Nov. 3—WINNER, S.D. — If the Winner High School football team gets its way on Friday night, the Warriors will be headed back to its familiar position for this time of November and making plans for the Class 11B state championship game.
If not, the Fighting Cougars from McCook Central/Montrose will have learned plenty from last season's 66-28 state quarterfinal loss at Winner and pulled off the upset of the year in South Dakota's football playoffs.
The two teams will meet at 6 p.m. Central on Friday in a Class 11B semifinal at Winner's Warrior Field. Champions of the last two seasons in Class 11B, Winner (10-0) is seeking its 34th win in a row, while MCM (9-1) enters as the No. 5 seed in this year's bracket. The victor will take on either Elk Point-Jefferson or Hot Springs in the Class 11B championship game on Friday, Nov. 11 in Vermillion.
Postseason meetings are hardly uncharted territory for the two programs, which meet for a third consecutive year. In addition to last season's result, the Warriors emerged as 30-0 winners in the 2020 quarterfinals.
"It's the third time around, so we know what to expect," said MCM coach Shawn Flanagan after his team's quarterfinal win. "Having the opportunity to play in the semifinals against a great team is one of those chances you don't get very often. Winner is a great, well-coached team, but it should be a fun game and a great opportunity and challenge."
A win on Friday night secures Winner's sixth trip to the Class 11B championship game in the last eight years, with the Warriors scoring a 4-1 in those title contests. In total, Winner is seeking a 10th state championship in school history. Meanwhile, the Fighting Cougars, who are back in the semifinals for the first time since 2019, are seeking their first trip to the DakotaDome since 2011, when MCM took second place in an 18-14 Class 11B championship loss to Tri-Valley.
The Warriors are averaging nearly 44 points per game, while yielding just 6.7 points per contest. Winner's defense has yet to allow more than 200 yards or more than 12 points in a game this season, plus has forced 15 turnovers. As is tradition, the Warriors are delivering the goods in the rushing game, logging 311 yards per contest, while averaging only 40 offensive plays per game. Aiden Barfuss has rushed for 825 yards and 15 touchdowns, while Riley Orel has 720 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground.
MCM is hoping to get a faster start this time around after unlocking a big passing performance on the Warriors last season. Gavin Gordon threw for 384 yards, including hitting receiver Cody Miles 13 times for 230 yards and two touchdowns. Gordon and Miles have since graduated, but Will Cleveland caught 10 passes for 86 yards in that game and is one of a handful of top targets for Boston Katzer in the passing game.
For the season, Katzer has completed nearly 64% of his passes for 1,861 yards and 20 touchdowns. Four targets have at least 250 yards receiving and three touchdowns, but Cleveland leads the way with 38 receptions for 536 yards and six scores. The Katzer-Cleveland connection has been particularly effective as of late, with 21 pass completions resulting in 359 yards and all six touchdowns across the past four games, including eight for 183 and two touchdowns against Mount Vernon/Plankinton in the quarterfinals.
"The biggest thing was a few games in, we switched Will from a slot receiver to the outside because we just weren't getting him the ball enough, and that's helped him out" Flanagan said. "Sometimes our receivers will catch eight balls one game and no balls another game, and that goes for all of them. We have a plethora of receivers that have been doing a really good job this year and that really makes it tough for a team to take one guy away."
MCM running back Jackson Remmers had 1,102 yards and 17 touchdowns in the first 10 games of the season, including a pair of games with four or more touchdowns this year.