The game of football lends itself to metaphors of the militaristic kind. Teams wage battles against one another. Each play is an attack. Offense and defense collide in the trenches.
But we all know football’s just a game.
It just happens to be one we love, and with three weeks in the books for the high school season, it’s already a third of the way done.
Normally we see the game through a four quarter lens, but with a new nine-game schedule in effect, we’re left with three quarter increments for the regular season.
That leaves the season’s fourth quarter to begin with the start of the postseason, as teams from the state’s seven classes make the annual pilgrimage to the DakotaDome in Vermillion. How’s that for a metaphor?
As of today, then, the first quarter has ended. We’re still a few weeks away from halftime, but already we’ve seen some of the state’s top teams square off.
Here’s a look at what we’ve learned so far, starting with Class 11AAA.
Rough Riders the class of ‘11AAA’
Football blends the immeasurable – a player’s heart or a team’s guts – with the measurable, like first downs and total offense.
By any standard of measure, Roosevelt (3-0) has established itself as the top team in the state’s highest class.
The Riders busted through the bowl season with wins in successive weeks over Aberdeen Central, 40-7 to open the season, and O’Gorman, by a 24-14 margin at the Dakota Bowl. Then came Saturday’s Presidents Bowl, a one-sided 49-7 drubbing of Lincoln. After that one, the Riders should consider changing their warm-up music to “Hail to the Chief.”
Three weeks in, and the Riders have outscored opponents 113-28. Against the second- and third-ranked teams in the state, that margin is still 73-21.
Roosevelt’s only weakness – and one that’s arguable in its own right – is a comparable lack of size to ‘11AAA’ counterparts Lincoln, Brandon Valley and Washington.
Their strengths? A suffocating sideline-to-sideline defense with nine returning starters; a horde of talent at skill positions with running back Tyson Jahn and receivers Jamal Albousafi, Tyler Van Voorst, Demaerio Hester and Austin Johnson; and arguably the state’s most polished all-around quarterback in Jett Thune.
The Riders’ spread offense in particular has been a pleasant surprise, with the steady Thune leading the way with 550 yards passing (completing nearly 60 percent of his passes) and four touchdowns to one interception. The senior averages nearly 13 yards a completion. No arguing the small sample size, but those are numbers that would make Pro Bowl NFL quarterbacks jealous.
There’s also the matter of getting a hand on the elusive quarterback, who’s rushed 26 times for 200 yards and three scores. (That’s 7.7 yards a rush).
“I don’t weigh a lot so I’m not going to truck anybody,” said the 6-foot-3, 165-pound Thune, “so I just try to do what I can and get down before I take any big hits.”
Quarterback can be a punishing position for players at all levels, particularly in high school. Thune has managed to get the majority of his yards on the ground without taking punishment from tacklers.
“People don’t think I’m that fast because I’m just a tall skinny kid,” Thune said, “so sometimes that’s deceptive.”
Knights on the ‘edge’ of return to glory
The Knights’ life in ‘11AAA’ the first two seasons included successive trips to the state semifinals. Both ended in defeat, and neither season offered O’Gorman a spot at the who’s who table with Lincoln and Roosevelt hogging the city headlines.
This season, led by a talented class of senior playmakers, the Knights are clearly contenders.
Their quarterback, Luke Fritsch, is on pace for 1,000 yards passing and rushing and already has 11 touchdowns. Fullback Dodi Makwinja is a bruising back with speed. Antonio Casiello has emerged as a threat from the backfield and in the slot at receiver. Wide receiver Jack Peery has developed a tendency for touchdowns while averaging 23.3 yards a catch.
O’Gorman (2-1) is never more dangerous than when it gets those players to the edge. Flexing their speed also makes up for their lack of size.
On defense, the Knights have made up for a lack of size with speed and experience at linebacker and defensive back. Soon, two-way standout Boston Bauer could return from injury.
The only thing holding back the Knights so far is consistency. That was a topic of discussion following Friday’s 28-14 road win over Brandon Valley. In that game O’Gorman held Brandon to two yards of first-half offense, and then surrendered 228 yards in the third and fourth quarters.
Coach Steve Kueter (282-90-1) is three wins away from the state’s all-time wins mark held by former Yankton great Max Hawk (284-78-2). If the Knights win Friday against Washington and next week at home against Watertown, the stage is set for an Oct. 2 showdown for the record, against the Bucks in Yankton, of all places.
Stay tuned for that one. I’m guessing we’ll do a story about it.
Rising Warriors face crucial test
The Warriors (2-1) entered the season with high expectations internally, and save for a mistake laden Week 2 loss against Lincoln, they’ve displayed the big play ability absent from the past two seasons.
Nothing stands as more important for the Warriors the rest of the way.
Quarterback Jack Schelhaas is a niftier runner than he is gifted thrower, but the three-year starter has lots of capable targets at his disposal and the Warriors have looked their best this season when the passing attack is there to compliment the run game.
Schelhaas followed the Lincoln loss, in which he threw three interceptions, with four passing touchdowns in the first half against Yankton at the Presidents Bowl. He rumbled in for two more scores on the ground, accounting for all six Washington touchdowns in the 43-19 win.
Washington has a big test ahead with O’Gorman on Friday. With Blue Chip prospect Matt Farniok (6-foot-5, 310 pounds), Steve Cordell (5-10, 260), Will Farniok (6-2, 245), Bridger Irons (6-4, 250) and Jaren Fountain (6-2, 245), the Warriors will likely try and wear down the Knights.
Getting containment on the edge will be crucial, as will the occasional big play on offense.
Lincoln looking ever ahead, not to the streak
Have the Patriots (2-1) fallen from glory after Saturday’s defeat? Relax. The wheels came off early against the top-ranked Riders. The Patriots will probably be fine.
Yes, the 24-game winning streak – which spanned two seasons and the first two ‘11AAA’ championships – is over. But I got the sense talking to players and coaches that “the streak” didn’t hold a lot of significance to begin with.
That’s not to say head coach Aaron Beavers isn’t proud of what the Patriots have done, but the focus has been on 1-0 – winning the game ahead of them – and not 24-0.
The Patriots are still capable of flexing their advantage on the offensive line and wearing teams down, as they did against Washington. They won’t throw it 30 times a game, but junior Cole DeBerg has established a nice connection with receiver Lee Ransom, who has 12 catches for 146 yards and a touchdown in his last two games.
Beavers will want to see cleaner efforts from his Patriots, though. Penalties hampered the squad in its first and third games. Still, it’s hard to see anything but seasonal improvement from a team with a winning culture and several new starters