Are you ready for some championship football?
If so, let it be known that Sports Web Live will preview the high school football finals Wednesday at 1 p.m.
Matt Zimmer and I will be joined by KSFY-TV’s Erik Thorstenson and KWSN Radio’s Craig Mattick to break down this week’s DakotaDome showdowns. Viewers can go to ArgusLeader.com at 1 p.m. to ask questions or share comments.
To tide you over until then, here’s my early look at the championship matchups:
It’s championship week in high school football, which means fans across the state are sizing up matchups and trying to determine which teams will fulfill their destiny.
At the Argus Leader, we’ve got our own battle brewing.
Veteran sportswriter Mick Garry has a record of 69-11 in our playoff picks contest, holding a narrow lead over myself and Justin Wulf (both 68-12) and the fading Matt Zimmer (67-13), who needs a miracle when the state finals start Thursday in Vermillion.
We may have to start from scratch in terms of Argus subscriptions in Winner and Colome, since all four “experts” picked against those schools and then watched them advance to the finals.
So much for community outreach.
I haven’t released my official DakotaDome picks, but initial observations mean a lot. Here are some early impressions of matchups in which plenty of memories will be made:
Class 9A, Canistota (11-0) vs. Warner (11-0): The Canistota Hawks have reeled off 35 straight wins to continue the second-longest streak in state nine-man history, and they don’t look ready to slow down.
The school’s last loss came in the 2009 quarterfinals against Emery-Ethan, when Canistota was still in a co-op with Bridgewater.
Alex Robertson has rushed for 1,015 yards and Cody Bunger has thrown for 966 for the Hawks, who will be heavily favored to claim a third straight title with another perfect season.
Warner put together an impressive 50-20 semifinal win over Herreid Selby-Area to seal the school’s first DakotaDome appearance. But stopping one of the top dynasties in state history might be too much to ask.
Class 9AA, Deubrook Area (11-0) vs. Howard (9-2): The Howard Tigers have pretty much laughed off their low seed in these playoffs and acted like a title contender all along.
After a quarterfinal road win over top-seeded Kimball-White Lake, Howard pounded Clark-Willow Lake 50-0 on Saturday behind 276 rushing yards and three touchdowns by 5-foot-4, 135-pound sophomore Luke Loudenburg, a little big man of heroic proportions who is also a state wrestling champ.
Deubrook, which rallied for a thrilling semifinal win against Gregory, makes its first trip to the state finals after the Dolphins fell to Kimball-While Lake in last year’s semifinals.
Howard, which won a Class 9AA title in 2009 and a Class 11B crown in 2004, will try to make that trophy case just a bit more crowded.
Class 9B, Harding County (11-0) vs. Colome (10-1): This is the West River special, with two proud programs from that side of the Mighty Mo ready to put on a prime-time show. It seems fitting that it’s the Cowboys against the Ranchers.
Top-ranked Harding County is a hard-hitting crew that knows its way to Vermillion because of past success. The Ranchers, who will travel more than 500 miles from the town of Buffalo in the state’s northwest corner, won a state title 1993 and was runner-up five other times.
The town of Colome also knows its way around the dome, having played in the inaugural Class 9B title game in 1981 (losing 6-0 to Bridgewater). The Cowboys won championships in 1988 and 2007 and were runners-up in 1981, 1986 and 2006.
Harding County has seen quarterback Jess Feist throw for 1,745 yards and 20 touchdowns, while its defense has shut out seven opponents this season. But the Ranchers aren’t likely to pin a goose egg on Colome, which has two 1,000-yard rushers (Terrance Kinzer and Andrew Odden) and scored 52 points against Viborg-Hurley in the semifinals.
Class 11B, Winner (11-0) vs. Tri-Valley (10-1): These two teams have met just once before, in a 2009 championship game that had one of the most thrilling endings in state history.
A 42-yard Hail Mary from Ted Wonnenberg was deflected and caught by Jayd Knodell in the final seconds to break a 6-6 tie and give Winner its first state title in 20 years, denying the Mustangs a three-peat.
Now these premier programs are back for more, with Tri-Valley again the defending champion but this time under the direction of first-year coach Steve Bazata. The Mustangs, who suffered their only loss this season to Flandreau, beat a solid Aberdeen Roncalli team in the semifinals behind 113 rushing yards and two touchdowns from senior Logan Koopman.
Winner was equally impressive Saturday, staying perfect by outdueling Flandreau 26-21 in the fourth quarter to reach the dome for the 12th time. The Warriors will be seeking their fifth overall title against a Tri-Valley team that will be looking for its fourth.
There could be more late drama in this one.
Class 11A, Dell Rapids (10-1) vs. Harrisburg (9-2): This is a classic battle between established programs and regional rivals that should live up to its billing.
Harrisburg hasn’t hoisted the trophy since 1999, but the Tigers are seeking their fifth overall title in their ninth dome appearance.
They fell to Dell Rapids 55-20 in the 2010 finals, but a superb season from senior quarterback Andrew McCuen (1,600 passing yards, 891 rushing) has coach Brandon White’s team in full confidence mode.
The Quarriers are seeking their third consecutive title and will try to fight through injuries to key players Cole Langer (FB-LB) and Bryce Koch (TE-DL). Langer has been battling a high ankle sprain for weeks and will try to rise above adversity in his final high school appearance.
Koch is awaiting MRI results from a knee injury he suffered in Saturday’s 49-25 win over Hot Springs. The battle between McCuen and SDSU recruit Langer should be one to watch in this game as Harrisburg tries to alter the balance of power in Class 11A.
Class 11AA, Washington (11-0) vs. Brandon Valley (11-0): The seedings worked in this case, giving fans a big-ticket battle between senior-fueled teams that are clearly the best in the state.
The Warriors are making a sixth straight dome appearance to establish themselves as one of the state’s great dynasties, but those trips to Vermillion haven’t always resulted in wins.
This Washington team looks determined to erase the memory of last year’s loss to Roosevelt, and quarterback Jon Hander has elevated his game to make the Warriors even more lethal. The senior had made a verbal commitment to Kansas for baseball but now has scholarship offers from SDSU and USD for football.
Chase Marso has also been stellar while putting up record-breaking numbers for Brandon Valley, making this a must-see matchup.
Of course, most eyes will be on the battle between Washington’s Nate Gerry (Nebraska recruit) and Brandon Valley’s Matt Vandeberg (Iowa), two-way players who can change the game as receivers or defensive backs, or even on special teams.
Getting these teams on the DakotaDome turf will be a fitting end to a frenzied season. Especially if the right predictions come through.