The Divide County football team can take another step toward clinching its third consecutive 9-man Region 4 championship and 19th overall when it plays at Shiloh Christian on Friday night.
The Maroons (6-0 overall, 6-0 region) came into the season as the clear favorite to defend the title. The Skyhawks (6-0, 6-0) were picked to finish ninth in the 10-team region, according to the preseason coaches poll, ahead of only Bowman County, which is one of two winless teams in the region.
"I think they caught everybody by surprise," Divide County co-coach Nate Nelson said. "They've just plugged guys in. For them to be this successful with younger players with less experience shows that they are a very well-run program."
Shiloh Christian coach Funnon Barker, center, addresses his team at halftime during a game against Mott-Regent. Photo courtesy of Great Plains Examiner.
The matchup between undefeated teams features the region's best offense against the region's best defense. Shiloh Christian leads the region in points scored with 304, 19 points more than Divide County.
The Maroons sport the region's top defense allowing just 10.8 points per game and 68 total points in six games. Divide County is the only team in the region that has allowed less than 100 points. Central McLean is second with 104 points allowed. Shiloh has allowed 150 points.
Divide County senior quarterback Lance Knudson has accounted for 20 touchdowns - seven passing, 13 rushing - this season. Senior tight end Bennett Lystad has been Knudson's go-to option as five of his touchdown passes have been to the 6-foot-2, 175-pound target.
Junior running back Isaac Jacobs serves as a triple-threat out of the backfield. The 2011 all-region selection has rushed for five touchdowns, caught two more and threw one to Lystad in the season-opener against Trenton-Trinity Christian.
Shiloh is the only team statistically stronger offensively in the region. The Skyhawks average 50.7 points per game and have scored 57-plus points three times this season.
"We have to slow them down a little bit," Nelson said. "We have to make sure we force them to punt here and there. Looking at the tape, we have to play disciplined football."
The running game has been a huge part of the Shiloh's success this season with two running backs averaging over nine yards per carry with 50-plus attempts. Sophomore Blake Emmel leads the rushing attack with 938 yards and 12 touchdowns on 82 carries. Sophomore A.J. Dale has carried the ball 54 times for 531 yards and six touchdowns. As a team, the Skyhawks have 1,816 yards and 26 touchdowns on 207 carries.
Senior quarterback Taylor Crothers has already completed more passes and thrown for more yards in six games this season than he did all of last year. Crothers is 26-of-38 for 468 yards and 10 touchdowns. Last year Crothers completed 25-of-57 passes for 341 yards.
Shiloh is looking for revenge against Divide County, who crushed the Skyhawks 56-14 last season. The Skyhawks have already avenged its other losses from last season, defeating Central McLean and Mott-Regent on the road. A win against the Maroons would put Shiloh in prime position to earn its first region title in team history.
Raising the white flag
High school football doesn't have the parity that's seen on both the collegiate and professional level. While the anybody-can-beat-anybody-on-any-given-day mantra is true, the chance of seeing an upset in high school football is rare. The chance of seeing a blowout is more likely.
Twenty-one games played on Friday from 9-man to Class AA ended in 30-point margins or larger. Cavalier defeated Finley-Sharon-Hope-Page 60-0. Carrington beat Turtle Mountain 47-0. Stanley-Powers Lake routed Lewis & Clark-Our Redeemer's 49-0. Watford City crushed Garrison-Max 54-0. That's just to name a few.
"It's tough, especially in 9-man," Divide County co-coach Nate Nelson said. "Teams can put up points quick so you can't breathe easy until the game's over."
Less is learned in lopsided games, though confidence is built and back-up players gain experience. Blowouts are never easy on the players, but they can be even more difficult on the coaching staff - of the winning team.
High school coaches have nothing to gain by running up the score on an inferior opponent. There are state media polls that ranks the top five teams, but scholastic football doesn't have a complex points system and therefore the poll is largely irrelevant.
Winning a game by 30, 40 or 50 points may seem like that team is running up the score, but the box score tells a different story. Most of these blowouts could be much worse if the winning team decided to play full speed for all four quarters. Box scores show that the coaches know when it's time to take the foot off the pedal.
In Watford City's 52-0 victory over Garrison-Max, the Wolves led 40-0 at halftime, scoring 33 points in the second quarter. Watford City scored just 12 points in the second half, both touchdowns came on short-yardage runs.
In Velva's 42-8 win over New Town, the Aggies jumped out to a 35-0 halftime lead. New Town outscored Velva 8-7 in the second half.
Surrey led 22-0 after the first quarter against Mohall-Lansford-Sherwood and easily could have put 60 points on the board. Instead, the Mustangs scored 12 points over the final three quarters in a 34-0 victory.
There are 86 football teams among Class AA, Class A and 9-man. It's inevitable that some teams will be stronger than others and the coaches know that - whether they admit it or not. You didn't need a crystal ball to know that North Star was going to beat Four Winds-Warwick this season. The Bearcats led 50-0 at halftime and could have tried for 100 if they wanted. But North Star called off the dogs and only outscored Four Winds-Warwick 8-6 in the second half.