After back-to-back Class 9AA state football championships, Bridgewater-Emery/Ethan made an early exit last postseason as the Seahawks dropped a 36-34 first-round game to Gregory.
Therefore, Coach Jeff VanLeur’s group is out to prove that last year was a fluke, right?
“I don’t know if we have anything to prove,” said VanLeur, “but it taught us a lesson – not taking anything away from Gregory – but it proved that it’s do-or-die and that we need to do things right because there’s no (guarantee of) tomorrow for us.”
The top-ranked Seahawks are one of seven ‘9AA’ teams with a 7-1 record and play host tonight to Deuel, which moved down from ’11B’ this season and is looking for an upset.
Senior running back Wade Miller and junior running back Jordan Grosdidier have paced the BEE offense this season, though, with Miller rushing for over 1,200 yards and 20 touchdowns and Grosdidier over 750 yards and 13 scores. Miller also has seven catches for 230 yards and two scores.
In other words, if the Seahawks take care of business in the trenches, points shouldn’t be a problem.
“We need to do things right up front,” said VanLeur. “We need to take care of the line of scrimmage and keep the ball in our favor without turnovers and penalties, especially with the wind blowing and that.”
Deubrook Area (7-1) opens its title defense on the road against Clark/Willow Lake (7-1) and might be able to open things up through the air if conditions allow. Senior Dustin Trooien has completed 40 of 81 passes for 628 yards and nine touchdowns this season, spreading the wealth between Quinn Petersen (4 TD), Trent Johnson (2) and Jacob Berndt (2).
But if that isn’t an option, the fourth-ranked Dolphins can turn to their primary weapon in Riley Hanson, who has rushed for 1,768 yards and 26 touchdowns.
Meanwhile, Garretson (7-1) and Arlington (7-1) both were ranked No. 1 during the season and open the postseason hosting Menno/Marion and Webster Area, respectively.
9A: Howard among prime contenders
Come playoffs, Howard and Hanson are usually on the radar for teams looking to make a championship run – and rightfully so. Howard won the Class 9AA title in 2009 and was the ‘9A’ runner-up last season while Hanson won three crowns in two classes from 2008-10.
However, the season ends for one of them tonight when No. 1 Howard (8-0) hosts Hanson (3-5).
“When you get a Cornbelt team that has as much playoff experience as they have and having to play them twice in one season, that’s sort of a bad draw on our part,” said Howard coach Pat Ruml. “At this point, you’ve got to beat whoever comes in front of you. We know it’s going to be a tough game.”
The Tigers won the regular-season meeting 38-8 by winning the battle up front on both sides of the ball, including holding standout running back Jacob Paradeis in check. Meanwhile, junior Luke Loudenburg broke loose for more than 200 rushing yards for Howard on his way to finishing the regular season with more than 1,600 rushing yards and 30 total touchdowns.
“Luke obviously makes it happen because of his ability to get out in the open field and make people miss,” said Ruml, who also has a ground option in junior Jordan Kuhle, who has piled up 700 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Another intriguing rematch is fifth-ranked Alcester-Hudson (7-1) and Chester Area. The Cubs won the previous meeting 42-20, but Chester (4-4) hasn’t lost since. The Flyers have won four straight after an 0-4 start.
Leola-Frederick, which hosts Viborg-Hurley, and Wolsey-Wessington (hosting Colome) are both looking to continue rolling after 8-0 regular seasons.
9B: Top-ranked Avon looks for fast start
No. 1 Avon wasn’t the unanimous No. 1 in Class 9B in the final regular-season poll, but the Pirates aren’t expected to have much trouble tonight as they host Scotland (4-4).
Avon toppled the Highlanders 44-14 in September with a potent run game led by 6-foot-3, 200-pound senior Brandon Kocmich, who has rushed for more than 1,400 yards and scored 34 total touchdowns (23 rushing).
“It really starts up front,” said coach Tom Culver. “Our offensive line has played really well this year. Teams have thrown a lot of different stuff at us and they’ve been able to open up huge holes. (Kocmich) has just got so much speed that if there’s a little crack he seems to be able to get through and he’s gone.”
Meanwhile, Scotland scored just 26 points in its four losses this season.
Second-ranked Hamlin (8-0) hosts Castlewood (4-4), while No. 3 Dell Rapids St. Mary is host to Langford Area (5-3). In other matchups, Wall (8-0) and Faith (7-1) clash after strong regular seasons and three-time champion Canistota (4-4) visits Burke/South Central (6-2).