Familiarity marks the Class 11AAA football semifinals today at Howard Wood Field.
The three Sioux Falls teams and Brandon Valley still standing have faced off this season, and Lincoln beat Roosevelt in last year’s championship game at the DakotaDome. So there’s little mystery today when Lincoln (9-0) plays O’Gorman (6-3) at 4:30 p.m., followed by Roosevelt (8-1) vs. Brandon Valley (7-2). Watch a livestream of both games at ArgusLeader.com.
“This is the way a semifinal round should be,” Lincoln coach Aaron Beavers said. “There are four great teams remaining, and anyone could win.”
Lincoln’s early-season clash with O’Gorman suggests the Patriots will be pressed to extend their undefeated season. The Patriots staved off a late rally Sept. 6 to beat the Knights 34-29.
“It was the Dakota Bowl, and a game that we kind of went back and forth,” O’Gorman coach Steve Kueter said. “We couldn’t get an onside kick at the end, but it shows we are two teams that are evenly matched. I think both teams have improved since then, which should make for a pretty good semifinal game.”
Quarterback Isaiah Roach and the Patriots’ offense provided a glimpse of its explosiveness in that game two months ago. Roach burned the Knights with his legs, rushing for 122 yards and two scores. Since then, he has been much more prolific passing, throwing for 1,957 yards and 18 touchdowns while completing 68 percent of his attempts. He’s also ran for 396 yards.
Roach’s prime pass targets have been Nickel Meyers and Paul Thanel. Meyers has 1,046 receiving yards on 60 catches.
“He’s not the flashy quarterback, but I absolutely believe that he’s the best in South Dakota,” Beavers said of Roach. “He commands the run game pretty well and is very effective throwing the ball.”
Roach won’t be the only dynamic quarterback tonight at Howard Wood Field. O’Gorman’s Luke Fritsch has put together a stellar year.
Fritsch has connected with 6-foot-5 Jack Peery and 6-2 Ben Johnson for 915 yards and 13 TDs. Fritsch also has run for 640 yards and eight scores. Running backs Dodi Makwinja and A.J. Martinec have complemented the junior quarterback’s rushing efforts.
“We’re going to have to run the ball – there’s no doubt about that and that’s what we do,” Kueter said. “We’re also throwing the ball better this year, and we will need to do that as well. You have to be a little more diversified to beat a good team like Lincoln.”
On defense, Braxton Large is the Patriots’ lone returning starter from last season, and he’s also the leading running back. He has rushed for 947 yards.
“Braxton is just so durable,” Beavers said. “He’s playing a lot of offense and is an every down defensive player. He’s one of the finest football players I’ve ever coached. He waited for his time behind some great running backs over the years, and he’s taken advantage of his opportunity.”
Defensively, the Patriots seem to be peaking at the right time. Lincoln has held its opponents to fewer than 20 points in three consecutive games, although O’Gorman features a more potent offense than the trio of Harrisburg, Washington and Rapid City Central.
“We’ve moved some kids around and found our niche. Our defense is playing at a high level right now,” Beavers said.
O’Gorman’s defense has relied on keeping players fresh. Yet many of the Knights’ top players have been needed on offense and defense, which could make a fatigue an issue.
“We’ve always had to play players on both sides of the ball because of our size, but we’ve tried to rotate three guys in two positions,” Kueter said. “Although they go both ways, they aren’t on the field every play. We do that where we can, but in some cases, like Luke Fritsch, we just can’t have guys come off of the field.”
Streaks on the linefor Riders, Lynx
Difficult moments have been relative for Roosevelt and Brandon Valley, which have only three losses between them. But each team has responded well to what adversity it has faced.
Both teams last lost in the season’s third week. Roosevelt could shake off a 35-27 loss to Lincoln, but the ripples from a broken ankle for quarterback Taryn Christion could have been another matter. The South Dakota State University recruit gave defenses fits with his running and passing. Since that game, however, Jett Thune has stepped in at quarterback to efficiently guide the Rough Riders.
“Jett has become a really good leader,” Roosevelt coach Kim Nelson said. “He’s just a quiet kid who plays hard and has earned the respect of his peers and the coaches. We are lucky to have kid like him after losing Taryn. That could have been the end of the season, but we’ve been fortunate enough to have Jett come in and play like Taryn.”
The Lynx have excelled since a week three loss against Yankton that left them 1-2. Brandon Valley has won six in a row and defeated Washington 17-7 in the first round of the playoffs. That winning streak has come with Riley Frantzen’s emergence at running back and the standout play of quarterback Jake Comeaux.
“It looks like Brandon Valley is running the ball better and more often,” Roosevelt’s Nelson said. “They have relied on throwing the football in years past, but the running game makes them more difficult to defend. Their quarterback is also a running threat, which makes them a little like us on offense. It will be a challenge for us to slow them down.”
The Lynx might go as far as Comeaux takes them. He has passed for 1,923 yards and 23 touchdowns and only five interceptions, and has added 438 rushing yards.
“Jake will have to have a good night,” Brandon Valley coach Chad Garrow said. “We can’t just line up and try to run the ball against Roosevelt like we’ve been able to do against some teams.”
Tonight’s game is a rematch of a season opener that Roosevelt won 42-34, with Christion at quarterback.
“I don’t know if the first game means much,” Nelson said. “Both teams have changed a lot since then, so the last part of the season is a lot more important in terms of figuring them out. We’re a different team, and I’m sure they are in some ways as well.”
CLASS 11AAA (Howard Wood Field)
O’Gorman (6-3) vs. Lincoln (9-0), 4:30 p.m.
Brandon Valley (7-2) vs. Roosevelt (8-1), 7:30
Harrisburg (4-4) at Yankton (8-0), 7 p.m.
Pierre (3-5) at Brookings (6-2), 7 p.m.
PREVIEW SHOW: Watch a replay of playoff analysis from Sports Editor Stu Whitney and Craig Mattick of KWSN radio.
VIDEO, LIVE CHATS: Live video from both Class 11AAA games today @ARGUSLEADER.COM
STAFF PICKS: Argus Leader writers offer predictions on the playoff games, Page 5D