Cowboys, Chargers battle at the Dome
VERMILLION—Colome and Sully Buttes have both made a Class 9B state championship game appearance in the past two seasons, but this year, they'll go head-to-head.
At 1 p.m. today in the DakotaDome, the No. 1 Chargers (11-0) and No. 2 Cowboys (11-0), who won it all in 2016, will have a rematch of last year's semifinal, which Sully Buttes won 36-20.
"(We have) a chip on our shoulder," Colome coach Ben Connot said. "That's something we've had all year. We didn't like how last year ended. We felt like we were a couple of plays from winning that game."
This is also the only state championship game between two undefeated teams, featuring a Cowboy team winning by 50 points per game and Sully Buttes by 41.3. Their success has been in part to two of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the state in Colome's Jackson Kinzer and Sully Buttes' Nick Wittler.
Even though Kinzer has led the Cowboys in rushing (1,223 yards) and passing (1,263), while scoring 42 total touchdowns this season, Connot knows Colome will have to ride the hot hand against a defense with few weaknesses. Luckily, the Cowboys have plenty.
Layton Thieman has been Kinzer's favorite target, reeling in 29 catches for 611 yards and 14 scores. On the ground, Chase Dufek and Riley Shippy have run for 996 and 701 yards, respectively, and 11 touchdowns each.
"If you watch them play, they've scored on a number of big plays," Sully Buttes coach Mark Senftner said. "Any time they have the ball, they're a threat to score. It doesn't matter if they're in their territory or your territory."
The Chargers will look toward linebacker Cameron Ogle, who Senftner called their quarterback of the defense, and defensive backs Grant Johnson and Wittler to prevent the home run plays.
Although, it's been all nine players playing assignment-sound defense that's led to the Chargers allowing 7.3 points per game this postseason, according to Senftner.
Sully Buttes also plays a physical brand of football, per Connot, which will test Colome's conditioning. The Cowboys' defense could be running a lot of it can't contain Wittler, a former wide receiver, whose mobility was praised by both coaches.
Connot hopes to make him one-dimensional, though knows teams have struggled to do so.
That's led to a balanced offensive attack for Sully Buttes, which is what Senftner said was a key for its postseason success.
Wittler has thrown for 1,894 yards and 30 touchdowns, including 446 yards to Johnson, 444 to Ogle and 314 to Sebastian Frost. The ground game has been paced by Morris Hofer's 1,038 yards, while he also has 633 receiving yards.
Thieman and Dufek, who both have three interceptions, will play an integral part in slowing down Sully Buttes' pass game.
"(Dufek) does a lot of different things for us," Connot said. "He's kind of a hybrid player. He can play on the outside, he can play on the inside and he just needs to play fast, react and do his job."
Despite the playmakers scattered across the field, Connot says one of the most intriguing matchups features Colome's six-foot-two, 320 pound defensive lineman Dawson Varilek and the Chargers' six-foot-three, 270-pound Jett Lamb, who Connot called "one of the best offensive lineman in the state."
"Jett Lamb has been a key for us reading defenses and getting pressure on the quarterback," Senftner said.
This will be both players second time playing for a state championship, though Senftner isn't positive that will help calm nerves for any of the returning players.
"Every game is a different game, so what happened last year probably won't play into this year's game," Senftner said. "But hopefully that experience does help."