team that is Mandan. The Braves have put up 234 points in five games making them the highest scoring team in AAA.
THE PICK: Mandan will win a high scoring game with ease.
3. Kindred (3-1) at Wahpeton (4-1)
Both these teams suffered their only loss to Shanley and are looking to get back into the AA East Region race. A lot of people would have you believe that Wahpeton with their high powered running game have the advantage here, but I think the Vikings defense will neutralize Zane Medhaug and the Huskies. Kindred has been extremely tough on D the last few weeks including a shutout last week against Valley City.
THE PICK: Austin Dahlgren will lead the Vikings to a bit of an upset over Wahpeton.
4. Killdeer (3-2) at Heart River (4-1)
Both these teams lost to Hazen in Region 4 play. But both teams have the ability to be one of the best teams in class A. Heart River helped their scoring average by putting 83 points on the scoreboard last week. Seth Ewoniuk carried the ball just six times and five of them went for touchdowns. This week Ewoniuk faces a tougher Cowboy defense but the junior running back could give them just as many fits. Lane Oversen of Killdeer had a big day over Grant County/Flasher last week and will need another 100+ rushing performance to get the Cowboys a win.
THE PICK: Heart River has too many weapons and will ride Ewoniuk power running to another region 4 win.