As the high school teams in both North and South Dakota roll to the halfway point of their regular seasons over the next two weeks, let’s take a look at some teams that have established themselves as contenders, even though they may not have been favorites heading into the season:
Tri-Valley Mustangs (3-0)
There were about a dozen teams that could have been considered as contenders heading into the season. Tri-Valley showed very quickly by torching Canton for three passing touchdowns (not bad for a team that doesn’t pass often), and completely steamrolling both Garretson and Elk Point-Jefferson in the following weeks. The Mustangs have put the rest of the class on notice but are facing their two most difficult games on their schedule. If they can win one of those, they’ll easily be considered favorites come late October.
Wall Eagles (2-0)
Though not at their halfway point, they did get a big win over White River to open their season, and came back with a shutout of New Underwood two weeks later. After their home game against Kadoka this week, they’ve got three straight road games against Stanley County and Harding County. Wins against these teams (especially Harding County) would prove they belong amongst the top west river nine-man teams.
Langford Lions (2-0)
Though they haven’t played the best in competition thus far, they have topped their two opponents by a combined 101-6 score. The way their schedule is set up, it’s entirely possible that the Lions will be 5-0 when they head to Frederick for a showdown with a strong Leola/Frederick squad. Either way, it’ll be important for this team not to let off the accelerator coming off their bye week this week.
Williston Coyotes (2-1)
Williston appeared to be in rebuilding mode with a young team with just 12 seniors, but they’ve been impressive in their two wins including an opening day win against Grand Forks Red River where senior quarterback, Markus Noeske passed for 244 yards and 3 TDs. Williston faces some tough competition in the coming weeks against Mandan, Century and Bismarck in the next five weeks.
Central McLean Cougars (4-0)
The Cougars have come out roaring in 9-man action. Matt Landerberger has shown that he can run and pass efficiently to lead this balanced attack. There are less than 20 on this roster but somehow the Cougars keep impressing. Their week two win over Mott-Regent put region 4 on notice that Dylan Ruff and the Cougars were not to be overlooked.
Cavalier Tornadoes (4-0)
Another 9-man surprise has been Cavalier. Not so long ago this team was an 11-man powerhouse and now they are a 9-man spoiler. They have steadily been putting up big offensive numbers behind the running attack of Alex Hartz. Cavalier will be tested in the coming weeks with a battle against Hillsboro on 9/23 and Lakota Adams Edmore in October.
SOUTH DAKOTA GAMES OF THE WEEK
1. Flandreau (3-0) at Tri-Valley (3-0)
The defending state champions head to Tri-Valley this week to meet the team they knocked off in last year’s quarterfinals. Outside of the usual roster changes due to graduation, the only difference is that this game will actually be played on Tri-Valley’s home field. Both teams have laid the wood to their opposition to date, and a big win by either will firmly establish the winner as one of the top, if not the top team in class 11B. Flandreau will come with their double wing, triple option offense that the Fliers run almost to perfection behind the leadership of quarterback Joe Parsley. The Fliers are also known for their very stingy defense, usually not giving up more than 14 points per game. Tri-Valley, however has proven they can pass the ball when they want to, and quarterback Brett Page is pretty accurate doing so. The Mustangs haven’t exactly needed to pass much thus far, and backs Andrew Buchmann, Cooper Hausman and Kyle Erickson have pretty much had their way with defenses, with the help of a strong offensive line. Add the fact that it’s Tri-Valley’s homecoming this week, and the Mustangs stand an excellent chance to avenge last year’s early playoff exit.
THE PICK: I like Tri-Valley pulling away in the 2nd half in a low scoring game, Tri-Valley 20-8
2. Canistota (2-0) at Hanson (2-1)
This is easily the best nine-man game on the South Dakota slate this week, and features Canistota, who has been largely dismantling opponents since last season began, against Hanson, the lone team that threatened Canistota’s perfect season last year.
This season, Canistota has shown some weakness when facing an outside running attack, like the one that Bridgewater-Emery/Ethan brought two weeks ago, and the Beavers have definitely shown some speed outside the tackles, using their double wing attack and misdirection as their main weapons. Both teams have great defenses, and the game is in Alexandria, so in the end, and the Beavers always play well on their home turf.
THE PICK: In the end I believe Canistota will wear down Hanson; Hawks with the win.
Even though Harrisburg’s bid to join the ESD failed last year, they’re still growing at a rate that should put them in class 11AA within five years. This game is a pre-preview of their impending move, as the 11A Harrisburg Tigers welcome in the class 11AA Huron Tigers. The Huron version wanted to play teams closer to their own size, so they petitioned successfully to eschew the game against a Sioux Falls team that would normally have been scheduled. As for this game itself, Huron has had more success this season than in the recent past, giving a decent Brookings team a great game, and winning last week against Pierre, as quarterback Tyler Waddle, along with running backs Deion Franks and Michael Johnson attempt to gain confidence by running through the Harrisburg 3-4 defense, but Harrisburg has proven to be pretty good as well, bringing their pro-style offense that likes to run the ends of the line as well as quick strike passes have had little problem dispatching their three opponents this season. Andrew McCuen and Thomas Hudson have been underrated starts in Class 11A so far this year. It will be interesting to see how Harrisburg handles the bigger school’s competition.
THE PICK: I think Harrisburg will pass this test although this is a tough one to call.
WEST RIVER GAME OF THE WEEK
4. Hot Springs (1-2) at St. Thomas More (2-1)
Neither team has lived up to their expectations thus far this season – Hot Springs’ two losses are by a grand total of nine points to Chamberlain on opening night and to a very strong Belle Fourche team by a single touchdown last week. St. Thomas More expected to be making a play at the Dakota Dome in November, which they still might do, but it’s been proving to be much more difficult task than in the past. They got all they could handle from Spearfish, then got shut out in Winner. On paper, St. Thomas More is still the stronger team, but Hot Springs has been the preseason sleeper, with a pair of good running backs in Brady Harkless and Ty Hill. This game will depend upon whether the Bison can contain the Cavaliers’ spread attack.
THE PICK: Gotta like St. Thomas More. Hot Springs has been good but the Cavs passing attack has too much for them.
5. Milbank (2-0) at Groton (3-0)
Groton has opened the season with a bang by taking care of traditional 11B power Aberdeen Roncalli 34-7, and then edging by a strong Sisseton team. They now stand at 3-0 behind their power running game with a backfield that is the same as last season. The team they face is the class 11A Milbank Bulldogs, who are led by third year quarterback Nick Mears, who as a sophomore took the leadership role very well and led his team to a class 11A state championship.
“Nicholas as a sophomore had the ability to lead seniors and lead us to a state championship,” Milbank head coach Jeremy Tostenson said of his quarterback. “This season he leads us with his special ability to make the guys around him better. He understands the QB position, take the blame and give the credit.”
Milbank has plenty of experience up front on their offensive line as well, but the team that executes their game plan better in this game will end the victors.
THE PICK: Groton is much improved but they’ll fall short against a polished Bulldog squad. Give me Milbank by 14.
NORTH DAKOTA GAMES OF THE WEEK
WHO'S GOT HEART?
1. Heart River (3-0) at Hazen (3-0)
This Region 4 matchup will go a long ways determining seeding in the playoffs. Heart River has been outstanding on offense putting up 44 points per game with Seth Ewonuik rushing for 511 yards and 10 touchdowns to start the season. Hazen has been stingy on defense giving up just seven points on the year. Something has got to give. Both teams have the Heart of a champion but Heart River has Seth Ewonuik.
THE PICK: I think the Heart River offense will surprise some people and defeat the tough Hazen defense.
JUST A LITTLE RESPECT
2. Fargo Shanley (1-2) at Kindred (2-0)
The Kindred Vikings will be looking for some more respect with a tough region 1 matchup against Shanley. They are not in the sports writers polls yet with a good win against Lisbon while Shanley still is in the polls with back to back losses to North and Grafton. I asked Coach Cody Kittleson from Kindred commented about the win over Lisbon,
“We felt that if we could run the ball and play great defense that we could be successful against Lisbon. They are generally known to have a tough, physical team. We told our kids all week that it would be a grind it out kind of game for us.”
I think it will be another grind it out game but I fear that Shanley’s will power will not allow them to lose yet another game.
THE PICK: Even though I have Kindred ranked above Shanley, I’m taking Shanley in a close one.
BEST IN THE WEST
4. Minot (3-0) at Mandan (3-0)
This one seems like the undercard to the big Bismarck vs. Century game. But the Braves and Magicians both have an undefeated start going and this game is every bit as interesting of a matchup. The sophomore combination of Kolton Larson and Alex Yonosko has vaulted Minot into a “contender role” a year or two before I had anticipated. The young Magi team will face their toughest test to date when they march on the Braves home field. Minot’s defense shut down Fargo North and Grand Forks Central completely before Williston gave them a run last Friday. Mandan features some of the finest playmakers in the state with All-State quarterback Devin Coyle leading the way.
THE PICK: I think the Braves passing attack will find a crack in the Magi defense and pull away. Mandan by 16
4. Bismarck (3-0) at Century (3-0)
This is the jewel of the week of games. Always a battle last year this game was played in the snow at the community bowl, this year the young playmakers for Bismarck will make a name for themselves. Look for a great battle between the stud Century linebackers, Reed Hendrickson and Kip Jangula and the great backfield of Bismarck with Ben Joliffe and Layne Johs. Make sure to tune into Midco Sports Net for live coverage of this game at 7pm on Friday night.
THE PICK: Bismarck will contain the Century running game and win a close-low scoring affair.
Remember to tweet me score updates and follow my score updates on Friday night @AnderaMidcoSN