VERMILLION – There was no stopping this train in 2016.
The Winner Warriors made the defense of their 2015 Class 11B state title a distinctively dominant display of force from front to back on Friday afternoon at the DakotaDome, finishing off an undefeated season with yet another reminder that they were way too good for everyone else.
A 54-0 win over Groton Area was more proof of that. The Warriors led 46-0 at half and never hinted a relinquishing control.
Winner got through 2016 without ever giving up more than 100 yards total offense. A 38-13 win over Bridgewater-Emery/Ethan in the semifinals – contest where the Seahawks held the lead for a short time – was the closest anyone ever got to the Warriors.
So this was easy? Well, not really. It’s not easy being that good.
“We tried to stay humble all the time,” said senior running back Cameron Kuil, who caught three passes for 105 yards and ran nine times for 59 yards. “We know we have a great football team. People hold us to a higher level and we wanted to reach that level.”
Groton Area, who entered the game with a 10-1 record, began to wobble right from the beginning, losing 17 yards on their first play from scrimmage. Then it didn’t get much better after that.
“It was a terrible start,” Groton Area coach Shaun Warner said. “The same thing happened last year against this team. You can’t have starts like that against a team like this.”
The Warriors were more than capable of making their own breaks thereafter. Winner quarterback Drew DeMers, the Joe Robbie MVP, threw four passes in the first half and three of them went for touchdowns. He finished 5-for-5 for 185 yards and four touchdowns as Winner carved out a 438-41 edge in total yardage.
DeMers hit Kuil twice on scoring plays of 29 and 64 yards and connected with Kayleb Brozik for another score. It was 22-0 at the end of the first quarter after a Kuil running touchdown from 1. The Warriors continued to squeeze the oxygen out of the Tigers in the second quarter with two more touchdowns.
It was apparent the preparation and focus from the Warriors was just about perfect after that first half. This was not just a really good team, this was a really good team playing about as well as it can play.
“We really didn’t have a game plan, we just tried to play to the best of our abilities,” DeMers said.
The game plan then must have stipulated you go into halftime with a 46-0 lead.
“It’s the way this team has been for two years,” Winner coach Dan Aakre said. “We’ve been able to score in waves with big plays and take momentum away from people. And defensively it was another great job today. We created some turnovers and limited them in moving the ball. This was a total team effort.”
It was a record for first-half points and fell comfortably within the parameters the Warriors had established throughout the season. This was not what you might call a typical state champion.
“That’s just a great 11-man football team, it doesn’t matter what class you’re talking about,” Warner said. “At least one division up and probably more, they’d be a great team.”
Three weeks ago the Warriors lost teammate Taylor Watzel, a junior offensive lineman and linebacker, to an accident on the family farm. It was the sort of adversity that had nothing to do with the football field but everything to do with the football team.
“We had some tough things to deal with these last couple weeks,” Kuil said. “It brought us together as a team and as a community. We knew what we were playing for and who we were playing for. Taylor Watzel was a teammate and a friend.”
Follow Mick Garry on Twitter at @MickGarry .