South Dakota Gridiron Report: Breaking down the 18 remaining undefeated high school football teams

Sep. 18—MITCHELL — It's mid-September and 18 undefeated teams remain in South Dakota high school football.

With teams playing as many as five games already, we figured it was a good time to look at the state's undefeated teams.

In this edition of the Gridiron Report, each of those programs gets its moment to shine, looking at how they reached this point and the road still ahead. (Note: The list is organized first by class, then by alphabetical order.).

Here's a short look at each of them:

One reason for success: Offense gets a lot of attention, and rightfully so, with the likes of quarterback Tate Schafer, receiver Jack Smith and running back Dreavin Hodge headlining a show that's scoring 46.3 points per game. But the Patriots also boast a class-leading defense, which is allowing just 6.8 points per game, including two shutouts in four games.

Best win: Lincoln made a statement with a 48-0 thrashing of defending champion Sioux Falls Jefferson in the Presidents Bowl on Sept. 9 and is coming off a 35-20 win over Harrisburg, the other state finalist from last season.

Biggest hurdle still ahead: As it stands, the Patriots' Sept. 22 meeting with O'Gorman is their lone remaining game against a team with a winning record. However, a trip to Brandon Valley on Oct. 6 and a cross-town rivalry clash with Sioux Falls Washington on Oct. 13 also still remain.

One reason for success: Playmakers such as fullback Ryland Satter and running back Maverick Jones have helped new starting quarterback Hayden Groos guide Class 11AAA's top offense at 47.3 points per game through four weeks.

Best win: The Knights had a solid win over Class 11AA Tea Area on Sept. 8 (41-30), but this honor will go to O'Gorman's Dakota Bowl victory over Brandon Valley on Aug. 26, won in the final moments of the game with a last-second touchdown connection.

Biggest hurdle still ahead: The next two weeks will go a long way in determining the Knights' playoff seeding, with O'Gorman set to square off with Sioux Falls Lincoln on Sept. 22 and defending champion Sioux Falls Jefferson on Sept. 29.

One reason for success: The Governors' defense has been lights out to start the season, with two shutouts and 22 points allowed in four games, including no points for nearly 11 straight quarters to begin the campaign. Despite graduating college talent at many positions, Pierre's offense hasn't dropped off, as the Govs also pace Class 11AA with 42.5 points per game.

Best win: Fresh off a 27-14 road win at second-ranked Yankton, Pierre stands as the lone Class 11AA representative on this list. The Govs also opened the season with a 32-0 road win at Aberdeen Central.

Biggest hurdle still ahead: In a rematch of the past two Class 11AA title games, the Govs visit Tea Area on Oct. 13. Also on the schedule, Pierre hosts an intriguing game against upstart Watertown on Sept. 22 and welcomes Class 11AAA Brandon Valley on Sept. 29.

One reason for success: The key returners have all delivered for the Quarriers in their pursuit of a repeat, led by the charge of quarterback-running back duo Jack Henry and Mason Stubbe. Dell Rapids is pacing Class 11A in scoring at 37.8 points per game, while the 17.5 points allowed per contest also ranks top four in the class.

Best win: Dells took out Canton 48-30 on Sept. 15 and had a 20-14 win out west at Class 11B Hot Springs the week before, reaffirming its status as a repeat title contender.

Biggest hurdle still ahead: A regular-season finale at home against Dakota Valley stands as Dell Rapids' lone remaining game against an opponent currently above .500, though road trips to Milbank, Chamberlain and St. Thomas More (all 2-2) also remain.

One reason for success: After fielding Class 11A's top scoring defense on the way to the DakotaDome last season, the Trojans are back in a similar position to start this campaign, allowing 8.3 points per game, which ranks second in the class. Though yet to record a shutout, West Central has yielded 13 points or fewer allowed in all four games to date.

Best win: West Central churned out a 14-6 win at Sioux Falls Christian in the second week of action. In the remaining three contests, the Trojans faced opponents with a combined 1-11 record so far.

Biggest hurdle still ahead: A backloaded schedule pits the Trojans against five straight opponents with records at or above .500 to close the regular season. The gauntlet includes trips to Canton and Lennox and home dates with Tri-Valley, Winner and Milbank.

One reason for success: With one of the stingiest defenses in Class 11B, the Cardinals are allowing 5.8 points per game to date, the third-best mark in the class. On offense, quarterback Trey Maaland is an established playmaker who makes Deuel's attack go, as the Cardinals average a more modest 27.6 points per game, 10th in the class.

Best win: A 26-0 win at Aberdeen Roncalli remains the Cavaliers' lone blemish to date. The Cardinals' other win over a team with a winning record to date is a 24-6 defeat of Groton Area last week.

Biggest hurdle still ahead: Two winless programs remain among Deuel's final three opponents, leaving a Homecoming game against Tripp-Delmont/Armour/Andes Central/Dakota Christian as the toughest test left for the Cardinals.

One reason for success: Athletes all over the field — including but not limited to Boden Schiller, Maverick Nelson, Donovan Rose, Brock Christopherson — have helped make Sioux Valley 5-0. The Cossacks' defense is tied for the Class 11B lead at 4.8 points allowed per game.

Best win: A 42-6 defeat of Bridgewater-Emery/Ethan on the Seahawks' home field last week captured everyone's attention, but a Sept. 1 win over defending champion Elk Point-Jefferson snapped what was a 14-win streak for the Huskies and likely will give SV an edge for the playoffs.

Biggest hurdle still ahead: No one with a winning record is left on the regular-season schedule for the Cossacks, who visit McCook Central/Montrose before finishing with home games against Baltic and Flandreau.

One reason for success: It's not a secret; the Warriors have leaned on rushing the football and defense, just as they've done for countless years before. This year's Winner squad is allowing 6.6 points per game while scoring 38.8, including 42 points or more in four straight contests.

Best win: Though surprising at the time, an 8-0 triple overtime win over Tri-Valley on opening night has aged well for the Warriors, as the Mustangs also continue to win. Winner also dispatched of Wagner, now 3-1 on the season, 46-6 on Aug. 25.

Biggest hurdle still ahead: All three remaining opponents currently own winning records, as Winner welcomes rival Bridgewater-Emery/Ethan on Sept. 29 before visiting Class 11A West Central on Oct. 6. The Warriors also host Mount Vernon/Plankinton in the regular-season finale on Oct. 13.

One reason for success: Good offense, strong defense. WWSSC ranks third in the class in scoring margin, averaging 39.5 points per game and a mere 6.8 points per game allowed.

Best win: The season-opening win over rival Mount Vernon/Plankinton by a score of 36-8 looks better with each week that passes, as MVP is now 3-2.

Biggest hurdle still ahead: Rapid City Christian stands at 3-1 and earned a road shutout in Mount Vernon on Saturday, so the Comets' trip to Wessington Springs on Oct. 13 will be a big one for the Blackhawks, who may be playing for an 8-0 regular season at that point.

One reason for success: With all kinds of experience back at the skill positions, Hamlin is cruising again offensively, rushing for 7.5 yards per carry and 20 touchdowns on the ground in the first four games.

Best win: With that said, Hamlin's defense has been stout, allowing 26 total points in the first five games. Britton-Hecla scored 12 of those on Sept. 8 and Hamlin still won the game with ease by a 57-12 margin.

Biggest hurdle still ahead: Hamlin hosts Warner on Sept. 29, a game that the Monarchs won 8-6 last season. With a win, the Chargers should assure themselves that they're home for most, if not all, of the Class 9AA playoffs.

One reason for success: Boasting the No. 1 scoring defense in Class 9AA, the Trojans have held three of five opponents scoreless and allowed 20 total points through five weeks. Parkston's offense is hardly a slouch, putting up 46.8 points per game, which is second in the class.

Best win: The Trojans blasted then-No. 1 Wolsey-Wessington (Class 9A) 54-0 on the Warbirds' home field back on Sept. 1. Parkston has also won its lone competitive contest to date, holding off Hanson in a 16-6 final on Sept. 8.

Biggest hurdle still ahead: Parkston welcomes Class 9A Gregory on Sept. 29 in a matchup of 2022 state finalists before wrapping up the regular season slate on Oct. 6 at Bon Homme. Of note, the Trojans will be idle on the final week of the nine-man regular season calendar, giving Parkston extra lead time for a Thursday, Oct. 19, contest that will kick off the postseason.

One reason for success: The Cubs have been relatively quiet in getting to 5-0, but they have racked up 45.4 points per game. Mateo Kleinhans is a top-tier dual-threat quarterback who had a hand in five touchdowns in Friday's win over Chester, and Tommy Walth and Joese Topete-Lopez have led the running game.

Best win: A-H had a 38-8 win over Corsica-Stickney on Aug. 25, which has looked better over time as the Jaguars haven't lost since.

Biggest hurdle still ahead: The Cubs get to host Avon on Sept. 29 for the home team's homecoming celebration. The teams met twice last season, including a 30-14 Avon win in the state quarterfinals.

One reason for success: Exceptional balance in all phases has paid dividends for the Hawks. On offense, Canistota can gash even the best nine-man defenses on the ground and through the air, aided by the abilities of dual-threat quarterback Tage Ortman, who is surrounded by weapons. The Hawks are equally adept on the defensive end, as averages of 42 points for and 11.4 points against per game both rank No. 4 in Class 9A

Best win: The Hawks own two road wins over ranked Class 9AA opposition, having taken down Howard 30-18 on Aug. 25 and most recently downing Elkton-Lake Benton 24-12. Canistota also defeated Class 9AA Viborg-Hurley 44-21 on Sept. 1.

Biggest hurdle still ahead: Continuing the trend of Class 9AA tests, the Hawks host Hanson on Sept. 22 and visit Platte-Geddes on Oct. 13 as two of the final three contests. Sandwiched in the middle is a home date with a 4-1 Deubrook Area squad.

One reason for success: Big plays have helped get the Ranchers up and running again this season. Through the first four games of the season, they averaged nearly nine yards per carry on the ground and nearly 25 yards per pass. Together, they had 21 touchdowns in the first four games. Rylee Veal has rushed for 11.5 yards per carry and seven touchdowns halfway through the regular season.

Best win: With nearly 500 yards of total offense, the Ranchers got a win over rival Lemmon/McIntosh on the road by a score of 32-14. Sophomore quarterback Hayden Pihl threw for three touchdowns in the win.

Biggest hurdle still ahead: The Ranchers' last two games will be their toughest, hosting Wall in Bison and traveling to Timber Lake on Oct. 6, with the bye week coming prior to the playoffs starting. Harding County has played Class 9A's second-easiest schedule so far, with an opponent's winning percentage of .324.

One reason for success: Commend Lyman's ability to reload, as quarterback Brayden Oldenkamp, Rory McManus, Carter Erikson and Kellen Griffith have helped replace a talented senior class that got the Raiders into the Class 9A semifinals last season and average 33.5 points per game so far this season.

Best win: Make it two wins, both in overtime, as Lyman has defeated Kadoka Area and White River in back-to-back weeks on the road at the wire.

Biggest hurdle still ahead: Wall, still talented off a state championship in Class 9AA, will be a key measuring stick for the Raiders on Friday, Sept. 22 in Presho. The Eagles have won the last two meetings between the squads, 48-6 in 2022 and 42-6 in 2021.

One reason for success: Skill players have been good for Philip early in the season. Lane Kuchenbecker has thrown for seven touchdowns, including four to Jess Jones. Layton Terkildsen has been the top rushing threat at nearly seven yards per carry and four touchdowns.

Best win: The best win was the first one, a 22-12 win at Class 9AA Wall in the Scotties' opener. It was a close game but Ryker Peterson's pick-six was the pivotal play to send Philip past its rivals. It's the only team with a winning record Philip has played yet this season, as the Scotties have the class' easiest schedule (opponents are a combined 11-27 so far).

Biggest hurdle still ahead: White River is still ahead on Oct. 13 at home but Philip plays three consecutive winless opponents before then. The Scotties have a great shot at an 8-0 regular season.

One reason for success: The Monarchs' dominance has been noticed. They've allowed only seven points per game this season (second-best in the class) and racked up 51 points per game (tops in Class 9A), powered by the do-it-all talents of Hunter Cramer. Since the start of 2022, Warner has won 15 of its last 16 games.

Best win: The most recent win, a 67-16 win over Castlewood, stands out, in part because the Warriors have played one of the toughest schedules in the state. And the Monarchs still ended the game early due to the 50-point rule.

Biggest hurdle still ahead: The Monarchs head north to face Faulkton Area in a battle of undefeateds on the campus of Northern State. After that, Warner travels to Hayti to play Hamlin in another battle of stalwart nine-man squads.

One reason for success: Rushing and defense. On their way to being the last Class 9B undefeated squad, the Trojans have run for 200-plus yards in the last four games and have allowed eight points or less in four games this season. Garrett Cramer has been the key cog in the backfield, rushing for nine touchdowns over the last four games.

Best win: The Trojans have a win in hand over 2022 state champions Hitchcock-Tulare 40-0 but the win over Ipswich in the season opener by a score of 24-6 was the closest game they've played all year.

Biggest hurdle still ahead: Faulkton Area faces off with Warner at Northern State's Dacotah Bank Stadium this Friday. If the Trojans win that one, they'll be firmly in the conversation as one of the top nine-man teams in the state, regardless of classification.

* Sioux Valley takes Big East battle: In a matchup of No. 2 versus No. 3 in Class 11B, the Cossacks rolled to a 42-6 win at Bridgewater-Emery/Ethan. Sioux Valley continues to make its case for No. 1 consideration, moving to 5-0 on the season.

* Watertown tops Warriors: Class 11AA Watertown earned a 41-27 over Class 11AAA Sioux Falls Washington, as the Arrows improved to 3-1 ahead of a road trip to top-ranked Pierre.

* Defensive struggle favors De Smet: Ranked No. 2 in Class 9B, the Bulldogs earned a 14-6 home win against Class 9A No. 3 Wolsey-Wessington. The Warbirds have played a very tough schedule but after 98 total points in their first two wins, they've scored six points against Parkston and De Smet, top teams in Class 9AA and Class 9B.

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* Corsica-Stickney's Waylon Bolle scored on touchdown runs of 53, 69 and 84 yards, finishing with 214 ground yards on eight carries, plus an 84-yard touchdown reception in the Jaguars' 50-15 win over Burke.

* Taiden Hoyer put up 127 passing yards and three touchdowns with 124 rushing yards on eight carries while Howard took down Freeman/Marion/Freeman Academy 45-18.

* Bon Homme's Landon Schmidt ran for three touchdowns, scoring from 3, 7 and 38 yards out and finishing with 153 yards on 22 carries. The effort helped the Cavaliers earn their first win of the season while handing Stanley County its first loss in a 28-22 final.

* Iden Myers churned out 263 rushing yards and three scores for Kimball/White Lake and added nine tackles on defense, as the Wildkats ran away with a 52-8 win over Potter County.

* Boston Katzer totaled eight touchdown involvements for Lennox, as the Orioles rolled to a 58-7 win over Custer. The junior quarterback went 19-for-26 for 370 yards and seven touchdowns through the air — including eight completions for 187 yards and five scores to receiver Porter Ihnen — to go with another score and 83 yards rushing.

* Wall breezed to a 48-6 win over White River, powered by six touchdowns from Burk Blasius. The senior quarterback racked up 177 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 12 carries while adding 132 yards and three more scores on 15-for-21 passing.

* Waverly-South Shore's Zach Ries tossed six touchdown passes and rushed for another in a 58-36 shootout win over Florence/Henry. On the night, Ries was 22 of 42 passing for 294 yards.

* Camron Maciejewski stuffed the stat sheet in Hot Springs' 31-7 defeat of St. Thomas More, rushing for 274 yards, recording an interception return for a touchdown and snaring eight tackles for the Bison.

* Hunter Cramer led Warner to a 67-16 romp of Castlewood, rushing for 121 yards and four scores in addition to passing for 225 yards and one touchdown.

* In Deuel's 24-6 defeat of Groton Area, Trey Maaland accumulated 215 yards rushing and 157 yards passing with a hand in three total touchdowns, including an 87-yard scoring strike.

* Aberdeen Roncalli's Zane Backous had a hand in a half-dozen touchdowns in a 42-22 win over Mobridge-Pollock, throwing for three scores and rushing for three more while finishing with 262 total yards of offense.

* Dell Rapids topped Canton 48-30, led by Mason Stubbe, who recorded 94 yards rushing and three touchdowns on the ground to go with three receptions for 77 yards and a fourth score. Defensively, he also chipped in an interception and three tackles.

Here are three games on next week's schedule we're fired up for:

* Warner vs. Faulkton Area, in Aberdeen: A high-profile nine-man matchup pitting the Class 9A No. 2 Monarchs and the Class 9B No. 1 Trojans takes center stage under the lights at Northern State's Dacotah Bank Stadium. Another team is guaranteed to fall from the list of unbeatens with this one.

* O'Gorman at Sioux Falls Lincoln: The Class 11AAA hierarchy will be ironed out one more degree next week, as the two remaining undefeated teams square off. Lincoln has hardly been tested so far this season and will be looking to get back at the Knights for a 35-28 loss a year ago.

* Corsica-Stickney at Avon: A pivotal Class 9B clash features a rematch of a highly entertaining tilt from the 2022 regular season, a 36-28 Jaguars victory last season in Corsica.