With windy and potentially wet conditions on the docket for the final night of the prep football regular season this week, teams may need to utilize running attacks to gain a favorable verdict. Regardless of whether pass or run is the option, a lot of teams need to win as the have major playoff implications, both in who and where they will play when the postseason begins next Tuesday in South Dakota.
As a result, this week's Focus on Five previews several AA games which will determine the four first-round byes as well as a couple of games that feature teams battling for conference titles in rivalry matchups. This week we preview 9AA #3 Deubrook Area goes on the road to battle 9A #5 Arlington for the Dakota Valley title and which team will remain unbeaten. In Sioux Falls, 11AA #5 O'Gorman battles 11AA #4 Lincoln in one of two games at the newly renovated Howard Wood Field. 11AA #1 Washington battles #3 Roosevelt in the second game. In addition, 11AA #2 Brandon Valley hosts Yankton for the ESD title. We also preview the #3 Akron-Westfield Westerners traveling to face #6 West Lyon in a district title battle that also has obvious playoff implications in Iowa Class A.
In week eight, a 4-1 record pushed our overall season mark to 28-12 (.700). Over the past two years, we now stand 132-34 or 79.5 percent. This week we project Washington, Brandon Valley, Lincoln, Deubrook Area and West Lyon to emerge victorious.
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.
9AA #3 Deubrook Area (7-0) at. 9A #5 Arlington (7-0), Thursday 7 p.m.
Deubrook Area Notes: Deubrook Area won its seventh straight on Friday with a 59-8 win over DeSmet-Iroquois. The Dolphins, which advanced to the 9AA semifinals a year ago, are intent to go deep into the playoffs again. This match up with Arlington is their most significant game of the season as the squads play for a Dakota Valley title. The Dolphins own a 351-to-104 scoring edge over opponents and have outscored its last three opponents, 173-to-38. Head Coach Adolph Shepardson is pleased with the progress of the team, so far. "We have a great bunch of players who work hard, improve every day, and have been blessed with some great skill. We have a combination of speed and size that is hard to deal with. We run the ball better than anyone in the state and we preach pursuit on defense and have been very good in the kicking game as well. We feel we are a well-rounded team," he said. That rushing attack is led by perhaps South Dakota's most prolific runner this year, Ryan Knutson, who had 17 carries for 285 yards rushing and three TDs last week. It is the fourth time this season he has had over 200 yards rushing in a game and he now has produced 1,437 yards on 116 carries with 21 TDs this season. Knutson totals included 15-303-6; 23-215-3; 19-235-3; 20-157-2; 8-70-3 (one half of play); 14-172-4 TDs and 17-285-4. In his career, he has 276 carries for 2,761 yards and 36 TDs (38 overall). Clearly Knutson is a focal point of the offense, which is averaging 351.4 yards on the ground and 430 yards in total offense. But, it is a team that also has a numbers of big-play guys. This season, the Dolphins have 2,460 yards rushing on 231 carries, which breaks out to 10.65 per carry. They have rushed for 407, 431, 325, 358, 369, 212, and 358 yards in the seven games this season. Overall, the Dolphins have 37 TDs. So, who are those other guys helping out? Start with Dalton Kruse, who has 342 yards (22 carries) and six TDs. Then there is the electric performer Riley Hanson, who has 371 yards rushing and four TDs. Hanson stirs the Dolphins drink in a number of ways. He has 11 total TDs, including three by pass and three on special teams. Hanson has a 94-yard kickoff return for a TD and an 83-yard kickoff return for a score. He is averaging 36.56 on kickoff returns and 24.17 on punt returns. At quarterback, Taylor Olson has continued to shine with 28 carries for 224 yards and three TDs. He is also 37-of-81 for 518 yards and seven TDs with just two interceptions. Wide receiver Dustin Trooinen has 15 catches and can make a big-play when it is needed. Linebacker Tyler Jensen leads the defense with 84 tackles, two fumble recoveries and two sacks. Both Evan Sheffield (51T) and Kay Glatzer (33 T) have three sacks while Dallas Murphy (43T) has two. Looking ahead to Arlington, Shepardson knows Arlington will be tough. "It is a unique opportunity (to play Arlington) as very rarely do two teams meet in the last game of the regular season undefeated and playing for a conference championship. Arlington is a solid football team. We are excited to play them," he said, noting that Deubrook Area is playing for its first undefeated regular season and conference title in school history. "The keys will be turnover margin, our rush defense and special teams. We need to stop their rushing attack," said Shepardson.
Arlington Notes: Arlington remained unbeaten with a 58-6 win over Dell Rapids St. Mary and now face 9AA #3 Deubrook Area on Thursday. The Cardinals, which own two 9A titles in 2004 (Stickney/Mt. Vernon, 39-14), and 2005 (Gettysburg, 30-28), have rebounded from a 4-4 season in 2011 with a 7-0 start. Arlington features an offense that is run-based, led by backs Lane Weber and Zach Warnke. Overall Arlington has a 325-to-73 scoring differential this season, including a 136-to-14 edge in the past three weeks - all wins. With Deubrook Area next, Gilbertson likes the challenge of playing for a conference title (Dakota Valley). "I think the key for us has been our maturity. We have surprised a lot of people with how our kids have outperformed expectations. It is not always that you have two teams 7-0 in the final game playing for a conference championships. It is the way it should be," said Gilbertson. "I don't think anything is at stake for us. I believe the pressure is on them. They were the preseason favorite and I think still are. We are an up and coming team, coming out of nowhere to be in the position we are in. We are going to play and have fun," he said. Weber, who had 23 carries for 192 yards two weeks ago, had seven carries for 198 yards and three TDs in the win over Dell Rapids St. Mary last Friday. Arlington, which as a team has rushed the ball 217 times for 1,999 yards, is led by Weber, who has 78 carries for 766 yards and 13 TDs. His backfield mate Warnke has 53 carries for 635 yards and 10 TDs. Quarterback Andrew King has provided a dual threat at quarterback with 39 carries for 278 yards and five TDs while completing 27-of-39 passes for 895 yards with nine TDs and just one interception. If needed King can make plays in the pass game as he has thrown for 215, 175, and 154 in three different games. Still, this team is focused on the run and have totals of 321, 288, 318, 226, 222, 318, and 306 yards this season. As for the passing game, Tanner Lemme leads the receivers with seven catches for 346 yards and four TDs. He has an unreal catch average of 49.42 yards. As Arlington prepares for the game, they know Deubrook Area will be a big test. Gilbertson knows his team has to control the ball. "We have to keep turnovers to a minimum and create some opportunities for ourselves with turnovers or big plays," he said. "They (Deubrook Area) are the total package. Run the ball, throw the ball, power, speed, they can do it all. It is tough to prepare for a team like that," said Gilbertson..
Inside Slant: Does Arlington have a way to stop the explosive Knutson? How do they stop Riley Hanson who can score by rush, receiving or on special teams? Will the Deubrook Area defense have an answer for the talented Arlington backfield duo of Warnke and Weber? Which quarterback - Andrew King of Arlington, Taylor Olson of Deubrook Area - shines on Thursday night?
Coaches: Steve Gilbertson of Arlington, 10th year, 68-36, .654; Adolph Shepardson of Deubrook Area, 2nd year/6th overall, 15-3, .833/36-65, .356.
Season Results: Deubrook Area has defeated Colman-Egan, 55-26; Estelline, 68-28; Elkton/Lake Benton, 21-0; Castlewood, 34-12; Dell Rapids St. Mary, 64-30; Oldham/Ramona/Rutland, 50-0; and DeSmet/Iroquois, 59-8. Arlington has defeated Estelline, 46-6; Oldham/Ramona/Rutland, 53-16; Lake Preston, 52-8; Elkton-Lake Benton, 38-29; DeSmet/Iroquois, 42-0; Castlewood, 36-8; and Dell Rapids St. Mary, 58-6.
Series Records: Deubrook Area defeated Arlington a year ago, 55-18. Overall, Arlington has won eight of the last 10 meetings in the series.
Bottomline: This is a prime-time matchup of a pair of outstanding 9-man teams. Deubrook Area has been ranked all season and Arlington moved its way into the KSFY-KWSN rankings this week. Look for both teams to try and establish the run. Both coaches will be persistent with the ground attack, which has proven to be their bread and butter this season. Knutson, Kruse and Hanson, along with Trooien, are a group of weapons that will be hard to harness. Weber and Warnke are also talented and will make plays. This game may hinge on a defensive stop or a special teams spark (hint - Hanson).
Who Wins? We believe that Deubrook Area remains unbeaten with a hard-fought 34-28 win over Arlington.
11AA #1 Washington (8-0) vs. 11AA #3 Roosevelt (7-1), Thursday, 8 p.m., Howard Wood Field
Washington Notes: Washington, which owns a 377-to-52 overall point differential against opponents, remained at the top of the AA rankings with an eighth straight win, a 62-3 verdict over Rapid City Stevens. The Warriors, which have clinched a first round bye in the playoffs for the second straight year, have been dominating as a 47.1 to 6.5 points per game differential attests. This team is well-balanced offensively with 1,790 yards on the ground (223.8 per game) and 1,470 yards passing (183.8 per game). Washington head coach Brian Hermanson credits his team's run of success this season to senior leadership and the development of the team across the board. "We have been able to stay away from the injury bug and also have been able to develop some depth at needed positions," he said. Clearly the Warriors want to finish the season unbeaten and find a way to get back to the state title game. Washington, which has two playoff titles and 35 mythical crowns, are looking forward to the playoffs and eyeing a return to an unprecedented sixth straight appearance at the AA championship game. Washington's attack is led by senior quarterback Jon Hander, who is 69-of-122 for 1,357 yards and 17 TDs with just three interceptions on the season. In his career, Hander, who has signed to play baseball at Kansas, is 182-of-310 for 3,028 yards and 31 TDs. While he has a number of weapons to utilize, Hander looks to Nebraska recruit Nate Gerry in big moments. Gerry has delivered. He has 19 receptions for 524 yards and a combined 14 TDs (10 receiving, one by rush, two on defensive TD returns and a 90-yard kickoff return). Several times this year, Gerry has turned a game with a play on offense, defense or special teams. In his career, he has accumulated 1,407 receiving yards in his career on 69 receptions. He has 458 rushing yards and 29 total TDs. The running attack is led by senior running back Sam Cooke with 108 carries for 669 yards and nine TDs. Senior Danny Marlette has 41 carries for 287 yards and four TDs. Washington, which averages 407.5 yards in total offense per game and 7.0 yards per play, has been dominating in the first half of games. They have a 138-0 advantage in the first quarter and 243-to-20 edge in the first half. Another part of the Warriors' success factor has been holding opponents on third down. Opponents have converted just 11-of-101 third down conversion for a measly 10.9 percent. On the other side of the ball, the Warriors have made good on 35-of-84 third down conversions, a rate of 42 percent. Defensively, senior linebacker Danny Marlette leads with 56 tackles, 11 TFLs, sack, fumble recovery and two forced fumbles. Gerry has 43 stops, 8.5 TFLs, two interceptions (both TD returns) and two forced fumbles. Sam Johnson has a team high 14 TFLs along with 14 tackles, four sacks, an interception and three fumble recoveries. Austin Benson has added 37 tackles, eight TFLs and a sack. Washington, which defeated Roosevelt in the regular season finale a year ago (34-29) but lost a title game encounter (31-17), will have a battle on Thursday, says Hermanson. "It another city opponent that has a quality football program and team. It (this game) should be a great indicator of where we are at as a team heading into the playoffs," he said. "The keys to the game will be controlling the line of scrimmage and not giving up big plays. I believe that special teams and winning the turn-over battle will have a big part in the outcome of the game. We have to be aware of Roosevelt's speed and big play capability."
Roosevelt Notes: Sparked by sophomore quarterback Taryn Christion, Roosevelt defeated Rapid City Central, 34-0, to move their record to 7-1. Roosevelt, the defending 11AA champion, was hit hard by graduation at the season's start but has made significant progress across the board, including with its young and talented sophomore quarterback - Christion. "The key factors to our success has been defensive improvement, quarterback improvement and the fact that our back up players have stepped up and done well for us," said Roosevelt head coach Kim Nelson. Roosevelt's only loss this season was a 36-35 decision to #4 Lincoln on a mishandled extra point. Roosevelt, which has a 312-to-92 overall points differential with opponents, has scored 33 points or more in seven games. This season, the Rough Riders have had a solid pass-rush mix with 292 carries for 1,683 yards rushing (210.3 per game) and 1,310 yards passing (163.7 per game) for a total of 2,993 total yards (374.1 per game). The Rough Riders' defense has two shutouts and five games when they have held an opponent to no more than eight points. John Wessel leads the defense with 60 tackles, sack, interception and fumble recovery while Trevor Janisch has 58 stops and a fumble recovery while Kirby Hora has 55 tackles and three fumble recoveries and Kory Lundquist has 22 tackles, seven sacks and an interception return for a TD. As for Christion, he has had a solid year as noted by Nelson. He has 69 completions in 103 attempts for 1,133 yards and 10 TDs. He also has 99 carries for 482 yards and eight TDs and provides a dual threat capability for which Washington will have to account. The Rough Riders ground attack is led by Seth Bjordal with 101 carries for 605 yards and five TDs. Mikal Smith has 37 carries for 313 yards and seven TDs, despite missing several games. Tanner Hennings leads the wide receiving corps with 11 catches for 353 yards and five TDs. Roosevelt also has the dynamic Lucas Wilbur back from injury. "We have not been 100 percent healthy since opening day and still have a few key player either our or nursing injuries," said Nelson. Still it is a team that has thrived in big games. Nelson says his team looks forward to the matchup with Washington. "It is good for both teams to have a big game to look forward to before playoffs. It will be like a playoff atmosphere at the stadium and we embrace that opportunity. What we have to do is minimize turnovers and mental mistakes. At this time of year, we should be at, or near our best. If we play our best, we have a shot," he said. With a 175-to-27 overall points edge in the past four weeks, it appears Roosevelt is clicking. "Washington has the best defense we will face all season. Plus, they have speed and skill in every position. Their offense is balanced and led by an excellent quarterback (Hander)," said Nelson.
Inside Slant: Establishing the running game will be key for both teams, which one will get the edge? Will Roosevelt be able to crack a Washington defense that has shined all year? Washington has had a few problems with turnovers, can they play a mistake-free game? Will Hander and Gerry make a big play? On the other side, will Christion and his talented offensive mates find a way to big plays?
Coaches Records: Kim Nelson of Roosevelt, 4th year/33rd overall, 35-8, .814/225-120. 652; Brian Hermanson of Washington, 78-16, .830
Season Results: Washington has wins over Rapid City Central, 49-7; SF Lincoln, 32-7; O'Gorman, 24-0; Sturgis, 73-0; Watertown, 58-7; Pierre T.F. Riggs, 27-20; Yankton, 52-8; and Rapid City Stevens, 62-3. Roosevelt has wins over Aberdeen Central, 49-8; O'Gorman, 19-7; Watertown, 34-14; Rapid City Stevens, 45-0; Yankton, 35-21; Sturgis, 62-6; and Rapid City Central, 33-0; and a loss to Lincoln, 36-35, in OT.
Series Records: Since 2004, Roosevelt and Washington have played 10 times, including twice a year ago when they split games. Washington won, 34-29 in the regular season, and Roosevelt took a 31-17 decision in the AA championship. In those 10 games, Roosevelt has won six of 10. Before Roosevelt's win in the title game, Washington had won four straight, 34-29, 21-3, 32-10 and 10-0. From 2004-07, Roosevelt claimed wins by 28-0 (2004); 26-21 (2005), 48-7 (2006), 24-17 and 28-24 (2007).
Bottomline: This is the top matchup of the AA season to this point. Washington has had just one test this year and that was a six-turnover affair in a win over Pierre. The Warriors trailed 13-0 at one point in that game before rallying to a win. Otherwise, Washington has dominated teams in a big way. Roosevelt has also had a big year and are focused on a return to the AA title game. The keys to the game will be for Washington to hang onto the football, establish Cooke in the run game and look to Hander to make big plays with Gerry or a slew of talented receivers. Roosevelt needs a big game from its defense, led by John Wessel, along with Christion's best game to date. The Rough Riders also need to establish Smith and Bjordal in the run game.
Who Wins: Washington has been the best team in AA all season. They will be challenged but we like the Warriors to take control in the fourth quarter in a 24-16 win.
11AA #5 O'Gorman (5-3) at 11AA #4 Lincoln (6-2), 5 p.m., Thursday, Howard Wood Field
O'Gorman Notes: The Knights, which were hurt early by a series of injuries, are getting healthy and won its fifth straight game by defeating a stubborn Aberdeen Central squad, 11-0. The Knights recorded its second straight shutout and now have four on the season. The season started tough for O'Gorman, which lost to the three top AA teams, falling to #2 Brandon Valley, 18-15, at McEaneaney Field, and then losing to #3 Roosevelt, 19-7, and top-ranked Washington, 24-0, at Howard Wood Field. As they return to Howard Wood Field, they are hot and led by a shutdown defense, which has not allowed more than 24 points to any team this season (Washington, 24-0) and own a 188-to-80 overall scoring advantage against its opponents. The Knights' defense is led by linebacker Ryan Erickson, who leads O'G with 55 tackles. Isaac Althoff has 44 stops, 4.5 sacks and a fumble recovery while Jake Niedringhaus has 49 tackles and two fumble recoveries. Alex Williams has 27 tackles and four interceptions and a fumble recovery. Austin Pharis has 16 tackles, 2.5 sacks and both a fumble recovery and interception return. Offensively, head coach Steve Keuter's team is run-focused as is the O'Gorman tradition. On the season, the Knights have produced 1,814 yards on the ground on 374 carries with 18 TDs. That attack is led by Nic Steffl with 148 carries for 678 yards and three TDs. He is also approaching 1,000 yards (195-977-6 TDs) for his career Eion Donelan has rushed for 353 yards on 48 carries with six TDs. At quarterback Blake Hilmoe has completed 11-of-25 passes for 195 yards and five TDs. As the Knights look to face Lincoln, they may have the electric junior Tanner Schulte back, which will provide another dimension on offense. Keuter, who has 264 career wins, knows that the Knights have a tough foe ahead. A year ago, Lincoln rallied past O'Gorman for a 29-28 decision to end a long losing streak to the Knights. This game again has a lot riding on it, including a possibly first-round bye. "This game may determine a first round bye for the winner," he said. "The biggest key for us is on defense. Both teams play good defense which will be important on Thursday. I believe our biggest challenge is their defense," he said.
Lincoln Notes: Lincoln moved to 6-2 after defeating Brookings, 40-21, at Howard Wood Field last weekend. The Patriots, which has only lost to the top-two ranked teams in AA, Washington, 32-7, and Brandon Valley, 31-13, owns a 292-to-131 overall scoring advantage and a 151-to-21 margin in three straight wins. Head coach Aaron Beavers credits the success to hard work. "I feel it has been the younger guys stepping up to replace injured players. I also feel our team is a hard working team that fights to the end of each game -- some things you just can't teach," said Beavers, noting that several players have gone down to injuries, although some have returned. A young team at the season's start, Lincoln has made significant progress, including fielding a solid defensive unit and an offense led by Quintanilla, who has 130 carries for 946 yards and 18 total TDs (16 by rush). He is one of South Dakota's most electric performers. Quintanillia has six games of over 100 yards rushing including four in a row. His 100-yard game totals include 130, 174, 135, 116, 104, and 180. At quarterback, Beavers has been impressed by Connor Burchill's continued growth. This season, he has completed 72-of-152 passes for 965 yards and 13 TDs with nine interceptions. Burchill's main targets have been Dylan Bartow with 23 catches for 286 yards and five TDs, despite missing time to injury. Same is the case for Trevor Naasz, who has missed some time but has 13 receptions for 306 yards and five TDs while also starring on defense. Keshaun Britt has stepped in with 12 catches for 171 yards and two TDs. Perhaps the most interesting development about the 2012 Patriots has been its defense. They have two shut outs and held five teams to 13 points or less. Overall, the defense has 19 sacks, six interceptions and 11 fumble recoveries. Leading the way has been Luke Meyers with 53 tackles while Matt Wagner has 34 stops and 2.5 sacks. Taylor Salava has 37 tackles while Naasz has 32 tackles. Zach Long has been solid upfront with five sacks. As the regular season draws to a close, Beavers finds it fitting that they face O'Gorman for a crucial game. "This (game) gives us a very good opponent entering the playoffs. The stakes are high (home field playoff, 1st round bye) but whatever happens, happens. We will be ready to enter the playoffs," he said. Beavers understands the key to winning is limiting turnovers and not making costly penalties. "If you give up the ball we never get it back (from O'Gorman). They do a great job sustaining drives. They also have key players coming back for this game and feature a great defense. Weather sounds like it will be windy and wet----not key conditions for us but we will adjust."
Inside Slant: Will Quintanillia find an opening for a big play against O'Gorman? Will Lincoln make a big play with its pass game against a very talented O'Gorman defense? Can O'Gorman control the ball against a stout Lincoln defense?
Coaches: Aaron Beavers of Lincoln, 9th year, 58-46, .558 at SFL/104-54, .658; Steve Keuter, O'Gorman, 34th year/35 overall, 264-74-1, .781.
Season Results: O'Gorman lost to Brandon Valley, 18-15; Roosevelt, 19-7; and Washington, 24-0; and then defeated Rapid City Stevens, 42-0; Sturgis Brown, 50-0; Brookings, 35-19; Rapid City Central, 28-0; and Aberdeen Central, 11-0. Lincoln has defeated Rapid City Stevens, 50-6; Roosevelt, 36-35; Rapid City Central, 35-7; Sturgis Brown, 55-0; Mitchell, 56-0; and Brookings, 40-21. The Patriots' losses are to Washington, 32-7, and Brandon Valley, 31-13.
Series Records: A year ago, Lincoln rallied to take a 29-28 decision as Alex Schultz threw for 285 yards and a pair of TDs. He hit Trey Naasz for a TD in the final seconds and again on a two-point conversion for the win. That win by Lincoln broke a long-losing string to O'Gorman that dated at least 27 games back to the 1980s..
Bottomline: The keys to this game for Lincoln is their ability to move the ball and score against a strong O'Gorman defense while slowing down the Knights' rushing attack. The Patriots need Burchill to shine and not force a ball into coverage. If they can get Quintanillia into open space, he will make a big play. O'Gorman is focused on pounding the ball straight ahead, featuring Steffl and Erickson. If they get back Tanner Schulte, he obviously adds another dimension. This will be a battle to the end, just like a year ago.
Who Wins: We like Lincoln to win its second straight in a 24-19 verdict.
11AA Yankton (6-2) at 11AA #2 Brandon Valley (8-0), Brandon, 7 p.m.
Brandon Valley Notes: Brandon Valley extended its winning streak to eight games with a 42-27 win over Pierre last Friday. With an ESD title game looming with Yankton, Brandon Valley will try and continue its unbeaten run by featuring a spread offense that has been explosive and dynamic under the leadership of quarterback Chase Marso, Late week, Marso was 29-of-38 for 420 yards with five TDs, including three to Iowa recruit Matthew VandeBerg, who had 12 catches for 192 yards and TD catches of seven, 46 and five yards. It was another example of the BV offense rising to the occasion. They have built a 335-to-85 scoring advantage with an offense that has produced 269.1 yards passing and 87.8 yards rushing per game. BV has 2,855 yards in total offense on 407 plays which breaks out to 7.0 yards per play. Garrow is pleased with play on both sides of the ball. The defense has forced 13 turnovers, gathered 13 sacks and intercepted 15 passes while recording six defensive scores. "We have great senior leadership and an experienced team," said Garrow, whose team has big goals including advancing to the AA title game at he DakotaDome and a bid for a seventh overall title. They last won an 11AA title in 1998 with a 28-21 win over Brookings. Marso has had a standout senior season for the Lynx, He is now 142-of-210 for 1,964 yards and 20 TDs on the season. All those numbers rank in the top 20 for a season all-time. His all-time numbers have jumped to 332-of-604 for 4,542 yards and 51 TDs. Again, Marso's place in history is set with those numbers, which are all in the top 10 all-time. This is a team that is pass-focused but utilizes the run effectively. BV's Tony Tripp has 84 rushes for 488 yards and 11 TDs and 18 catches for 214 yards and three TDs. Marso's primary target is VandeBerg, who has 50 receptions for 772 yards and 13 TDs. Overall, he has 17 TDs this season. He now has 121 receptions (top 10) for 1,852 yards (top 10 all-time) and 30 TDs (second all-time) in his career. Another key weapon for Marso has been A.J. Garrow, who has 42 catches for 524 yards and two TDs. Tight end Nate Winter has 19 catches for 320 yards and three TDs. BV has four receivers with at least 18 receptions and 200 yards or more receiving. On defense, the Lynx have 20 interceptions, including five TD returns, along with two fumble recoveries and one TD return and 15 sacks. While the team is missing a starting linebacker due to injury (returning in the playoffs), the Lynx have stayed relatively injury-free. Garrow looks forward to the opportunity to play for a conference (ESD) title with playoff implications on the line. "I think it's a great opportunity to play a quality opponent at the end of the year with something big on the line. It should be a great game atmosphere this late in the season," he said. "As always field position and turnovers are huge in determining the success of either team. I think it is important that we get a fast start to put them in a position where they are throwing the ball to catch up. Front lines are both pretty big so the outcome will be determined by who dominates the line of scrimmage," said Garrow.
Yankton Notes: The Bucks rolled to a 40-0 win over Mitchell and now face Brandon Valley for the ESD crown on Thursday. Yankton, which has won six-of-eight games this season, owns a 231-to-129 scoring advantage. The Bucks have only lost to #3 Sioux Falls Roosevelt (35-21 at Howard Wood Field) and at home to #1 Washington, 52-8. With the ESD title and a first-round bye riding on the outcome, Likness knows his team has a great opportunity. "It is great to be playing for the ESD title on the last game of the regular season," he said. "Turnovers and putting together long scoring drives, resulting in points will be key for us," he said. "Brandon Valley has a lot of skill people that can put points on the board in a short time. We need to contain or slow them down," he said. On a night that the wind may be howling a bit on the plains, running can be pivotal. This season the Bucks have built a 231-to-129 point differential with opponents on the backs of a rushing attack that has produced 1,897 yards on 312 carries for 240.4 yards per game and 6.2 yards per carry. Levi Davis has been the workhorse back with 82 carries for 607 yards and five TDs. Evan Schroeder, who has been limited to a handful of games due to injuries, now has 42 carries for 351 yards and three TDs. James Hisek has added 39 carries for 285 yards and two TDs. Jordan Lightner has bulldozed his way to 251 yards and six TDs. The attack is directed by senior quarterback Michael Rucker, who has six rushing TDs. Rucker can also moved the ball through the air. He has completed 62-of-104 passes for 784 yards and five TDs. His main target has been J.J. Hejna who has 18 catches for 317 yards and two TDs. Hejna and the Yankton defense has been solid, coming up with 13 sacks, five fumble recoveries and 15 picks. Hejna has five of the interceptions, including a 55-yard pick six. Clearly Yankton has to make this their best game of the year. This season they have started fast with a 78-to-27 first quarter scoring edge and a 76-to-advantage in the second quarter. That equals a 154-to-74 first-half advantage. They have also controlled the third quarter to a 44-to-13 margin. However, the Bucks have faltered in the fourth quarter, being outscored 42-to-33. Obviously that needs to change on Thursday. Still, this should be a great game between two ESD rivals. Likness knows the team has to step it up this week. "They (BV) have no weaknesses and a lot of great skill players. We need to get to Marso and keep their receivers in check, which will be a challenge."
Inside Slant: Can Yankton slow down the explosive Lynx attack? Will Yankton be able to control the ball and the clock with time-consuming drives? Will Marso-VandeBerg continue to find a way to make big plays? What role does Tony Tripp play as he is effective running and serving as a check off in the pass game? What factor will the weather play on Thursday?
Coaches: Chad Garrow of Brandon Valley, 63-23, .733; Arlin Likness of Yankton,14th year/28th overall, 110-45, .710/228-77, .748.
Season Results: 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; Aberdeen Central, 49-0; and Pierre T.F. Riggs, 42-27. Yankton has wins over Pierre T.F. Riggs, 27-21; Huron, 30-7; Watertown, 44-0; Aberdeen Central, 42-14; Brookings, 19-7; and last week 40-0 over Mitchell. The Bucks lost to Roosevelt, 35-21; and Washington, 52-8.
Series Records: Since 2004, Yankton has defeated Brandon Valley just twice as the Lynx have won seven of nine meetings. During that time, Yankton's only regular season win over Brandon Valley occurred in 2005, a 21-0 shutout. After losing 13-6 to BV during the 2010 regular season, the Bucks took a 12-9 decision in the playoffs. In 2009, BV won 42-7 and also own wins in 2008 (33-14), 2007 (14-9), 2006 (23-13), and 2004 (32-7). A year ago, Brandon Valley took a 49-7 win in the season finale.
Bottomline: Clearly, Yankton's keys lay with its rushing attack. Davis, Schroeder, Hisek and Lightner need to be effective running the ball. In that vein, the Yankton's offensive line need to step up and avoid penalties while creating some holes upfront. The Bucks need to make some big plays. Rucker may need to connect with Hejna on a few throws down the field. As for BV, they will be hindered a bit by the wind but the Lynx's spread attack has had success in windy conditions previously this year. BV's keys will be to move the ball, pound score early and try to find a way to get VandeBerg and his talented offensive mates. Players like Garrow, Tripp and Winter have made plays all season. Expect that to continue.
Who Wins? We like Brandon Valley to take a 34-16 verdict at home over the Bucks. .
11A #3 Akron-Westfield at 11A #6 West Lyon, 7 p.m., Friday
Akron-Westfield Notes: Akron-Westfield has rolled to eight straight wins with an offense that has been explosive, averaging 38.5 points per game. The Westerners have score at least 27 points in every game and won a number of shootouts, including a 38-35 win over Woodbury Central and a 41-35 decision over Hinton. Head Coach Eric Walkingstick knows he has a resilient and talented squad. "We have had a belief not to quit. We have fought through adversity and continue to play as a team," he said. "We have a great group of seniors and they have put in the work to be a good quality football team," said Walkingstick. This season, Akron-Westfield has moved up the rankings as quarterback Cory Eskra has been stellar. He has completed 80-of-139 passes for 1,070 yards and 11 TDs with just eight interceptions. Eskra's main target is Chance Hoffman, who has 37 catches for 683 yards and seven TDs. Akron-Westfield features one of Iowa's most talented running backs in James Taylor, who has rushed for 1,341 yards on 184 carries and has scored 20 TDs. He is averaging 7.3 yards per carry in leading a rushing attack that has accounted for 2,099 yards on 353 carries or a 5.9 average. As such they will try to establish the run but with also feature the threat of the pass. This team can make it happen both ways. In total offense, the Westerners have compiled 3,235 total yards. Looking ahead, Walkingstick knows the game with West Lyon will be tough. While they haven't met since 2007, he and his team is looking forward to the matchup. "It is always fun when two teams at the end of a season play of the (district) championship. We are excited to have the opportunity to be in this position. We can't wait," said Walkingstick, noting that both teams will be vying for favorable playoff seeding. He has great respect for West Lyon. "The team that makes the fewest mistakes will probably be successful. They are great at what they do. They are very sound and don't get into bad situations very often," he said.
West Lyon Notes: West Lyon, which was ranked #1 earlier this season and has three state championships, sits sixth in the most recent Iowa rankings but has received a first-place vote. This is a team led by junior quarterback Brandon Snyder, who has completed 17-of-31 passes for 287 yards with five TDs and just two interceptions. He is a dual threat with 52 carries for 525 yards and nine TDs. His 10.1 rushing average sits well with a team that has 381 rushes overall for 2,710 yards. West Lyon, directed by one of the most successful coaches in Iowa in Jay Rozeboom (201 victories), has built up 3,000 total yards in offense with its run-based attack. The Lions have scored 312 points with its only blip a 28-12 setback to Hinton. Joining Snyder in the backfield is a talented group including Kaleb Heyer, who has 76 carries for 619 yards and 11 TDs. Tyler Van Middendorp has 61 carries for 432 yards and five TDs. Kyle Groeneweg has 36 carries for 265 yards and a TD while Bennett Feuchtenberger had 154 yards and three TDs on the ground. On defense, the Wildcats have forced 12 interceptions and recovered 11 fumbles. They have a pair of defensive TDs. Alex Groeneweg is among the defensive leaders with 50 tackles and two tackles for loss. Snyder has 31 tackles and five interceptions while Van Middendorp has 33 tackles and a sack. Kyle Groeneweg has 26 tackles.
Inside Slant: Both teams will look to run the football, which begs the question can either team stop the other? West Lyon has a deep and talented backfield - does that prove the difference? Can the Westerners' Cory Eskra find time to throw the ball and keep turnovers to a minimum? Plus, does West Lyon have an answer for Taylor of Akron-Westfield? What sort of factor will the wind and conditions have on the game?
Coaches: Jay Rozeboom of West Lyon, 20th season, 201-37, .844. Eric Walkingstick of Akron-Westfield.
Season Results: Akron-Westfield defeated Unity Christian, 27-12; LeMars Gehlen Catholic, 29-9; Woodbury Central, 38-35; Hinton, 41-35; West Sioux, 45-12; Sibley-Ocheyedan, 54-18; Aurelia-Alta, 34-18; and Lawson-Bronson, 41-32. West Lyon has wins over Central Lyon/George-Little Rock, 14-7; Sioux Center, 47-18; Hinton, 28-12; West Sioux, 48-0; Sibley-Ocheyedan, 49-0; Alta-Aurelia, 42-7; Lawton-Bronson, 57-3; and Woodbury Central, 43-8.
Series Records: West Lyon owns a 2-0 series advantage with its last win, a 41-21 decision in 2007.
Bottomline: The keys for a West Lyon victory will be determined by its ability to establish the run and limit turnovers. If Snyder is able to keep churning first downs and controlling the clock, West Lyon will have success. This is a team with a deep and talented backfield. Snyder can also make plays through the air but the bread and butter for the Lions is running and stopping the run. For Akron-Westfield, they will try to get Taylor going early and often. Like West Lyon, they are explosive. The one difference is that the Westerners have a dangerous passing attack. How that plays out in windy and potentially wet conditions remains to be seen. This game will go down to the fourth quarter. Look for a defensive stop or game-changing special teams play to make a difference.
Who Wins: In a close one, we like West Lyon to prevail at home with a 21-16 verdict over Akron-Westfield.