As the prep football stage hits passes the midpoint of the regular season, week five is full of outstanding matchups, including a #1 vs. #2 battle on Friday in Madison. Our Focus on Five this week will include that prime-time 11A matchup with #1 West Central (3-0) traveling to face #2 Madison (4-0) in a showdown. West Central has won 10 straight games against Madison. It begs the question: can Madison knock off another 11A power after rolling past three-time defending champion Dell Rapids, 39-12 in week two?
Also featured in the Focus on Five, will be a rematch of the 11AA title game from a year ago. This year, both #3 Brandon Valley (3-1) and #5 SF Washington (2-2) are members of 11AAA. Will Washington be able to defend its turf and win a homecoming battle? Another big game features #4 Parkston hosting #2 Winner, which has a 15-game winning streak. The two teams mirror each other in turns of scheme. Both like to control the ground game and stop the run. In 9AA, #2 Garretson (3-0), which is making a splash in 9-man ranks after a move down from 11B, will battle up-and-coming and undefeated Alcester-Hudson (4-0). Another contest that bears watching is the contest between unbeaten 9AA Menno-Marion (4-0) and 9A #1 Howard (3-0), which is at home against the upstart Razorbacks.
How'd We Do? Well, I was 2-3 (9-11 on the season) last week, which still isn't good enough. But what do you do? Flip a coin? Maybe, next week. As a result, my overall record dropped to 219-53 (.805) in regular season and playoff contests. This week, I pick West Central, Brandon Valley, Howard, Garretson and Parkston.
Just a reminder. When the games end Friday night, don't forget to tune into KSFY-TV with Sports Director Erik Thorstenson and Matt Peterson for Friday Night Lights. I will join Thor and Matt at the close of the show for some quick analysis on games.
Here is a breakdown of five top area games in our "Focus on Five" preview.
11A #1 West Central (3-0) @ 11A #3 Madison (4-0), Friday, Sept. 27
West Central Notes: Over the years, West Central has been in a number of big games. For, the most part, the Hartford-based Trojans have been successful in those games. With 13 championship appearances and a South Dakota-best 11 titles in 11A, they rank as one of the most successful prep programs in playoff history. Now as they prepare for a matchup with the second ranked Madison Bulldogs, the Trojans will face their biggest test of the season. West Central has defeated three opponents by a margin of 153-to-12. They opened with a 49-6 win over Dakota Valley and followed up with a 53-0 win over Vermillion and a 51-6 verdict over Lennox. West Central features extraordinary team speed and physicality, not only in the backfield but in their offensive and defensive front. Plus, they have a heady senior QB (Noah Matson), who is efficient and rarely makes a mistake. "Offensively we've been very balanced, both in the players who have run the ball and our run/pass plays," said head coach Kent Mueller. Leading the West Central offense is senior QB Noah Matson (18-27-224-5 TDs; 5-36 yards rushing). A fast and talented backfield also includes Cody Miller (30-235-2 TDs), Cody Bussell (26-204-3 TDs) and Cole Tirrel (16-131-5 TDs). The reserves are also talented, including Cole Becker (6-42-2 TDs), Alex Voight (2-58; 4 rec., 80 yards, TD) and Seth Titus (15-70-TD). Along with Voight, Tirrel also excels in the pass game (2-29-TD) as does Miller (2-52-TD) and Jace Hanisch (4-63-TD). Mueller noted that opponents have game-planned for the Trojan's rushing attack in 2013, which has allowed the passing game to find success. On defense, Tirrel and company have played fast and stingy. "We've been successful at forcing ‘3 and outs' and proven stingy when teams have gotten down in the Red Zone. We also have 12 takeaways in three games with seven interceptions and five fumble recoveries," said Mueller, noting that Tirrel has a team-best four picks. In addition, special teams have come through for the Trojans, including two punt returns for scores in the Lennox win. While West Central has controlled the series, winning the last 10 games against Madison, Mueller knows this will be a tough game on the road. "To be successful against Madison we have to limit big-plays defensively and control the game offensively. We need to be who we are and do what we do. Madison is a physically big, strong senior-led team. Limiting their big-plays and time with the ball would be very helpful in slowing them down," said Mueller. At West Central, they go by the motto, "Team Above Self," which gives the Trojans trust and confidence in each other. "We expect whoever is on the field to contribute and we view those efforts as equally important to our success," he said.
Madison Notes: Madison is off to its best start in a long while, posting a 4-0 mark and earned a #2 ranking. The Bulldogs have started fast after putting together a 5-4 season a year ago, which was their first winning season since going 7-3 in 2006. The Bulldogs opened with a 36-0 win over Pipestone (MN) and have three wins over SD teams, including an impressive 39-12 win over three-time defending champion Dell Rapids on the road. In week three, they handled Dakota Valley, 34-12, and also recorded a 53-0 win over Sisseton in their most recent action. This is a team that has been able to rush, pass and completely shut down opponents, as two shutouts in four games and only 24 total points allowed attests. Head Coach Max Hodgen noted the fast start by his team. "We have started well in all of our games this season, which has allowed us to capture the momentum early. Offensively we have a good balance between pass and run, and game-plan to take what the defense gives us," he said. Leading the offense is senior quarterback Jacob Giles (41-68-661-3 TDs) while senior Rush Milne (61-460-11 TDs) has provided speed and power running. Junior Mason Hemmer (25-143-2 TDs) and Brody Frederickson (17-104-2 TDs) have also contributed to the running attack. Senior Preston Nordling (13 rec., 327 yards, 2 TDs) has made big plays in the passing game as well as on special teams and defense. Carter Kasuske (12 rec., 149 yards, TD) has provided another receiving option for Giles. On defense, Madison is more athletic than past teams, says Hodgen, counts on Tyler Currey (38T, 2.5 TFLs), Bradyn Steffen (24T, 5.5 TFLs, sack) and Jordan Unterbrunner (23T, 4.5 TFLs). "We have good speed on the perimeter and size upfront," said Hodgen. "We need to be disciplined on defense; they (West Central) beat you with speed and misdirection. Each player needs to do his job and trust their teammates," he said.
Inside Slant: Both teams are fast, talented and physical. Who wins the war upfront? Can the trio of Miller, Tirrel and Bussell continue to run in space? Will Milne continue to pound away successfully at what has been a stingy Trojan defense? Will a special teams' play swing the door one way or the other?
Series Records: West Central has an 11-2 series edge over Madison since 2001. The Trojans have won 10 straight over the Bulldogs since a 22-16 loss in 2003. That season West Central rallied and ran the table en route to a state title. A year ago, the Trojans won twice, 35-7 in the regular season and 41-14 in the playoffs. The game which has regularly occurred in week four include wins by West Central in 2011, 40-7; 2010, 34-0; 2009, 46-0; 2008, 49-7; 2007, 57-7; 2006, 28-19; 2005, 63-21; and 2004, 27-7.
Bottom-line: This is the best match-up to date in 11A. Both teams are senior-led and have talent up and down the line-up. Can Madison end a 10-game losing streak against West Central? It should go down to the wire. Look for Miller, Tirrel and Bussell to power the West Central rushing attack and Matson to find some success in the pace game. Giles, Milne and Nordling provide a dangerous trio and will make plays in this marquee matchup. Madison will try to get off to a fast start, which is always important for home teams. West Central will look to stave off an early Bulldog rush and showcase their versatility and big-play ability.
Who Wins? West Central is #1 and we stick with them, 27-21.
11AAA #3 Brandon Valley (3-1) @ 11AAA #5 SF Washington (2-2) HWF, Friday, Sept. 27
Brandon Notes: A year ago, Brandon Valley took an unbeaten record into the state 11AA title game and lost a tough contest to champion SF Washington, 35-20. Now, these two teams strap it up again in a regular season battle. After graduation hit both teams hard, the two squads are working on improving week-by-week. For the young Lynx squad, the season started a little rough in a 30-0 loss to then #1 Roosevelt (now ranked second). Since then head coach Chad Garrow's troops have taken a step forward, stringing together three straight wins and a 3-1 record. While, they have had ball security issues and suffered inconsistent play on offense, they have shown flashes of excellence in their wins over Huron, 46-13; Yankton, 42-25; and Brookings, 16-7. "For us, the biggest thing is showing progress week-by-week," said Garrow. "I think we are doing that. Now, last week we slipped a little with some real ball security issues. When we were down 7-0 at halftime, I told them this game is won one play at a time - that, they need to go hard on every play, until it is over. I said, it is important to be the best you can be on that play and then do it again. It is something you have to continually reinforce, especially with a young group," added Garrow. One of those young players who have shown progress is QB Jake Comeaux, who is 62-of-104 for 767 yards and nine TDs with seven interceptions. Senior running back Cam Holmes in his first year as a starter has also made headway, totaling 231 yards on 57 carries and two TDs. The wide receiving corps, which gets senior A.J. Garrow (118 career receptions, 7th all-time) back this week after meniscus surgery, has been solid with three players putting up double figure catch totals, including Drew Reinschmidt (18-218-3 TDs), Alex Wilde (15-290-4 TDs) and Riley Franzen (11-101-TD). With Garrow's eight receptions in game one, they have a combined 52 catches. "It is good to have AJ back. He is a leader on the field for us. He knows so much and I think that will help Jake and the rest of the offense." So far this season, BV has built a 104-to-75 point differential over opponents with a 104-to-75 point edge over opponents. The key for Brandon's success has been a quick start in the first half, using a 64-to-29 points edge, including 22-to-2 in the 1st quarter. The defense has been solid, said Garrow, noting the play of Wyatt Winter (23T, int.), Andrew Sorenson (23T), Lucas Lunstra (20T), Alex Maasen (19T, 4TFLs, 3.5 sacks, FR) and Erik Ode (16T, 7 TFLs, 2.5 sacks). As Garrow game plans for the defending champions, he knows they are stacked on defense with a rush-based offense that is improving by the week. "Our biggest concern will be ball security. They play very good defense and have a dangerous special teams unit, especially on kickoff returns. Not many teams have been kicking the ball at them," said Garrow.
SF Washington Notes: Like their opponent this week, Sioux Falls Washington and first-year head coach Chad Stadem have been focused on the here and now and that means taking one-day at a time. "We have to earn success as it just doesn't come naturally," said Stadem, who team sits 2-2. "More importantly, I feel the guys have learned how to work through adversity by staying positive with one another and placing higher expectations on their preparation," he said. After a 19-17 win on opening weekend at Howard Wood Field, the Warriors dropped two straight games to city foes. They fell to #2 Roosevelt, 30-7, at the President's Bowl and then dropped a 28-10 decision to #4 SF O'Gorman at the Dakota Bowl. After being outscored, 58-17 over two weeks, Washington rebounded with a 36-0 win over Rapid City Stevens. For the Warriors, which have won 49-of-the-last-54 games, the slow start was a little frustrating. But it is a team that suffered heavy graduation losses on both sides of the ball. With homecoming week on the agenda, the Warriors are focused on playing mistake-free football and building off the momentum of the win over RC Stevens. "We have been really working on ball security and being physical upfront. The key will be to stop BV's big-play offense. We have to make sure to take advantage of opportunities when they are presented. They are a strong experienced defensive unit that is disciplined and fundamentally sound in what they do." So far what has worked for Washington is a ball control offense that is run-based. The Warriors have 137 carries for 611 yards rushing with seven TDs and 236 yards passing for 847 yards in total offense after four games. Leading the way is senior Luke Reiter, who has 61 carries for 343 yards and five TDs. Sophomore QB Jake Schelhaas has completed 27-of-63 passes for 232 yards but hasn't throw a TD pass. In his first season under center, Schelhaas also has 93 yards rushing on 38 carries. The top receiver has been junior Logan Raabe with nine catches for 48 yards while seniors Zac Lupica and Nate Weberg, both have five catches. The strength of the Warriors has been a stout defense, which is led by senior linebacker Dan Marlette, who In three games this season has 29T, 10.5 TFLs and 5.5 sacks. Marlette, who had a 25-yard interception TD return against Stevens, has 155 tackles, 30.5 TFLs, 9.5 sacks and four forced fumbles in his career. Also on defense, junior Matt Sturdevant has 23 tackles, TFLs, four sacks and a fumble recovery while Alex Koepke and Tanner Waddell both have 19 stops and Matt Schievelbein, 18. Overall, the disruptive and aggressive Washington defense has recorded 20.5 sacks, six interceptions, five fumble recoveries and seven forced fumbles. Special teams have been solid with the kickoff return squad averaging 31.07 yard per return and the punt return squad averaging 10.14 yards per return. Washington has a pair of special teams TDs. As the Warriors try to win for the fifth time in six games against BV and defend their HWF turf, they need to remain focused on team-first, says Stadem. "We encourage team above self. I tell the guys to be the best team mate they can be by doing their job very well and being there to support one another during stress. Everyone has a job to do so take pride in doing your jobs. We are starting to show signs of becoming a team. The guys are starting to develop trust of one another."
Coaches: Chad Garrow, Brandon Valley, 15th season, 69-25, .734; Chad Stadem, SF Washington, 11th season, 1st at SFW, 2-2; 73-32, .695.
Inside Slant: Can BV avoid the turnover bug which plagued them in the Brookings win? Will Luke Reiter of Washington find some room to run? Will the defenses dominate and turn this into a tight, low-scoring slugfest?
Series Records: Washington leads, 4-1, including a 2-0 mark in the playoffs. The Warriors picked up a 35-10 decision in the 2012 state title game. Prior to that, SF Washington won a 55-10 decision in 2009. They also had 31-14 and 33-6 wins in 2005 while BV's last win was a 17-14 verdict in 2004.
Bottom-line: This game should be a close, defensive-oriented game, which may play into the Warriors' hand given it is a homecoming game. At this point, BV has more skill position players. If the Lynx avoid the turnover bug, they may be able to move the ball through the air. But, the Lynx best beware – as Garrow is – Washington's defense can rush the QB and force mistakes. The view here is the Warriors need to create some turnover and take advantage of those opportunities in order to prevail.
Who Wins? Brandon Valley gets a late score and edges past SF Washington, 19-16.
11B #2 Winner @ 11B #4 Parkston (4-0), Friday, Sept. 27
Parkston Notes: With a win over previously #5 Wagner, 30-12, momentum is surely building for a Parkston team that went 7-3 a year ago. For a program that had a combined 6-27 from 2008-11, this turn-around in fortunes has the entire town thinking big things. A year ago, Parkston was 7-3, including a playoff win (21-14 over Wagner) and now have won 11-of-14 games with a 4-0 start the best in over a decade. Besides the impressive win over Wagner last week, when they had two defensive scores and controlled the line of scrimmage, they have defeated Groton, 21-0; Canton, 21-14; and Elk Point-Jefferson, 36-0. Overall, they have a 108-to-26 point differential, with two shutouts. "We are very balanced right now which helps keep defenses from keying on one player over another," said head coach Eric Norden. "In addition, our line is also a key since they are giving us the push we need." The Trojans have 169 carries for 878 yards and 13 rushing TDs in 2013. Junior Miler Semmler leads the way with 39 carries for 249 yards and seven TDs. Junior QB Wes Dvorak, who is 6-of-13 for 83 yards passing, has 24 carries for 183 yards and 3 TDs. However, Dvorak missed the last game and was replaced by Zach Scott, who had 19 TD passes a year ago. Scott could be under center again. Also adding strength to the rushing attack is senior Mitch Heisinger, who has 40 carries for 173 yards and a TD while junior Brady Reiff, whose brother Riley plays for the NFL Detroit Lions, has provided 22 carries for 96 yards and a TD. On Friday, Parkston faces a second straight team that will pose a major challenge. In their last two meetings, Parkston has been outscored 88-0 by #2 Winner, including a 39-0 loss a year ago. As Parkston supporters will attest, this is a different team and a new season. Norden knows the balance of the game will hinge on rush defense and rush offense. "We need to establish our running game and being able to stop the Warriors on the ground," said Norden. "It is all about getting ‘3 and outs.' They have a great ground game and we simply need to keep them off the field," he said.
Winner Notes: Winner, the defending 11B champions, may have suffered heavy graduation losses but they are confident team that knows how to win. With 12 championship game appearances and five titles in school history, the Warriors almost always get it done. Winner, led by 12th-year head coach Dan Aaker, have won 15 straight games, the longest winning streak in the state. In four of the past five years, the Warriors have put together 10-win seasons, including a 12-0 mark a year ago. With a 56-5 mark over that span, Winner is living up to its name. They have outscored opponents, 35.81 to 10.2 ppg. This year, Winner, which has eight seniors playing key roles, have opened with a 111-to-28 points per game margin with wins over Chamberlain, 48-6; Bon Homme, 15-9; and Valentine, Neb., 48-13. "We have leaned on our defense early and have progressed offensively," said Aaker, whose run-based offense has generated 954 yards in total offense, including 848 rushing yards and 13 TDs. "We have good leadership from our seniors and the guys, who are new to the starting lineup, have worked hard to get better every day," said Aaker. The main cog in the offense is senior running back Trace Meyer, who has 331 yards rushing on 36 carries with four TDs. Meyer has gone over 1K in career rushing this season, totaling 171 carries for 1,305 yards and 19 TDs. Junior Sam Naasz is also featured and has 25 carries for 212 yards and four TDs as well as two receptions for 91 yards and a TD. Under center is junior QB Nate Galbraith, who has 20 carries for 88 yards and two TDs and has completed 6-of-15 passes for 103 yards and a TD. As the Warriors look ahead to a matchup with #4 Parkston, Aaker faces a team that appears to be a mirror image of his own squad. Both teams like to run the ball and play aggressive D. Winner's defense is led by senior Kray Krolikowski, who has nine tackles and 2.5 sacks this season and 9.5 in his career. Meyer has 13 tackles while Riley Frazier has 11.5 tackles and Shayden Drey, 10.5 along with a sack. "We need to be very solid on the line of scrimmage, not turn the ball over, and swarm to the football defensively," said Aaker. "They definitely have the experience edge as they have numerous returning starters and other players who have been playing for a year or two. Stopping the power game will be a challenge as well as blocking their defensive front. Our offensive and defensive lines will be key."
Inside Slant: Which team controls the line of scrimmage? Will either defense or special teams unit have a game-turning play? Can Winner continue its winning streak which has reached 15 games? Will Parkston be able to defeat a team they have struggled against into the only two meetings?
Coaches: Eric Norden, Parkston, 6th year, 15-23, .395; Dan Aaker, Winner, 12th season, 97-29, .770.
Series Records: The two teams did not play prior to 2011, based on available information. In 2012, Winner took a 39-0 win and also was victorious in 2011 by a 44-0 score.
Bottom-line: This will be a hard-hitting, defensive-oriented game. Parkston is at home which will help. But more important for the Trojans will be its experience. They returned the bulk of their starters from a year ago while Winner has a number of players stepping into new roles. This will be a battle to the end.
Who Will Win? Go with Parkston, 16-12.
9A #1 Howard (3-0) at 9AA Menno-Marion (3-0), Friday, Sept. 27
Menno-Marion Notes: In the first year of a co-op, Menno-Marion has opened fast with three straight wins, including an eye-opening 34-28 OT verdict, on the road against three-time champion Canistota last week. In that game, Menno-Marion rallied from a 22-0 deficit to win. This season, the Razorbacks have a 133-to-42 point differential vs. opponents, using an explosive offense to create numerous scoring opportunities. Against Canistota, they had 347 yards in total offense with 312 rushing. In a 49-0 win over Irene-Wakonda, the Razorbacks had 631 yards in total offense, including 481 rushing. In a 50-14 win over Freeman, Menno-Marion had 441 yards in total offense with 388 on the ground. "We have rushed the ball effectively. Defense has had some success. We are playing through adversity and teamwork," said Todd Obele, who is a co-head coach with Jason Pasco. Leading the way for the Razorbacks has been the electric QB Nick Gortmaker, who has rushed for 222, 259 and 180 yards in the three games this season. Overall, he has 66 carries for 641 yards and seven TDs while completing 10-of-25 passes for 222 yards and three TDs. The Razorbacks also feature senior Chet Peterson, who has 58 carries for 395 yards and six TDs. He has scored two TDs in each game with rushing outputs of 168, 86, and 141. In addition, Gortmaker can utilize senior end Dylan Lehr, who has seven receptions for 193 yards and three TDs. "The dynamic duo of Chet (Peterson) and Nick (Gortmaker) gives us speed and football instincts in the backfield. They work very hard and have great attitude. Plus, they always give credit where it is due," said Obele. "That is what makes this team solid in that they help each other out and make everyone better," he said. With 9A #1 Howard next on the schedule, Menno-Marion has its biggest challenge of the season. As Obele sees it, controlling Howard's star back Luke Loudenberg and winning battles upfront will be the key for victory. "We need to try and contain Loudenberg, a extremely talented back that will not be shut down. Plus, I think we need to have solid special teams play and avoid turnovers. They are well coached and we just have to focus in keeping their explosive offense off the field." While this is an important game, this group of Razorbacks is still learning about each other and how to win. "Everyone has come together and bought into what we are doing. We have come together as a team nicely. We still have a long ways go to with solid competition on the way," said Obele.
Howard Notes: At Pat Ruml takes his team to Menno-Marion on Friday, his Howard Tigers squad is on a roll with nine wins in the last 10 games dating to last year. The only loss by the Tigers was a 25-22 heart-breaking setback in the 9AA title game to Deubrook. In 2013, the Tigers have been impressive in the 3-0 start with wins over Chester, 57-6; 9AA #5 Bridgewater-Emery/Ethan, 30-20; and Mount Vernon/Plankinton, 54-27. With a talented Menno-Marion team ahead on the schedule, Howard is just trying to build some momentum with a team hit hard by graduation a year ago. "We have played only three games but it sure feels like more. I think our attention to detail has helped clean up a lot of assignments from since game one. Our passing game has gotten a little better each week which helps open up the run. Obviously our running game has been outstanding with our ‘O' line opening some big holes for our RBs," said Ruml. Howard is led by junior running back Luke Loudenberg, who has 70 carries for 645 yards and 12 TDs. Since the beginning of the playoffs last year, Loudenberg has rushed for 1,545 yards with five 200-yard plus rushing games. He is coming off a week when he had 180 yards against MVP with six TDs, one of which was a 70-yard punt return. In his career, he now has 300 carries for 2,518 yards and 30 TDs. Also on offense, this Tigers team features first-year starter Gunner Gilbertson, who has hit on 12-of-19 passes for 157 yards and a TD. The backfield also includes Isaiah Glanzer, who has 15 carries for 245 yards and two TDs while Jordan Kuhle has 14 carries for 224 yards, including a game of 170 in the season opener. "Luke Loudenburg has been our offensive spark so far this season but we have had solid play from Jordan Kuhle, Gunner Gilbertson, Tanner and Thad Henkel and a host of others," said Ruml. "Gunner Gilbertson has done a nice job running our offense as well, but so far our interior offensive line has been our best asset. They are working together every game." Ahead for the top-ranked Tigers is a team that has features a play-making QB, a tough running back in Chet Peterson and a solid line, said Ruml. "We need to control Gortmaker, who is one if the best athletes in our conference. He can take over a game very quickly if you give him some openings. Peterson is hard runner as well with good speed. We just need to play our physical style of football in this game to be effective," said Ruml. "They probably have the biggest line in the conference; so we have to do a good job of moving them this week. They are definitely undefeated for a reason and showed real comeback ability last week against Canistota. I think this will be a big test for our team, and a huge conference game," he said.
Coaches: Pat Ruml, Howard, 7th year, 40-16, .714; Jason Pasco, 5-6, Todd Obele, 8-12, Menno-Marion, first year of co-op.
Inside Slant: Will Gortmaker continue to shine for Menno-Marion? Can Loudenberg continue his torrid rushing pace and find openings in the Menno-Marion defense? Who controls the line of scrimmage? Will this game turn into a shootout?
Series Records: The two teams have not met with Menno-Marion in a co-op for the first time.
Bottom-line: Both teams have started out fast and sit unbeaten as they meet this Friday. This is another test for Menno-Marion, which passed its first exam in a win over Canistota. Howard is physical and fast. Ditto on Menno-Marion. Look for Gortmaker and Peterson to make plays. So will Loudenberg, who at 5-5, just finds a way to find space. Still, Howard has been in a lot of big games and has the edge here, albeit on the road.
Who Wins? Look for Howard to take a 33-22 decision.
9AA #2 Garretson (3-0) at 9A Alcester-Hudson (4-0) Friday, Sept. 27
Garretson Notes: After 15 seasons playing 11B football, the Blue Dragons have returned to the 9-man ranks with a lot of success. Ranked #2, Garretson will face its biggest test with a road battle at unbeaten 9A foe Alcester-Hudson. This is a program that from 1985-97 won a pair of state titles (1990, 1991) in 9A with runner-up finishes in 1989 and 1997. The move down wasn't without some controversy as this team had a 47-34 mark since 2004 and had been a consistent playoff participant. But, as many a coach has said before, it is what it is. Garretson head coach Kevin Steckler, who is 3-0 in his first season, has been pleased with his team's progress, specifically the development of the offensive and defensive lines. "Coming into this season we had experience at the skill positions, but were very inexperienced on the line. Our kids have improved each and every day," said Steckler, whose team has wins over Chester, 36-6; Viborg-Hurley, 38-12; and Baltic, 56-14, for a 130-to-32 overall point differential. This group of Blue Dragons is led by junior running back Matt Johnson (77-516-7 TDs), a two-year starter. Johnson has been the lead back for the Blue Dragons as he has pushed his career rushing total to 1,141 yards on 196 carries with 10 TDs. First-year QB Jesse Brockhouse (45-221-7 TDs; 8-16-94-TD passing), a two-year starter at wide receiver, has stepped up and taken over control of the offense. He, Johnson and Austin Matthiesen (23-156-TD rushing; 3-69-TD receiving) have been the key players on offense. Defensively, Johnson (25T), Matthiesen (20T), Blake Severson (14T) and Brockhouse (2 int.) have led a tough, aggressive defense. Looking ahead, Steckler knows his team faces a tough customer in Alcester-Hudson. "First and foremost, we need to take care of the football. Turnovers and field position will play a major role for both teams. Secondly, we need to just relax and play our game. We know what our strengths are on both sides of the ball. We just need to continue to play to those strengths, making the necessary adjustments when needed, and play the game," he said. "Alcester-Hudson is an extremely athletic and well-coached team, who won't beat themselves. Their quarterback Grant Johnson executes their spin offense very well. He has great deception with outstanding weapons around him. They aren't complicated, but they execute their offense at a very high level whether it's running or throwing the football," said Steckler. For Garretson, the message is just to play their game, said Steckler. "Offensively we just have to be ourselves; we know Alcester-Hudson is very quick, fast, and disruptive on the defensive side of the ball. They know their assignments and carry them out very well; so we will have to continue to read our keys, communicate those keys, and execute at the level we're capable of."
Alcester-Hudson Notes: A fast start has Alcester-Hudson beaming with optimism. The Cubs have already surpassed last year's win total, when they were 3-5 and missed the playoffs. In the past three plus seasons, they have played winning football with a combined 17-11 record. In other words, the team has been building something exciting. "We have played well on defense, which has us to not be pressed on offense to score points," said veteran coach Brian Hauk, who Alcester-Hudson team has just two playoff appearances in the past decade. But Hauk knows it is important to remain grounded and focused on improving week by week. "Just like any other week, we will need to win the turnover battle, control the line of scrimmage, and eliminate mistakes." The Cubs' fast start includes wins over Baltic, 48-14; Irene-Wakonda, 52-20; Hanson, 16-6; and Chester, 38-6. The offense is led by the talented sophomore QB Grant Johnson, who has been efficient by completing 30-of-59 passes for 473 yards and five TDs without a pick. That gives the sophomore a QB rating of 146.2. In addition, Johnson has been dangerous running with 50 carries for 389 yards and four TDs. Junior Colin Walth has been another key cog in the rushing attack with 43 carries for 506 yards and four TDs or 126.5 yards per game. In addition, senior Erik Barnes has 53 carries for 255 yards and a team-high six TDs while sophomore Mitchell Johnson has 14 carries for 139 yards and a TD. The Cubs have 1,330 yards rushing or 332.5 rushing yards per game. In total, they have produced 1,803 yards in total offense or 451 per game. Aside from his talented backfield, Hauk noted that the team's success has been pushed along by several young players who have stepped up. They include freshman Gavin Doering on the offensive and defensive front, as well as freshman nose tackle Trent Rus; junior Jaylen Dichau on the line and junior wide receiver/defensive back Lyle LaFramboise (11 rec., 195 yards, 3 TDs). With Garretson headed to town, Alcester-Hudson has a big challenge this week. "They are big and fast," said Hauk.
Inside Slant: Both teams have talented backfields, so which team controls the line of scrimmage? Can a young Alcester-Hudson team handle Garretson which was a playoff team in 11B a year ago? Will Grant Johnson continue to shine – keeping turnovers down and making big plays on offense? Will Walth be able to wear down the Garretson D? As for the Blue Dragons, will Brockhouse, a first-year starter, continue to excel at QB? Will Johnson find space in the Cubs defense?
Coaches Record: Kevin Steckler, Garretson, 1st year, 3-0; Brian Haak, Alcesteer-Hudson, 11th year, 33-51.
Series Records: This will be the first meeting between the schools.
Bottom-line: Both teams appear to do a lot of the same things - control the line of scrimmage and run the ball. Garretson tends more to the rush game than Alcester-Hudson, which can throw it with Johnson and LaFramboise. Look for Garretson and Alcester-Hudson to go toe-to-toe for three quarters, before the Blue Dragons gain an edge late.
Who Wins? This is a tough call but go with Garretson, who will win a tough road test 28-19.