On the final Friday of the regular season, South Dakota prep football teams will be looking to position themselves for favorable playoffs spots. Next week all games will be played on Thursday night with the following Tuesday serving as the kickoff to the playoff season.
In this week's Focus on Five, we look at a top 9-man matchup, pitting 9A #2 Warner against 9AA #5 Leola/Frederick in a crucial north battle. Both teams are unbeaten and feature explosive squads. The round robin continues with 11B and 11A teams as 11A #2 Dakota Valley heads north to meet 11B #2 Tri-Valley in what looks like a physical, ground-focused battle. In Tea, the Titans, ranked #4 in 11A, will host #3 Harrisburg, which is riding a five-game winning streak. In Pierre, the Governors will play host to 11A #2 Brandon Valley in a crucial ESD battle while 11B #3 Winner hosts Wagner in another 11B contest.
How'd we do? In week seven, a 2-3 record pushed our overall season mark to 24-11 (.686). Over the past two years, we now stand 128-33 or 80.7 percent. This week we project Winner, Warner, Brandon Valley, Harrisburg and Tri-Valley to win the featured Focus on Five games.
When the games end Friday night, don't forget to tune into KSFY with Sports Director Erik Thorstenson and Dylan Scott for Friday Night Lights. After the show ends, we will also offer extended highlights of the featured game of the week plus commentary on all the action from a panel that includes this writer along with Jason Andera of Midco and Thor and Dylan.
Now to the games. Here is a breakdown of five top area games in our "Focus on Five" preview.
9A #2 Warner (6-0) vs. 9AA #5 Leola/Frederick (6-0), 7 p.m.
Warner Notes: Warner captured its sixth straight win, 60-6, over Ipswich/Edmunds Central as Mitchell Boesl had 15 carries for 117 yards and three TDs. He had TD runs of 13 and six yards and a 75-yard punt return for a score. Jared Tuszka had two carries for 121, including a 96-yard run to open the scoring. He also had a 25-yard TD run for Warner, which finished with 38 carries for 414 yards rushing and 460 overall. Clay Rozell was 1-of-4 for 46 yards throwing. Warner, which has a run-focused attack that averaged about 200 yards rushing per game, has had a dominate season to this point, owning a 268-to-33 points differential and have scored 45 points or more in five straight games. Only one team has reached double figures against the Warner defense (Langford Area, 13) and they own a pair of shutouts. Besides a solid ground attack, Warner can throw the ball when needed, averaging about 100 yards per game. Warner's biggest test was a 22-8 season-opening win over Wolsey-Wessington, which features two outstanding backs in Roy Lumpkin and Ryne Johnson. A 47-0 win over 9B #4 Hitchcock-Tulare also serves as an example of this squad's impressive showing in 2012 under veteran coach Tom Kulesa. "Our team has show a real maturity with our experience. They know if they don't play well, they will not be successful. They are disciplined about doing things right," Kulesa said. "We have a couple of pretty good tests, including Langford last week. We need to be ready to go." Warner was 7-3 a year ago and seems head for bigger this season. Unranked at the season's start, they have worked themselves into the #2 spot in the KSFY-KWSN poll and may be a team to give Canistota a challenge for the A title. This is a team that appears to make plays on both sides of the ball. Quarterback Clay Rozell leads the offense behind center with Boesl as the primary back. Boesl has had multiple 100-yard rushing games this season and will a key cog as they face a tough 9AA squad in Leola/Frederick. Jared Tuszka, who is a NDSU recruit, is a big play performer both catching and running the ball. His brother, Derrick is a sophomore end, who can also do things on the field for Warner. "I am old school," said Kulesa. "So, yes we like to run the ball. We can also throw it and probably need to do both this week against a good team in Leola/Frederick. They are solid with Sumption, have a good athletes in Tyler Hoffman and several others. They have some good size. So, the first thing we have to do is control the line of scrimmage. Turnovers will play a role. It may be a cliche but that is what wins the game. Ball possession will be key," he said.
Leola/Frederick Notes: Leola/Frederick, which will face 9A #3 Warner (6-0) on Friday, own a 310-to-68 advantage after six weeks of the season. It is a team has exploded for big numbers on offense while limiting opponents on offense. They have two shutouts this season and have scored over 44 points in five of six weeks. Head Coach Marty Morlock believes the key to success lays in his team's "execution." Clearly, this is a team that can put up points. They have scored 74 and 68 in different games this season. The Titans are led by its "do-it-all" senior running back Brian Sumption, who leads the team with 78 carries for 780 yards and 15 TDs. Sumption, who has thrown a TD and caught nine passes for 144 yards and three TDs, has four games of 100-yards or more including three over 175 and one over 200 (25-215-4 TDs). Sumption also has nine punt returns for 209 yards and two TDs along with six kick returns for 165 yards. He may be one of the few players in South Dakota that has scored TDs by pass, catch, run, punt return and on defense. A two-way player, Sumption has 24 tackles with four interceptions, including a pick-six. Also for the Titans, junior Evan Emery has 37 carries for 207 yards and three TDs while junior George Lapka has 29 carries for 174 yards and two TDs. Senior Tyler Hoffman has 17 carries for 138 yards and four TDs and has played some quarterback (4-11-81 yards, TD). Junior Dane Campbell directs the offense and has completed 19-of-35 passes for 324 yards and nine TDs. At wide receiver, Derek Podoll has 14 receptions for 263 yards and four TDs. Overall Warner's offensive attack has produced 2,292 yards in total offense, primarily through a ground game that has had 249 carries for 1734 yards and 33 TDs. They are averaging 7.0 yards per carry. Besides Sumption, Hoffman has 38 tackles, three tackles for loss and two fumble recoveries while Podoll has 33.5 tackles, four sacks and four TFLs. Overall, The Titans' defense has recorded 13.5 sacks, 10 interceptions and eight fumble recoveries. With a matchup against Warner set for Friday, Morlock knows his team has to win the battle upfront. "We have to win the battle on the line while limiting their big plays," he said. "Warner has an athletic team which is experienced and fundamentally sound," he said.
Inside Slant: Will Sumption continue his dominant season against a strong Warner team? Will Boesl find running room against the strong Leola/Frederick defense? Can Warner continue to pound the ball on the ground effectively? Is this a game which might see a total point total in the 80s? Will a special teams or defensive TD turn the tide in this matchup.
Coaches: Marty Morlock of Leola/Frederick. Tom Kulesa of Warner.
Season Results: Leola/Frederick has defeated Ipswich/Edmunds Central, 46-16; Northwestern, 60-6; McLaughlin/Wakpala, 74-0; Eureka/Bowdle, 38-0; Faulkton Area, 48-32; and Langford Area, 44-14. Warner has wins over Wolsey-Wessington, 22-8; Hitchcock-Tulare, 47-0; Northwestern, 48-6; Faulkton Area, 46-0; Langford Area, 45-13; and Ipswich/Edmunds Central, 60-8.
Series Records: Warner has won three of the last five games in the series, including a 33-20 decision a year ago. Leola/Frederick took a 56-20 victory in 2010 and also won 54-8 in 2009. In 2008, Warner was victorious, 26-14, following a 22-16 win in 2007.
Bottomline: This battle of the north is likely to be decided in the fourth quarter. Both teams have started strong, feature big-play performers and have shutdown defenses. We think Warner is a little deeper and could provide the difference.
Who Wins? Warner by a nose, 34-33.
11A #2 Dakota Valley (5-1) at 11B #1 Tri-Valley (5-1), Friday, 7 p.m
Dakota Valley Notes: After suffering its first loss of the season to 11A #2 Dell Rapids, Dakota Valley will travel to face 11B #2 Tri-Valley in another tough match up. Head Coach Jason Jund knows that the Mustangs will be a big test for his team. "They are filthy good up front and look like the Mustangs of old, heading to the (Dakota) Dome. Somehow, we have to slow them down in the run game. When we have the ball we have to get first downs and score. The control the ball so well and so much that you can't let opportunities slip past." Dakota Valley is a solid group itself, especially in the running game behind the power running of Tanner Lambert, who runs behind a solid offensive front anchored by his brother, Taylor. The Panthers also feature weapons on the perimeter and a solid running back corps with Colton Mahler and Collins Challup. Quarterback Aaron Likness showing leadership at quarterback. He has 36 carries for 76 yards and three TDs on the ground while completing 40-of-87 passes for 523 yards with five TDs through the air. He has throw for a high of 192 yards this season. Lambert, who is the only player in 11-man football with 1,000 yards, has accumulated 1,026 yards rushing on 121 carries with 12 TDs. In his career, he has 267 carries for 2,123 yards and 22 TDs. Mahler has 18 carries for 208 yards and three TDs with Challup adding 27 carries for 133 yards and two TDs. Defensively, the Panthers have been stout, allowed just 242 yards this season and 882 through the air. They have 19 sacks, 10 fumble recoveries and 12 interceptions. Taylor Lambert has 57 tackles and 3.5 sacks while his brother has 32 tackles, a fumble recovery and four sacks. In addition, Nick Buckley has 32 tackles, a team-high five sacks and two fumble recoveries. Andrew Reiff has six interceptions and Isaac Faldmo, three. As for the Lambert brothers, their career totals are pretty impressive. Taylor now has 265 tackles in his career while Tanner has 206 tackles and a school-record 24 sacks. Jund is proud of his team's play through six games but understands that they need to play better than they did in the second half against Dell Rapids. "We've been efficient and limited turnovers," he said. "We have been able to scored early in games which has helped us to keep a mental edge. That is what we need to do this week. We have to run the ball and stop the run. We need to play more physical and limit the mental mistakes we had last week," he said.
Tri-Valley Notes: After suffering a 24-22 road loss to 11B #1 Flandreau on Sept. 14, Tri-Valley has defeated a pair of ranked 11A teams, knocking off #1 Dell Rapids, 28-21, in Colton, and then handing Tea Area, a 34-27 defeat on the Titans' homecoming. Tri-Valley has outscored opponents, 193-to-117, utilizing a run-focused attack that features explosive senior running back Logan Koopman. He has 82 carries for 846 yards and nine TDs. Head Coach Steve Bazata likes the progress of his squad. "We keep improving every week. We have come a long way since week one and we look forward to continuing down that path. For the most part we have been healthy and we need to continue to run the ball to be successful," Bazata said. Tri-Valley's bread and butter is the ground game, which has produced 1,358 yards on 202 carries with 16 TDs. Aside from Koopman, Logan Otto has 41 carries for 268 yards and four TDs while Sam Mader, who has 64 totes for 266 yards and six TDs. Mader was huge in the win over Tea Area with 22 carries for 90 yards and three TDs as the Mustangs pounded the middle hard. Senior quarterback Brett Page has had a solid season and showed up big time in the wins the last two weeks, completing 11-of-14 passes for 178 yards and two TDs. On the season, the wily senior has completed 22-of-38 passes for 361 yards and six TDs. Otto has seven receptions for 91 yards and three TDs while Burgraff has six catches for 102 yards and three scores. Every year Tri-Valley has a tough schedule and the 2012 campaign is no different. "Dakota Valley is a very good team. They are disciplined, well coached, and play physical football. We will need to stop their run game, especially #44 (Tanner Lambert), in order to have a chance to win this game," said Bazata.
Inside Slant: Can Tri-Valley find a way to stop the punishing bull of a back, Tanner Lambert? Will Dakota Valley have an answer for the speed of Koopman and the power of Mader? Will Brett Page continue to make big players for the Mustangs? Can Dakota Valley establish its power game and make some big plays on the perimeter?
Coaches: Jason Jund, Dakota Valley, nine years, 57-35, .619. Steve Bazata of Tea Area, first season, 5-1, .833. .Season Results: Dakota Valley has wins over Elk Point-Jefferson, 40-12; Beresford, 35-0; Canton, 21-13; Lennox, 47-12; and Vermillion, 45-6. They lost to Dell Rapids, 37-19. Tri-Valley has wins over Canton, 41-23; Garretson, 16-8; Elk Point/Jefferson, 52-14; Dell Rapids, 28-21; and Tea Area, 34-27. The Mustangs lone loss is to Flandreau, 24-22.
Series Records: Tri-Valley has won four of the last five match ups, including a 34-14 decision a year ago. The Mustangs also won in 2010, 14-7, and 28-7 in 2009 as well as 6-0 in 2008. In 2007, Dakota Valley had a 19-6 decision.
Bottomline: Tri-Valley appears to have found some "mojo" after a loss to Flandreau (24-22) earlier this year. As a defending champion, this team knows what it takes to win and have done that in wins over Dell Rapids and Tea Area. Now they get another 9A team, Dakota Valley, and they will have to deal with the physicality of the Panthers. Dakota Valley has the ability to score but needs to generate a strong rushing attack. If Lambert can break the middle of the Tri-Valley defense and Aaron Likness can hit a few big pass plays, Dakota Valley will be tough to handle. This game could go either way and expect a turnover or special teams play to turn it.
Who Wins: We like Tri-Valley in this one, 22-19.
11A #3 Harrisburg (6-1) at 11A #3 Tea Area (4-2), Friday, 7 p.m
Tea Area Notes: In every game this season, the Titans have scored at least 27 points and own a 226-89 overall scoring advantage. However, the Titans have lost two straight to Dell Rapids (49-34) and Tri-Valley (34-13) due to mistakes. They opened the season with four wins, including three shutouts, and exhibited a big play offense. Those big plays were still being made in the past two games but not on a consistent basis. It is a team that needs to tighten up defensively, especially in the first half. A week ago, Tri-Valley opened up a 34-13 lead before Tea Area rallied in the fourth quarter. It is a situation that third year coach Craig Clayberg hopes to correct this week. "Our team needs to focus on getting better than we were last week," said Clayberg. " We need to play two halves of football and not just one. If we can do that, we can hopefully be in a position to be successful." With 9A #3 Harrisburg up next for the Titans, Clayberg knows his team has to be ready for another challenge. "Harrisburg is a good football team with a lot of weapons on offense. We need to be disciplined on defense and really communicate on offense in the offensive line," said Clayberg. While the last two weeks have been frustrating. This is a talented team that just needs to get its swagger back. For the season, the Titans are averaging 37.7 points and allowing just 14.8 points per game. They have a huge total offense advantage, producing 403.8 to 214.2. It is a team that has done some damage early with a 56-28 points edge in the first quarter and 76-27 in the second quarter. They are also strong late with a 47-7 margin over foes. The offense is directed by dual threat quarterback Taylor Roeman, who has hit on 48-of-80 passes for 986 yards and eight TDs. He also has 43 carries for 232 yards and seven TDs. Running back Gunnar Ensz, who has 53 carries for 440 yards and eight TDs, need to get untracked again after a couple of tough games rushing the ball. The backfield also includes Chase Deckert with 49 carries for 308 yards and three TDs. Riley Knutson has added 46 carries for 283 yards and three TD. All three back average at least 6.3 yards per carry or better. Knutson also makes it happen in the receiving game with 12 catches for 253 yards and four TDs. Roeman's main target is Mitchell Nissen, who has 21 catches for 448 yards and three TDs. He is averaging 21.8 yards per catch. On defense, leading tackler Jacob Dancler has 60 stops with 4.0 tackles for loss and two blocked kicks. Ryan Farwell has added 54 tackles, seven tackles for loss and two fumble recoveries. Nate Schroder has anchored the front with 48 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss and three sacks.
Harrisburg Notes: Harrisburg is clearly a team on a role and seem to be getting better by the week. The Tigers, which close the regular season this week, have won two games this season with four quarter play, including a 28-27 win over AA Huron when quarterback Andrew McCuen hit a 60-yard pitch-and-catch with Trevor Deschepper with a minute to play. The ensuring PAT provided the differnt as the Tigers got a bit of revenge after losing a year ago. Then McCuen scored a fourth quarter TD run as the Tigers defeated West Central, 26-20. They followed up with a 31-7 win at home over highly regarded Spearfish and then smothered Vermillion, 50-0. Harrisburg, which has opened fast with a 53-21 advantage in the first quarter and finished strong, 69-to-38, in the fourth quarter, own a 320-to-169 overall scoring advantage. "Our kids have showed a lot of fight and have done a great job of buying into the team aspect of the game," said third-year coach Brandon White. "Our seniors have really developed as leaders and helped our underclassmen improve all year long. We have become very relentless and strong willed."During the five-game winning streak, Harrisburg has found the right formula, which must continue if the Tigers aim to continue its success. "We started off the year with too many penalties and too many mental mistakes in all 3 phrases of the game. Since, the Luverne and Lennox games we have been able to minimize those two key aspects that play huge roles in the outcomes of games. I am a huge believer in taking care of your own business and playing Tiger Style football and the scoreboard will take care of its self," said White. McCuen keys the Tigers offense. He has completed 56-of-117 passes for 1,009 yards with eight TDs. A dual threat, he has 88 carries for 613 yards and seven TDs. He is averaging 7.0 yards per rush. Kyle Ackerman has contributed 62 carries for 290 yards and five TDs while Devyn Schriever has 47 carries for 247 yards and four TDs. Deschepper leads the receiving corps with 23 catches for 522 yards and seven TDs. Schriever has 14 catches for 168 yards and two TDs while Brandon Appledorn has six catches for 181 yards and a TD. With Tea Area on the schedule, the task for the Tigers doesn't get any easier. "Our biggest challenge on Friday will be to try and contain all of their weapons. They have an abundance of very skilled players, and we know they are very capable of scoring from anywhere," said White. "We need to be very disciplined and focused for the entire game. It will take four quarters of great football."
Inside Slant: Can Koopman find space against an increasing stingy Harrisburg defense? How does Tri-Valley counter McCuen's dual threat ability? Tea Area have problems throwing against Tri-Valley, will Harrisburg have the same problems? Who holds the upper hand on special teams?
Coaches: Brandon White of Harrisburg third year, 19-9, .679; Craig Clayberg, Tea Area, third year, 15-12, .555.
Season Results: Tea Area has defeated Bon Homme, 41-6; Lennox, 41-0; Vermillion, 36-0; and Canton, 37-0, and lost to Dell Rapids, 49-34, and Tri-Valley, 34-27. Harrisburg defeated Madison, 27-21; lost to Luverne (MN), 36-22; and then beat Lennox, 47-7; Huron, 28-27; West Central, 26-20; Spearfish, 31-7; and Vermillion, 50-0.
Series Records: A year ago, Tea Area took a 28-0 decision over the Tigers.
Bottomline: Harrisburg is a hot team. Look for a close game to be decided in the fourth quarter. Tea Area has a multitude of big-play performers but need for the defense to shine early. If the game goes to the fourth quarter both teams can feature guys that can make plays.
Who Wins: McCuen makes a play late as the Tigers continue to roll, 26-21.
11AA #2 Brandon Valley (7-0) at 11AA Pierre (5-2), 7 p.m.
Brandon Valley Notes: Brandon Valley extended its winning streak to nine games with a 49-0 win over Aberdeen Central. The Lynx continued to exhibit offensive explosion and defensive shutdown in their game. Head Coach Chad Garrow feels good about where his team is at with ESD battles against Pierre and Yankton facing his team in the final two games of the regular season. "I think we have done a good job of creating some depth over the past seven weeks and I feel good about how the defense has progressed since last year," he said. "Much of our success has to do with the defense allowing 10 points per game and our offensive striking early in games to make the opponent play from behind," he said. Clearly the numbers back Garrow's point as his team owns a 293-to-58 overall scoring advantage, with a 41.9 per game points average while allowing just 8.3. They have owned the first quarter with a 106-to-14 edge over opponents and they also have a 86-to-17 margin in the second quarter, which in total means they have a 192-to-31 margin in the first half. When that is matched with a 47-0 margin in the fourth quarter, the Lynx are a group getting it done on both sides of the ball. Brandon Valley, which averages 88.3 yards on the ground and 247.6 through the air, have 2,351 yards in total offense on 345 plays. The defense is led by Lucas Lunstra with 55 tackles, four tackles for loss and two interceptions. Jacob Adams has 34 tackles and four tackles for loss and two interceptions while Adam Guthmiller has 33 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks and two fumble recoveries. All-state defensive back Tony Tripp has 26 tackles and a pick while Matthew VandeBerg has 25 tackles, two tackles for a loss and four interceptions. VandeBerg has been a big-play guy on both offense and defense as he has scored 14 total TDs, including two interceptions returns (96, 105) and a 19-yard fumble recovery. He also has a team-best 38 catches for 580 yards and 10 TDs receiving. The BV offense is directed by Chase Marso, who operates the spread with precision. He has completed 113-of-172 passes for 1,544 yards and 15 TDs. Aside from VandeBerg, Marso connects with A.J. Garrow frequently. Garrow has 36 catches for 478 yards and two TDs while tight end Brent Winter has 17 catches for 280 yards and two TDs. Tripp is the main running back with 65 carries for 403 yards and 10 TDs. He also has 12 catches for 92 yards and two TDs. Marso and VandeBerg have built impressive career stats. Marso know is 303-of-565 for 4,122 yards and 46 TDs, all numbers that near or in the top 10 all-time. Matthew VandeBerg has 109 career catches (top 10 all-time) along with 1,661 receiving yards (top-10 all-time) and 28 career TDs (top-five all-time). With a matchup against Pierre looming, Garrow knows his team has to be ready for a physical game. "Pierre is always physical upfront and are well coaches in the trenches. This year they also have good skill kids to go with their upfront personnel. For us to get a victory, we need a fast start offensive so that their offense is forced to be one dimensional. Then we have to take care of the ball and limit turnovers while winning the field position battle."
Pierre Notes: Joe Kramer's Governors may be the surprise of 11AA this year. They sit 5-2 with only losses to Yankton (27-21), when they had too many turnovers in crucial field positions, and a 27-20 loss to #1 Washington, when they were hurt by big plays by Nate Gerry in the second half. Kramer is pleased with his team performance. "Defensively we are creating turnovers and offensively we have shown good balance," said Kramer. "We have to continue to throw the ball effectively and make sure of our tackling," he said. The Governors are led by quarterback Alex Gray, who has completed 35-of-90 passes for 848 yards and 15 TDs with just four interceptions. His main weapons have been wide receiver Austin Christopherson and tight end Lane Sevryn. Christopherson has been a big play performer with 18 catches for 485 yards and nine TDs, including two a week ago. Severyn has 12 catches for 247 yards and four TDs and is a tough guy to tackle. In the backfield, standout Austin Wagner leads the way with 109 carries for 680 yards and six TDs. Jace Jerome has 80 rushes for 426 yards and five TDs. A week ago, Jerome had 128 yards and two TDs in the win over Rapid City Stevens. Overall the offense has produced 2,592 yards in total offense. Unquestionably, Pierre, which owns an overall 222-to-99 scoring differential against opponents, is an ESD team that can make plays on both sides of the ball. But Kramer knows he is facing one of the AA's top squads. "They have a solid defense and spread you out offensively as they find places to attack," said Kramer. "We need to be able to run the football to set up the play action pass and we have to limit their big plays," he said.
Coaches: Chad Garrow of Brandon Valley, 62-23, .729; Joe Kramer of Pierre, fourth year, 22-17, .564.
Inside Slant: Can Pierre slow down the Brandon Valley spread offense directed by one of the state's elite quarterbacks? Will Brandon Valley be ready for a Pierre team that tested #1 Washington two weeks ago? Will Austin Wagner find room against a tough BV front? And, will Tony Tripp be a difference maker in the backfield for the Lynx? What kind of big play does VandeBerg break out this week?
Season Results: Pierre opened with a 27-21 loss to Yankton before recording wins over Aberdeen Central, 37-7; Huron, 40-13; Brookings, 34-26; and then dropped a 27-20 decision to Washington before taking a 36-6 win last week over Rapid City Stevens. Brandon Valley has defeated all seven opponents including Sioux Falls O'Gorman, 18-15; Watertown, 55-13; Brookings, 38-0; Mitchell, 71-10; Lincoln, 31-13; Huron, 31-7; and Aberdeen Central 49-0.
Series Records: A year ago, Brandon Valley took a 35-14 decision.
Bottomline: Both teams will try to establish the run with Pierre utilizing the skills of Jace Jerome and Austin Wagner while Brandon Valley looks to Tony Tripp. Still BV bread-and-butter is the pass out of the spread. Marso will find success again a Pierre secondary that has struggled stopping big plays. Look for VandeBerg and Garrow to make catches down the field. Gray and Christopherson must connect again. Severyn will be another check-off for Gray. Still, BV is on a roll and will be tough to beat. Pierre will give them a challenge and we can see this game being decided in the fourth quarter.
Who Wins? Brandon Valley will take this one, 31-20.
11B Wagner (5-1) at 11B #3 Winner (7-0), Friday, 7 p.m.
Wagner Notes: Wagner has had an impressive campaign six games into the regular season with five wins in six games. Wagner, which has averaged 25.5 points per game, had its best offensive performance of the season in a 54-14 win over Elk-Point/Jefferson and may be hitting its stride. They have only a loss to Bon Homme (20-0) in week four. They have won the last two games by a combined 80-21 total. It is a team that focused its attack on the ground but has shown the propensity of making plays through the air. Wagner has 574 yards passing and 1,413 yards rushing. As is Wagner's tradition, this team is tough defensively and play physical and with presence on the field. They have allowed just 95 yards a game rushing and 110 through the air. The offensive attack is led by standout running back David Kocer, who has 140 carries for 904 yards and 10 TDs, including a break-out game of 257 yards on 24 carries with two TDs last week against EP/J. Wagner directed on offense by junior quarterback Dylan Brunsing. Noah St. Pierre is a junior wide out who also has the propensity for big plays on the perimeter. Junior linebacker Chris Kuca is another standout for the Red Raiders.
Winner Notes: Year-in and year-out, the Winner football team is one of the best in 11B circles. Winner has a streak of four straight 10-win seasons and have made 11 championship appearances with four titles, including one in 2009 (12-6 over Tri-Valley). Through seven games this season, the third-ranked Warriors are again at one of the best in 11B. As they face Wagner, they own three straight shutouts when they have put together a 154-to-0 points advantage. Overall they own a 308-to-52 point differential. The Warriors pound the ball as evidenced by a 322.9 rushing per game average. Coach Aaker believes that his team has shown improvement week-by-week. It is a team, he says, that was inexperienced at various spot coming into the season but those players have stepped up. "We are plus 16 on turnovers thus far this year. Also we have had a lot of big plays with our offense and special teams to get momentum on our side," said Aaker. "Moving forward we need to keep the turnover's down and execute better on offense and continue to be solid defensively." The Warriors, which averaged 44.0 points per game, have had over 300 yards rushing five times in 2012 with a high of 409. They are led by Ben Connot, who has 68 carries for 616 yards and eight TDs. Kyle Bertram is another primary back for Winner as he has 67 carries for 576 yards and nine total TDs (seven by rush). Trace Meyer fills out a deep and talented backfield. He has 60 carries for 392 yards and six TDs. Overall, the Warriors have seven players with 100 yards or more rushing and have 13 players with at least one TD. The offense is directed by Tanner Fritz, who has completed 14-of-26 passes for 315 yards and seven TDs and also has 116 yards rushing and six TDs. At wide receiver Isaiah Old Lodge doesn't catch a lot of passes in Winner's run-based offense but when he does he makes them count. He has six catches for 162 yards and four TDs. The Warriors defense has been opportunistic with 15 interceptions, 19 sacks and four fumble recoveries. Leading the way is Connot with 32 tackles, Adam Farner with 32 stops and Tate Novotny with 30 tackles, and three sacks. Kray Krolikowski has 28 stops and four sacks while Nolan Donahue has four interceptions. As Wagner comes to town, Aaker knows his team has a battle on their hands. "Wagner is always a physical team and they are again this year. They have very good skill players in Kocer, Kuca, St. Pierre, and Brunsing. They do an excellent job of running the ball as well as throwing play action out of their run game which makes them hard to defend. The line of scrimmage in my opinion will be the biggest key. We will need to play well up front. Also we need to prevent big plays as their skill players are capable of having one at anytime. It looks to be great football game and we are looking forward to it."
Inside Slant: Can Kocer find room to roam against a physical Winner front? Will Wagner's defensive front deal with a Winner offense that has pounded teams on the ground to more than 322 yards per game? Will Bertram and Connot break off big plays? Can Old Lodge make a big play?
Coaches: Dan Aaker of Winner, 10 seasons, 89-29, .754. Jason Knebel of Wagner, 40-16, .714.
Season Results: Winner owns wins over Parkston, 39-0; St. Thomas More, 56-31; Bon Homme, 27-7; Valentine (NE), 32-14; Platte-Geddes/Dakota Christian, 47-0; Mobridge-Pollock, 51-0; and Chamberlain, 56-0. Wagner has victories against Parkston, 15-0; Platte-Geddes/Dakota Christian, 30-7; Beresford, 28-24; McCook Central/Montrose, 26-7; and Elk Point-Jefferson, 54-14, and a loss to Bon Homme, 20-0.
Series Records: Winner won twice a year ago over Wagner, 28-17, in the regular season and 28-13 in the first round of the playoffs.
Bottomline: Winner features a strong rushing attack and Wagner will have to find a way to plug or at least slow down Meyer, Bertram and Connot. Kocer is a talent and Wagner has some physicality which will be needed in this key match up.
Who Wins: Winner has held the edge in recent match ups and just appear to be firing on all cylinders. They are the choice here, 28-16.