Oct. 3—MITCHELL — What would the high school football season be without a few surprises?
Everyone involved with high school football in South Dakota — players, coaches, media and fans — has preconceived notions about how the games and the seasons will play out. But there have been some great surprises so far this year, with resurgent programs or teams that have exceeded expectations.
In this week's Gridiron Report, our staff picked our top-five surprise teams in South Dakota high school football, listed in alphabetical order:
Perhaps it shouldn't be a surprise that a Byron Pudwill-led squad is surging after a couple of subpar seasons.
Last season, Bon Homme went 3-6, its second-straight six-loss campaign. Though the Cavaliers bowed out in the first round of the Class 9AA postseason, the result foreshadowed a program on the rise. As the No. 15 seed, Bon Homme pushed second-seeded Parkston to the limit in a 20-15 final.
This season, the Cavaliers have only been tripped up once, a 30-14 result against still-undefeated Elkton-Lake Benton on Sept. 1. That contest is the only instance in which Bon Homme has allowed an opponent to score more than once, as the Cavaliers boast Class 9AA's fourth-best scoring defense at 8.3 points per game.
Bon Homme's next two contests should provide a measuring stick to see where the Cavaliers truly fall in the Class 9AA hierarchy. First up is a trip to Parkston on Oct. 7 before a regular-season finale at Gregory.
After making it to the Class 9A championship game in 2017, the Jaguars were 15-22 over the last four seasons, including 2-7 last season. But under first-year coach Gregg Olawsky, the Jaguars have enjoyed a rejuvenation in 2022 behind a solid rushing game and a defense with a propensity for taking the ball away.
On offense, Waylon Bolle has rushed for more than 700 yards and 10 touchdowns, plus three receiving touchdowns, with Carter Wright accounting for seven rushing touchdowns and 542 rushing yards. Corsica-Stickney's defense has been a key part of its success, allowing 17 points per game and recording 16 takeaways in the first six games of the season.
C-S had its only loss on Aug. 26 to Alcester-Hudson in a 12-6 game that had eight total turnovers. The Jaguars will have an interesting close to the season, hosting Freeman/Marion/Freeman Academy and traveling to Sully Buttes in the final two weeks. With C-S standing at No. 7 in the Class 9B seed-point standings, victories in those contests can carry great value in the playoff seeding.
Quite simply, there has not been a more dominant team in South Dakota prep football this season than the Huskies.
With Noah McDermott running the show behind center alongside two top playmakers in Ben Swatek and Devon Schmitz and an impenetrable defense, EPJ pairs Class 11B's top scoring offense with its best scoring defense.
Through six games, the Huskies own a borderline unbelievable scoring margin of 306-7, an average of 51 points for and 1.2 points against per game. Five of the six contests were ended by the 50-point rule, including the only game in which an opponent scored, a 61-7 final against Flandreau.
EPJ's most difficult games (by opponent win-loss) resulted in wins of 50-0 over then-ranked Sioux Valley and 35-0 over McCook Central/Montrose, which remains MCM's only loss.
Given their form, the real surprise might be if the Huskies do not complete an undefeated regular season. Tri-Valley visits on Oct. 7 before EPJ makes a trip to challenge one of Class 11B's gatekeepers in recent years, Bridgewater-Emery/Ethan.
Two games remain in the regular season, yet the Elks have already doubled their win total from 2021.
ELB snuck into the Class 9AA postseason a year ago as the No. 16 seed as was promptly eliminated by No. 1 Hanson. Less than a year later, ELB has made quite a jump and, as of Oct. 2, is tied for third in the class, two spots ahead of Hanson and just behind defending Class 9A champion Howard.
Half of ELB's wins have come against competition with winning records — including one over another entrant on this list, Bon Homme — and a fourth came against Canistota, the preseason No. 1 in Class 9A that, while 3-4, is still widely considered to be among the best nine-man programs in the state.
Dual-threat quarterback Ryan Krog has been the driving force behind the Elks' push to the top, accounting for 28 total touchdowns (17 passing, 11 rushing) and nearly 1,800 yards of total offense. Receiver Tanner Stein has been the beneficiary of more than 600 yards and 10 touchdowns through the air, as has found the endzone almost every other time he's touched the football.
The Elks wrap up the regular season with two more contests against winning opponents, traveling to take on Florence/Henry on Oct. 7 before welcoming Castlewood on Oct. 14.
After a handful of very successful seasons, including three straight state championships, the split of Canistota/Freeman football left considerably more questions surrounding Freeman's future than its former co-op partner.
However, six games into the Freeman/Marion/Freeman Academy era, the first-year program is flourishing in perhaps the state's deepest class in terms of talented teams. The Phoenix are 5-1 with the loss coming to defending Class 9A and current Class 9AA No. 1 Howard.
Adding intrigue to FMFA's successful inaugural campaign, the Phoenix are one of few nine-man programs to rely heavily on the passing game to move the football, which has made freshman quarterback Riley Tschetter a breakout star. Tschtter has thrown for 1,316 yards and 20 touchdowns — 11 in the last two weeks — with only four interceptions to his name for the season. Maddox Kihne has hauled in 40 passes for 588 yards and eight touchdowns, including five in the last two contests.
Three wins from the weekend of high school football that deserve your attention:
* Parkston 32, Gregory 25: In a battle between an unbeaten Gregory team and a Parkston team that's only loss came by two points to Hanson, the Trojans came from behind, scoring with 39 seconds left to swipe the win.
* Kimball White/Lake 50, Dell Rapids St. Mary 20: Kimball/White Lake has been tasked with one of the toughest schedules in the state, but the Wildkats picked up their first win of the season against last year's Class 9B state champions.
* Pierre 43, Brandon Valley 34: Pierre trailed 21-0 in the first quarter and 34-21 in the second half but stormed back to take down Class 11AAA No. 4 Brandon Valley on the road and remain unbeaten.
Recognizing the top performances of the week:
* Reed Rus rushed eight times for 204 yards and three touchdowns, including an 84-yard touchdown run in the game's opening minute as Mount Vernon/Plankinton won 48-24 to keep an unbeaten record and improve to 7-0.
* Paxton Bierema accounted for four touchdowns — three rushing and one passing — and rushed for 177 yards as Avon knocked off No. 4-ranked Alcester-Hudson at home.
* Trey Maaland was 8-for-14 passing for 236 yards and two touchdowns, both going to Josh Mussi, who had three catches for 80 yards during Deuel's 50-0 victory over TDAACDC.
* Riley Tschetter's six touchdowns led Freeman/Marion/Freeman Academy to a 44-32 victory over Gayville-Volin. Tschetter threw 386 yards in the game, going 19-for-31 and scoring five of his touchdowns in the air. He also had 73 yards and another touchdown on the ground.
* Herreid/Selby running back Brenden Begeman eclipsed the 5,000 rushing-yards milestone on Friday night in a 60-20 win over Northwestern, putting him at No. 13 all-time in South Dakota rushing yards.
* Sioux Falls Lincoln's Jack Smith had an eye-popping 21 catches, 377 yards and four touchdowns in the Patriots' 37-34 overtime win over Rapid City Stevens. Tate Schafer had 453 passing yards and five touchdowns for Lincoln.
* Wall's Burk Blasius was a perfect 9-for-9 for 171 yards and four passing touchdowns in the Eagles' home win over Harding County/Bison.
Here are three games on next week's schedule we're fired up for:
* Freeman/Marion/Freeman Academy at Corsica-Stickney: Two teams many didn't have on their radars coming into the season meet in a nine-man clash with the makings of a good one. In a clash of styles, it'll be FMFA's air raid led by Riley Tschetter against C-S's more traditional ground game featuring backs like Waylon Bolle and Carter Wright.
* West Central at Winner: Arguably the two best teams in their respective classes and two schools with long, storied histories in South Dakota high school football, including playing each other in Class 11A postseason games years ago. Winner will put its 29-game winning streak on the line when it hosts the Trojans in a matchup of unbeatens.
* Bridgewater-Emery/Ethan at McCook Central/Montrose: A pivotal battle for seeding in Class 11B between two 5-1 teams, Bridgewater-Emery/Ethan will look for its eighth win in a row over McCook Central/Montrose in a fixture that was decided by two points last year.