For the second straight season and third time in four years, Warner finds itself in the Class 9A South Dakota high school football championship game.
The Monarchs are 11-0 and the top seed in the 9A. They’ve been a power in recent years, but have never quite been able to grab the crown.
Standing in their way this year is 8-3 Deubrook. Kickoff is set for 2 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 9 at the DakotaDome in Vermillion.
“We do like how we match up with them,” said Warner head coach Kerwin Hoellein. “The film we’ve watched, most of the teams they’ve played have been able to move the ball against them. They played Canistota to an eight-point game, so they are a very good team. Our line obviously has to play well.”
Balanced attack key for top-seeded Warner
Running the football has been a key to Warner’s success this season. In their seminal 37-16 semifinal win over Canistota, quarterback Hunter Cramer racked up 203 yards rushing.
However, Hoellein pointed out, Cramer and Warner’s skill position players are more than capable of throwing the football.
“We’ve done a really good job passing the football,” he said. “We have a lot of kids who can catch the ball. Late in the year, with the wind, rain, snow and how it gets darker a lot earlier, sometimes you don’t want to throw it in those conditions. I’m convinced on Thursday at 2 p.m., the wind won’t be blowing, it won’t be raining, it won’t be cold and it’s going to be well-lit.”
Entering the title game, Cramer has a 71% completion rating and likes to spread the ball around.
“Hunter has thrown 120, 125 times this year and we have a number of kids with 300 yards receiving. So, playing inside the dome, allowing us to run and throw the ball, that makes us a pretty dangerous team,” Hoellein said.
The Monarchs have scored an average of nearly 45 points a game this season. They’ve shut out five opponents.
Warner not relying on being top seed
On paper, Warner is the favorite to knock off the seventh-seeded Dolphins. But Hoellein said he and his team aren’t thinking about seeds.
“No one gets to this game by accident,” he said. “Deubrook is a quality opponent. “We’re taking these guys seriously and we’re both 0-0, that’s the attitude we have. We ran into these kids at a South Dakota State football camp this summer, and they have a bunch of athletes. This isn’t one of those deals where you just have to show up. We may not be the underdog, but we still have to take care of the football, win the line of scrimmage and do all the little things right.”
Hoellein said Deubrook has similar athletes to Warner, which allows the Dolphins to run some familiar sets.
“When you watch film, a lot of their offensive sets are similar to ours,” Hoellein said. “In nine-man football, we show multiple sets and we do a lot of the same stuff out of those sets. You watch that film and break it down as much as we do, we see a certain set and we know there’s probably two or three plays we’re looking for.”
Deubrook riding emotional win into 9A title game
On the last play of the Class 9A semifinal between No. 1 Phillip and No. 7 Deubrook, Dolphins head coach Nathan Lamb saw the ball sail toward the end zone, but that was about it.
“They were able to get a Hail Mary off right at the end of the game,” he said. “It was tipped, but I couldn’t see where it landed. All of a sudden, our guys are jumping up and down, people are sprinting at me, arms raised. It was a pretty cool feeling, just incredible, really.”
The Dolphins held on for an 18-14 win and their reward is the No. 1 team in Class 9A.
“We know who we’re facing. At first, we talked about being the seven seed and what some people may not expect from us. Our kids looked at me like I had two heads. We know we have to accept the notion that we might lose, and that allows us to play loose football. Our kids have the attitude that if the ref puts the ball down in the middle of a street, then we’ll play in the middle of the street,” Lamb said.
Slowing Cramer key to success for Deubrook
He knows that in order for his squad to stay in the game, containing Cramer is critical.
“He is a stud, no doubt,” Lamb said. “He can make plays with his feet and with his arm. In nine-man, you have the same number of eligible receivers as 11-man, but less guys to cover. If we could use four guys to cover him, we would. He really is the perfect type of quarterback to have.”
On the line, Lamb thinks his squad has the size to match up, but Warner’s effort sticks out.
“If you look at them on paper, the overall size isn’t there necessarily,” he said. “But when you watch them, they just play bigger than they are. It’s impressive, and they have a lot of guys (on offense) you have to account for.”
Skill players need to produce for Deubrook
Deubrook enters the game averaging 34 points per game and will need plenty of offense to win.
“We’ll need to move the ball and score. Gavin Landmark, our running back, is a fast, strong kid who can also catch the ball when we need him to. Jace (Vomacka), our quarterback, is a smart, coachable player. We can run him or roll him out, which he’s very comfortable with. And we have a receiver, Jake Jorenby, who is a state qualifier in the high jump with really good hands, so we’ll need all three to produce if we want a chance.”
Defensively, Lamb knows his team will need to get to the ball quickly.
“We do have good speed,” he said. “We’re able to play some man-to-man defense, but no question we’ll need to swarm to the ball.”
Top seeds Faulkton, Avon class for 9B title
That is how head football coach Shayne Geditz described the scene at Faulkton Area High School on Tuesday, Nov. 2.
“Well, we’re getting ready for our state championship, and we’ve got our volleyball team in the SoDak 16,” Geditz said. “Hey, it’s a nice problem to have. When your athletic teams are having success, the school is much happier.”
On the football side, the Trojans advanced to the Class 9B title game by knocking off Potter County 42-0 in the semifinals.
Next up is top-seeded Avon. The game will begin at 10 a.m. Thursday in the DakotaDome.
“We played them last year,” Geditz said. “They have a new coach, but do the same things. It’s really about us being prepared and playing our best.”
In the first round of the 2022 playoffs, the Pirates logged a 74-48 win.
Geditz looking forward to challenge of Avon run game
Like many of the opponents Faulkton has faced, Avon has “size and athletes,” Geditz said.
The Pirates like to run the ball, which suits the Trojans’ defense.
“They are a run-first football team, and that kind of excites me, to be honest,” Geditz said. “Our strength on defense is our ability to stop the run. It’s a really good challenge — are we good enough to stop them? It’s fun to know that both our strengths will be tested.”
When they’re playing defense, the Pirates will present some challenges with their size.
“They have some good size, but they’re really long, a lot of tall kids. I think Layne (Cotton, the Faulkton quarterback), who’s 6-foot-3, will be able to see over their line, but some of their kids on the outside have a long reach and they can rally to the ball really well.”
Senior leadership key for Faulkton
As far as intangibles, Geditz feels Faulkton’s eight seniors will be an advantage.
“This group has set the tone all season from summer workouts until now,” he said. “And our younger guys have followed suit. They all understand the tradition we have here, and they all want to do their part in extending it and playing good football.”
The seniors know to take nothing for granted, Geditz said.
“It was one of our goals, to get to the state championship,” he said. “The kids are excited, the community is excited. Making it to the title game is the pinnacle, we all know that. It’s a great opportunity for this group, and they’ve earned the right to play for it. Now we just have to go out and play smart, hard football and let the scoreboard take care of itself.”
On offense, Cotton has help from running backs Spencer Melius and Garrett Cramer.
The Faulkton defense has shutout six opponents and only Warner and Sully Buttes have broken into double digits.
The Trojans only loss this season was to Class 9A No. 1 seed Warner 27-20 in Aberdeen. The Monarchs scored a touchdown in the closing seconds of the game to seal the win.
At 9-2, Avon is the top seed in 9B. The Pirates losses have been to Class 9AA Freeman/Marion/Freeman Academy and Class 9A Alcester/Hudson. They’ve averaged 46 points a game in the playoffs.
A complete championship game schedule follows.
Thursday Nov. 9
Faulkton Area (10-1) vs. Avon (9-2), 10 a.m.
Deubrook Area (8-3) vs. Warner (11-0), 2 p.m.
Howard (10-1) vs. Parkston (11-0), 7 p.m.
Friday, Nov. 10
Hot Springs (10-1) vs. Elk Point-Jefferson (10-1), 10 a.m.
West Central (10-1) vs. Dell Rapids (11-0), 2 p.m.
Yankton (10-1) vs. Pierre (10-1), 7 p.m.
Saturday, Nov. 11
Sioux Falls O’Gorman (9-2) vs. Sioux Falls Lincoln (11-0), 7:30 p.m.
All Nations football championships
Saturday, Nov. 4
Todd County 38, Winnebago (Neb.)
Lower Brule 42, Tiospa Zina 0