Ten area prep football teams with aspirations of playing in a state tournament will try to take another step closer today.
Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City (9-0), the only one of the 20 area teams that earned a No. 1 seed, will have its hands full tonight when it hosts MACCRAY at 7 p.m. in Grove City in the Section 5AA semifinals.
Despite having an impressive 8-1 record, MACCRAY is seeded No. 4 in a strong section.
Eden Valley-Watkins (9-0) is the No. 2 seed and BOLD (8-1) is No. 3.
ACGC, which averages 44.5 points-per-game and allows only 10.1 points per contest this season, has two outstanding running backs in seniors Kurtis Huisman and Deron Buboltz. Huisman is the area scoring leader with 24 touchdowns and 22 extra-point kicks for 172 points, while Buboltz is second with 22 TDs and four conversion runs for 140 points. Buboltz leads the Falcons in rushing with 1,358 yards and also is tied for the area lead with 10 sacks. Husiman has rushed for 1,012 yards this season.
The Falcons don't throw much, but senior signal-caller Jordan Tanner has been effective when called upon, completing 39-of-58 passes for 698 yards and 10 touchdowns for a 111.93 rating.
"They are a 9-0 team that really hasn't had a close game this year," said MACCRAY coach Mike Dammann. "We are going to try and slow down their tremendous running attack. I don't think we can really stop them. We will try to use ball control on offense to do this, as well."
MACCRAY is one of the top passing teams in the area with junior Caleb Hanson, the No. 2-rated passer in the area, having thrown for 1,668 yards and 21 touchdowns with only five interceptions. His favorite target has been Jay Hilbrands, a senior wideout who has nabbed 47 passes for 666 yards and nine scores. But the Wolverines can also move the ball on the ground. Abe Winter, a senior running back, has gained 1,016 yards and scored eight touchdowns.
"MACCRAY has a very nice club," said ACGC coach Terry Karlsgodt. "They pass very well, but they also run well, averaging nearly 39 rushes per game. Their line is very athletic, especially at the guard positions.
"We would like to stop their running game and control their passing game. We will try to take away the big plays and make them go the length of the field in small chunks. Defensively, they are very quick and thrive off turnovers so we'll try to take care of the ball."
Another battle of area teams will be Dawson-Boyd (7-2) hosting Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg (7-2) in the Section 5A semifinals at 3 p.m. today in Dawson. It's the fifth time the teams have met in the postseason in the last eight years.
Dawson-Boyd junior running back Matt Anderson is the area rushing leader with 1,602 yards and 20 touchdowns, averaging 7.7 yards per carry. Sophomore Ryan Swenson, in his first year playing football, has run the offense well and is sixth in the area in passing efficiency. He has thrown for 778 yards and 12 touchdowns with five interceptions.
"It seems like we meet these guys every year and we've had some pretty good games," said KMS coach James Cortez. "We certainly have to contain Anderson in the running game and keep him hemmed in. He is so explosive and finds holes out of nothing. And keeping the ball out of (junior receiver Andrew) Roiger's hands will be key, also. Getting ahead and playing with (the lead) will be very important."
Dawson-Boyd will have to stop KMS junior running back Joel Bauman, who is second to Anderson in the area rushing race with 1,541 yards and 18 touchdowns. He averages 7.1 yards per carry. Kevin Steinhaus is the top-rated passer (132.03), having thrown for 995 yards and 14 touchdowns with only four picked off. Taylor Freetly, a senior tight end, leads the Fighting Saints in receptions with 31 for 638 yards and 10 touchdowns.
"Steinhaus does a very nice job running their offense," said Dawson-Boyd coach Cory Larson. "His play fakes are the best we will see this season.
"Bauman is a great running back and we need to not allow him to run in the open space. If we let him hit the edge, he's gone. And Freetly is a big target, as well as a very good blocker. Their kids up front are good sized and strong. We will have to play a very good game defensively."
Redwood has revolving QB door
Redwood Valley was set at quarterback this season. Or so it thought.
Mike Felt, who was the No. 2-rated passer in the area last season as a junior, decided to go out for cross country his senior year. And Tyler Pendleton, whom the Cardinals would turn to to be the starter, transferred to Cedar Mountain/Comfrey.
So freshman Mike Busack took over and was having an above-average season and was rated among the top 10 in the area before getting injured at mid-season.
Shane Johnson, a junior running back, was then moved to quarterback, a position he'd never played before.
"Shane has really done a nice job," said Redwood Valley coach Matt Lundeen. "He is a tough kid who will do whatever needs to be done to help the team."
The Cardinals (5-4) have played well of late, winning four of their last five games.
Redwood Valley, the No. 6 seed, will travel to Litchfield today to take on the No. 2 Dragons at 7 p.m. in Section 3AAA.
"We have a good group of players who also play with a ton of desire, passion and heart," said Lundeen. "They have really done so much more this year than anyone thought they would."
Litchfield will have a definite size advantage on Redwood Valley, which reached the semifinals with an upset of No. 3 Montevideo on Tuesday. Nic Johnson, a senior fullback, has rushed for over 1,000 yards and scored 17 touchdowns this season for the Dragons. Senior quarterback Aaron Solbrack has run for 798 yards and eight TDs, while passing for 605 yards.
"Litchfield is a very physical team," said Lundeen. "A key for us is to make sure we don't get physically dominated. If we can sustain the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, we will have a chance."
Four more games on tap today
There are four more section semifinal games involving area teams scheduled for today.
BOLD will play at Eden Valley-Watkins in a rematch of last season's semifinal contest that EVW won, 55-0. This year's battle is expected to be much closer with BOLD having scored over 30 points six times this season. Mitch Neubauer, a senior running back, has gained 1,320 yards and scored 11 touchdowns. He leads the area in average yards per carry at 9.7. Grant Solem is No. 3 in the area with a 120.34 passer rating.
In Section 6AAA, New London-Spicer (7-2) will host No. 3 Foley (6-3) for the second time in three weeks. The Wildcats lost to Foley 38-24 in the final game of the regular season. Albany (9-0) is the No. 1 seed.
Also in 5A, No. 4 Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa (5-4) travels to No. 1 Minneota (8-1) at 3 p.m. today. The winner meets the winner of Dawson-Boyd vs. KMS in the championship.
And Morris (5-4), the No. 4 seed in Section 6AA, faces No. 1 Pierz (8-1) at 7 p.m. today in Pierz.