Sep. 12—MITCHELL — Less than two weeks have gone by in September, but the midway point of the regular season is upon the vast majority of football programs among the ranks of the three nine-man divisions and Class 11B.
Much can change in the month before the regular season concludes on Oct. 14, but with most programs having four games under their belts, there are teams that have begun to separate themselves and those that have room to climb in the second half of the schedule.
In this Gridiron Report, the Mitchell Republic takes a look at how programs across four classes have started their seasons. This includes a focus on how the South Dakota Prep Media polls have evolved over the course of the past month and how the media rankings compare to the seed-point standings, which ultimately decide the playoff seeding.
As the name suggests, the media rankings are done by at-will voting among South Dakota media members and are subjective measures of where teams stand. By contrast, the seed-point standings are calculated using every team's results (win or loss) from each game on their schedule and weighted based on each opponent's winning percentage, providing a more objective evaluation. This fundamental difference is what can result in significant disparities in a team's place in each ranking model, though the ways in which the rankings vary often change from class to class.
Here's a class-by-class look at the midseason standings (Note: The 11AAA, 11AA and 11A classes will be broken down in a future edition of the South Dakota Gridiron Report.):
Preseason top five: 1. Winner (18); 2. Bridgewater-Emery/Ethan; 3. Elk Point-Jefferson; 4. Sioux Valley; 5. St. Thomas More.
Also receiving votes: Aberdeen Roncalli, Tri-Valley, Mount Vernon/Plankinton, McCook Central/Montrose, Hot Springs.
Current top five (Sept. 6 media poll): 1. Winner (23) 4-0; 2. Bridgewater-Emery/Ethan 4-0; 3. Elk Point-Jefferson 4-0; 4. St. Thomas More 3-0; 5. Mount Vernon/Plankinton 4-0.
Also receiving votes: Aberdeen Roncalli, Sioux Valley, McCook Central/Montrose.
Current top five (seed points): 1. Aberdeen Roncalli, 47.25; T-2. McCook Central/Montrose, 46.50; T-2. Mount Vernon/Plankinton, 46.50; T-2. Winner, 46.50; 5. St. Thomas More, 46.00.
Despite not holding the top spot in terms of seed points halfway through the season, Class 11B still appears to run through Winner, which has won its four games to date by a combined score of 184-32.
However, several strong contenders are in a hotly contested race with the Warriors near the top, as the top seven programs — Aberdeen Roncalli, McCook Central/Montrose, Mount Vernon/Plankinton, Winner, St. Thomas More, Elk Point-Jefferson and Bridgewater-Emery/Ethan — all check in with records of 3-0 or 4-0 after Sept. 10.
EPJ — ranked third but sixth in seed points — owns perhaps the most impressive collection of results to date, as the Huskies have won all three of their games without allowing a single point (155-0).
The number of undefeateds will be steadily clipped over the coming weeks, as many of those programs are set to face off with one another before the postseason.
As it stands, the postseason cutoff would occur between two teams tied at 40 seed points, with No. 16 Flandreau getting the nod over No. 17 Groton Area, but there's likely to be plenty of shuffling along that line, as seven teams — nearly one-fourth of the 29-team class — sit within one seed point on either side of 40.
Scheduled matchups between currently undefeated teams:
Sept. 16: EPJ at MCM
Sept. 30: Winner at BEE
Oct. 1: STM at Roncalli
Oct. 7: BEE at MCM; West Central (11A) at Winner
Oct. 14: EPJ at BEE; Winner at MVP; STM at Dell Rapids (11A)
Preseason top five: 1. Howard (11); T-2. Wall (2); T-2. Platte-Geddes (4); 4. Hanson (1); 5. Hamlin.
Also receiving votes: Parkston, Bon Homme, Ipswich, Florence-Henry.
Current top five (Sept. 6 media poll): 1. Howard (22) 4-0; 2. Wall (1) 4-0; 3. Hamlin 4-0; 4. Parkston 3-1; 5. Hanson 3-1.
Also receiving votes: Viborg/Hurley, Freeman/Marion/Freeman Academy.
Current top five (seed points): 1. Elkton-Lake Benton, 46.50; T-2. Hanson, 45.75; T-2. Howard, 45.75; T-4. Freeman/Marion/Freeman Academy, 45.00; T-4. Hamlin, 45.00; T-4. Wall, 45.00.
A three-way tie for fourth in the midseason seed-point race means all five remaining undefeated programs in the class are included in the top five of the standings. Hanson, the only one-loss member of the group, is tied with the team it lost to, Howard.
But perhaps the most interesting case is that of Elkton-Lake Benton. The Elks have not received much attention in the media poll to date but stand as Class 9AA's No. 1 seed after four games.
The largest discrepancy between the media rankings and seed point hierarchy is with respect to Parkston. The Trojans are a top-five team according to the media but would be forced to play on the road as the No. 9 seed if the postseason started this week. Right behind them is Viborg-Hurley, also 3-1 with a win over then-No. 1 in Class 9A Canistota.
A difficult schedule has the class's two-time defending champions from Platte-Geddes at 1-2, but the Black Panthers would still be included in the playoff field as the No. 14 seed in the current standings.
Britton-Hecla (2-2) holds a 0.25-point edge on winless Garretson for the final place in the playoffs as it stands, with three teams less than one-half point ahead and two less than a full point behind.
Preseason top five: 1. Canistota (14); 2. Gregory (1); 3. Harding County/Bison (1); 4. Wolsey-Wessington (1); 5. Warner (1).
Also receiving votes: Castlewood, Chester Area, Timber Lake, Lyman, Colman-Egan.
Current top five (Sept. 6 media poll): 1. Gregory (18) 3-0; 2. Warner (2) 4-0; 3. Castlewood (1) 3-0; 4. Canistota (2) 2-2; 5. Lyman 4-0.
Also receiving votes: Deubrook Area, Harding County/Bison, Chester Area, Alcester-Hudson, Wolsey-Wessington.
Current top five (seed points): 1. Warner, 47.25; 2. Castlewood, 46.00; 3. Lyman, 45.75; 4. Alcester-Hudson, 44.25; 5. Gregory, 44.00.
Five different programs received first-place votes in the preseason, and four weeks hasn't done much to iron out the conflicting opinions.
Gregory has replaced Canistota at the top of the rankings since the season started, but those same Hawks along with Warner and Castlewood continue to take top votes away from the Gorillas. Another case of a program flying under the radar, Alcester-Hudson is 4-0 and has the fourth-most seed points, but only got one vote in the most recent poll.
Five undefeated teams remain but are outnumbered by the seven teams still in search f their first win. Two of those currently winless programs — Colman-Egan (0-3) and Burke (0-4) — would be the No. 15 and No. 16 seed entrants into the postseason.
Canistota falls into a similar situation as Parkston from Class 9AA, standing as a road playoff team if the postseason started this week despite being looked on favorably in the media rankings due to a grueling schedule. The Hawks sit ninth in terms of seed points, just behind No. 8 Deubrook Area.
Preseason top five: 1. Dell Rapids St. Mary (7); 2. Herreid/Selby Area (7); 3. Avon (3); 4. De Smet (1); 5. Hitchcock-Tulare.
Also receiving votes: Faulkton Area, Lemmon/McIntosh, Potter County, Sully Buttes, Kadoka Area.
Current top five (Sept. 6 media poll): 1. Herreid/Selby Area (23) 3-0; 2. Hitchcock-Tulare 4-0; 3. De Smet 3-1; 4. Avon 3-1; 5. Sully Buttes 4-0.
Also receiving votes: Kadoka Area, Dell Rapids St. Mary.
Current top five (seed points): 1. Herreid/Selby Area, 46.00; T-2. Hitchcock-Tulare, 43.50; T-2. Sully Buttes, 43.50; 4. Kadoka Area, 43.00; 5. De Smet, 42.75.
Parity in the preseason poll has quickly evolved into a clear favorite in the smallest nine-man classification.
The class's defending champion, Dell Rapids St. Mary, ceded positioning with three early losses, clearing the way for defending Class 9A runner-up Herreid/Selby Area to take firm control (unanimous No. 1 in voting) of the top spot with early-season dominance. The Wolverines are also the only team to pair the No. 1 media ranking with the No. 1 spot in seed points at the midpoint, which will be tested on Sept. 30 with a road trip to face another currently undefeated team, Sully Buttes.
Class 9B has the fewest remaining undefeated teams, with HSA and Sully Buttes joined by Hitchcock-Tulare.
Perhaps the biggest riser in the Class 9B ranks, Corsica-Stickney is 3-1 and holds the No. 7 position in seed points after going 2-6 in 2021. Last year's No. 1 seed, Avon, has one loss (to Class 9AA Freeman/Marion/Freeman Academy) and still figures to be a significant player, sitting just outside the top five for seed points.
Irene-Wakonda currently holds the No. 16 position and last place in the postseason over Gayville-Volin and Sunshine Bible Academy in a tie for 17th.
Three wins from the weekend of high school football that deserve your attention:
* Tea Area wins shootout with O'Gorman: It's hard to argue with a game that had 965 yards of total offense and both teams moving the ball up and down the field, capped with a wild final touchdown. Playing a Class 11AAA foe for the first time, the Titans have a victory that fans will remember for quite a while.
* Winner blanks Beresford: Playing the fourth-ranked team in Class 11A presented an interesting test for Class 11B No. 1 Winner, but the Warriors passed with relative ease. Winner shut out the Watchdogs, holding them to 95 yards on 43 plays while the Warriors racked up 276 yards rushing on 41 attempts.
* Elkton-Lake Benton defeats Deubrook Area in battle of unbeatens: The Elks continued a torrid start with a convincing 44-20 result against a fellow undefeated team in the Dolphins. ELB is now 4-0 and sits atop the Class 9AA seed point standings ahead of a matchup with Canistota.
Recognizing the top performances of the week:
* Tye Merrill rushed the ball 14 times for 144 yards and two scores and caught a pair of passes for 25 yards in Canistota's 46-0 win over Florence.
* Aiden Barfuss helped lead Winner to a 22-0 victory over Beresford with 144 yards rushing on 14 carries and two touchdowns.
* Jackson Remmers posted big numbers on the ground for normally pass-happy McCook Central/Montrose, toting the ball 33 times for 229 yards and four touchdowns in a shutout win over Woonsocket/Wessington Springs/Sanborn Central.
* Justin Zirpel played a part in four touchdowns on Friday, leading West Central to a win over Madison. He had 113 yards on 15 carries and two rushing scores, plus 208 yards on 18-for-26 passing and two touchdowns. On defense, Dalton Mulder had 14 tackles and a sack for West Central.
* Riley Rothschadl helped lead Bon Homme to a 20-0 win over Viborg-Hurley with a team-best 99 yards on the ground on 18 tries, as well as 62 yards passing. He accounted for all three Cavalier touchdowns, rushing for two and throwing for the other.
* Flandreau had a solid night through the air in its 28-12 win over Baltic, highlighted by Ethan Hoffman's seven receptions for 77 yards and a touchdown and Kolby Peters' four catches for 52 yards and two scores.
* Joey Foxley logged three catches for 45 yards and a touchdown for Platte-Geddes in a 32-0 win over Kimball/White Lake, but perhaps left his biggest mark on the defensive side of the ball where he had five tackles — one for loss — and three interceptions.
* Colome's Kash Heath rushed for 155 yards on 20 carries with a pair of scores. Eli Vobr also threw for 127 yards and two touchdowns, while adding 75 yards on the ground. Kaden Pechota tacked on 62 rushing yards and a score of his own in Colome's 34-28 win over Burke.
* In O'Gorman's 44-41 win over Tea Area, Bennett Dannenbring threw for a total of 468 yards and five touchdowns on 50% passing efficiency, including an 85-yard touchdown pass to Ryland Satter, who had two touchdown receptions and 204 total receiving yards himself in the win.
* Jackson Jarding scored the only touchdown of the game for Hanson when he ran back a 100-yard fumble recovery for six. He also had five tackles and 1.5 for loss, while adding 36 rushing yards offensively in the Beavers' 8-6 win.
* Sioux Valley cruised to a 55-18 win over Hill City with the help of Donovan Rose, who toted the ball six times for 141 yards and took half of them to the house. He also returned a kick for a touchdown in the win.
* Pierre's Lincoln Kienholz was at his best again on Saturday, completing 16 of 23 passes for 378 yards and six touchdowns, all coming in the first half. Jack Merkwan caught five passes for 209 yards and one touchdown, while Jackson Edman converted all three of his grabs into redzone scores.
Here are three games on next week's schedule we're fired up for:
* Elkton-Lake Benton at Canistota: Elks quarterback Ryan Krog has been among the top players in nine-man football through the first half of the season, but his team will be put to the test against the Class 9AA No. 4 Hawks, who bounced back from a pair of losses in a big way against Florence/Henry.
* Yankton at Pierre: Eastern South Dakota Conference rivals clash in a meeting of top-three programs in Class 11AA. The Governors and Bucks have got out to similarly-dominant 3-0 starts, combining to outscore opponents 276-34 (152-21 for Pierre, 124-13 for Yankton), but one side has to give this week.
* Freeman/Marion/Freeman Academy at Howard: No one must have told the Phoenix that teams are supposed to experience growing pains in their first year of existence because FMFA is 3-0 in the co-op's inaugural season. However, Class 9AA No. 1 Howard looms as the most daunting test on the schedule coming off of a bye week.