Last year was a lot of fun in Class A because we got to see the two teams that were the best all year meet for the state championship!
In the end, Hillsboro-Central Valley’s defense found a way to disrupt the potent passing attack of Langdon-Edmore-Munich en route to claiming the state championship. Both of those programs graduated their key players, but I still believe they’ll be in contention this fall. One team that didn’t graduate much is Carrington. That’s why I think the Cardinals can make some noise and really have the potential to put together a dominant season.
Top Teams in Class A
Last season was a good year of growth for the Carrington Cardinals. Co-head coaches Michael Page and Kyle Smith directed the program to a one-loss regular season and a region championship. The athleticism of this group is off the charts, and – when you pair that with strong senior leadership – it becomes a formula for a championship run.
Region two will be difficult with Park River-Fordville-Lankin and Langdon-Edmore-Munich expected to be competitive, but I think Carrington is the best of the bunch. This program has been looking forward to this year, and now it’s time to turn potential into hardware.
Not many teams can claim they return a trio of all-state players, but that’s the case for the 2018 Carrington Cardinals. Senior RB/LB Kaden Wolsky committed to the University of North Dakota over the summer and he’ll be a force for the Cardinals. Wolsky, a two-time all-state selection, rushed for 666 yards and 10 touchdowns last season, while recording 53 solo tackles on defense.
Easton Rindy was named a first team all-state offensive lineman and is another playmaker on that fierce Cardinals defense.
Drew Page was a second team all-state choice after rushing for more than 1,000 yards and 15 touchdowns. Page also contributed heavily on defense with more than 50 tackles to go with a pair of sacks.
If the Cardinals stay healthy, they have the talent to put together a dominant season and claim the program’s third state championship.
I had a tough time figuring out where to slot the defending Class A state champs. Hillsboro-Central Valley graduated their leading rusher Grant Skager, who erupted for over 2,000 rushing yards and 30 touchdowns last season. They also need to replace four of their five starters from last year’s offensive line, and those same players starred on their defensive line, too.
But, as you can tell, I still have confidence that Scott Olsen will have his team prepared to keep the program at the top of Class A. They still have some great athletes on the squad, including their trio of starting linebackers that helped the Burros defense to hold teams to a stingy 5.6 points per game – a number that ranked second-best in the state.
Just like Carrington, it starts with the linebacking corps for Hillsboro-Central Valley. Senior Mark Hastings made 80 tackles last season and was named second team all-state. He’s one of the toughest players in the state, and he has a state wrestling championship to prove it.
Juniors Oscar Benson and Isaac Luithle were also among the team’s leading tacklers last season and benefited greatly from playing in all those playoff games. I’d watch out for Benson in the offensive backfield, too. He has a skill set that could make him one of the top offensive weapons in the state over the next two seasons.
Take one look at last year’s game scores for Velva, and you’ll feel bad for several of those opponents. It wasn’t fun lining up against the Aggies on Friday nights. Velva allowed a total of 26 points in the regular season and took a perfect record into the playoffs before falling to Langdon-Edmore-Munich on their home field in the state semifinal round.
The Aggies were hit by graduation like many other teams, but they have some significant returners that will push them into contender status again. Plus, Larry Sandy’s program has had a knack for developing young talent that is ready for the Friday night lights, even if it’s for the very first time.
Des Lacs-Burlington and Bishop Ryan will make for some tough region matchups, but I feel like Velva has potential to reach the final four for a second consecutive season.
Senior LB/WR Hayden Lee is the type of player that every little kid watching the game on Friday nights wants to be when they crack the varsity squad. Lee was a first team all-state linebacker last season after making 66 tackles, 10.5 TFL, four sacks and four interceptions.
The 6’3”, 250-pound Dakota Aaseth is a strong two-way player on the offensive and defensive lines that made first team all-state, as well.
The Aggies graduated eight starters off last year’s team, but I think we’ll see some new names emerge as playmakers in the early portion of the season.
4. Dickinson Trinity
I’ll admit that I’m not sure Dickinson Trinity doesn’t belong higher on this list, but I’ll leave it up to them on how quickly they’ll climb up the ladder.
The 2017 season was one to remember for the Titans (pun intended). They lost the season opener 15-6 to Bowman County, and then didn’t allow another opponent to score a touchdown the rest of the season. They were rolling into the postseason, but ran into the Burro buzzsaw in the semifinal round in a 34-0 loss.
John Odermann seems to have this program heading in the right direction, and the proof is in the results – and the flurry of division one commits in recent years. The Titans have three former players on Division I rosters this season, and have a commit on the current roster in future Bison Kaden Kuntz.
Let’s start with Kuntz. The 5’9”, 155-pound slotback is a unique weapon for the Titans. He rushed for 416 yards and four touchdowns before suffering a season-ending knee injury midway through his junior season. Despite the injury, he still managed to earn second team all-state honors and an offer from NDSU. Kuntz also flashed on defense by coming up with five interceptions. His speed is what sets him apart – he returned from the injury to win the 100-meter, 200-meter and long jump events at the state track and field meet.
The guy trying to get Kuntz the ball will be standout senior quarterback Aric Knopik, who’s drawing college interest of his own. The 6’4”, 190-pound dual threat quarterback passed for 839 yards and 14 touchdowns last year to go with eight touchdowns on the ground.
The challenge for the Titans will be replacing the guys up front, including current NDSU freshman offensive lineman Jake Kubas.
Rounding out the top five is Langdon-Edmore-Munich. The Cardinals have spots to fill following last year's state runner-up finish, but keep in mind that a lot of the JV players saw extensive varsity action last season because of some lob-sided scores.
It has been a remarkable turnaround for a program that had a one-win season just three years ago. Jacob Delvo and Anfernee Economy helped the offense light up the scoreboard on Friday nights the last few years, but they’ve graduated and left big shoes to fill.
“We will be very fast on the defensive side of the football,” Head Coach Josh Krivarchka says. “The biggest change for us will be having our offense develop this year. There are a lot of new faces, but they are very talented.”
It sounds like sophomore Simon Romfo will move from receiver to quarterback, and he'll no doubt have instant chemistry with his twin brother Grant. Both of those guys will be standouts on defense, as well. Simon Romfo caught 12 passes last year for 322 yards and three touchdowns. Meanwhile, Grant Romfo caught 21 passes for 232 yards.
Senior Carter Currey is back to lead a veteran group on the offensive line. I also expect Jackson Delvo – Jacob’s younger brother – to make an impact on both sides of the ball.
The Bubble Teams:
Kindred, Park River-F-L, Beulah, Harvey-Wells County
10 Players to watch in Class A:
- Sr. RB/LB – Cauy Shypkoski, Heart River
- Sr. RB/LB – Kaden Wolsky, Carrington
- Sr. OL/LB – Easton Rindy, Carrington
- Sr. FB/LB – Mark Hastings, Hillsboro-CV
- Sr. SB/DB – Kaden Kuntz, Dickinson Trinity
- Sr. LB/WR – Hayden Lee, Velva
- Sr. OL/DL – Adam Neustel, Milnor-NS
- Sr. QB/DB – Adam Zavalney, Park River Area
- Sr. QB/DB – Aric Knopik, Dickinson Trinity
- Sr. RB/TE/DE – Joseph Akiri, Oak Grove