It all comes down to this.
Two undefeated teams. Playoff position at stake. Label as ‘championship favorite’ on the line.
Top-ranked Yankton (8-0) will play second-ranked Brookings (8-0) in the regular season finale Thursday night at 7 p.m. at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium in Brookings.
Can the Bucks find a way to slow down Josh Buri?
Can the Bobcats find a way to slow down Trevor Fitzgerald?
Those are two of the many storylines for the showdown. Here are five things about the regular season finale.
What’s At Stake?
Not only is the Eastern South Dakota Conference (ESD) championship up for grabs on Thursday night, so too is the No. 1 seed for the upcoming Class 11AA playoffs.
Yankton and Brookings are already guaranteed to be at home for the opening round of the playoffs but it’ll be a matter of who each team hosts. As the standings sit coming into this week, Douglas is the No. 7 seed and Spearfish is the No. 8 seed, so one of those two will travel to Crane-Youngworth Field for the Class 11AA quarterfinals.
Also in action this week, Pierre (5-2) plays Douglas (1-6), Sturgis (4-4) faces Spearfish (0-7) and Mitchell (3-5) will take on Huron (3-5).
Looking For A Faster Start
Although the Bucks have dominated the second halves of their games this season, they’re still looking for a quicker start.
Yankton has been held without a touchdown in the first quarter in each of the last four games and has out-scored its opponents 51-33 in the opening quarter this season. The Bucks also have a 99-53 edge in the second quarter.
It’s been after halftime, however, where Yankton has really taken control. It owns a 117-6 advantage in the third quarter and a 58-27 edge in the fourth quarter, due in large part to wear down its opponent.
One of Yankton’s main objectives for last week’s game against Douglas was getting off to a better start, according to head coach Brady Muth.
“We didn’t get that done,” he said. “We keep approaching that target from different angles, and we’ll have to focus in on it again this week.”
The Bucks’ coach was, though, was pleased with the way his team responded in the second half a week ago — Yankton and Douglas were tied 7-7 at halftime, but the Bucks had a 21-0 edge in the third quarter.
“Our athletes were athletes,” Muth said. “You started to see them trust themselves a little bit more last week. They got out of their own way, so to speak, in the second half.”
Offensive Line ‘Getting There’
Anchoring an offense that features a standout running back (Corbin Sohler) and two dual threat quarterbacks (Trevor Fitzgerald and Rugby Ryken) is the offensive line for Yankton.
Guys like Carson Haak, Gaige Koster, Christian Thorsted, Zavier Leonard, Bodie Rutledge, Dillon Ahrens and Brady Smith have led the way up front this season. Head coach Brady Muth, who called the line a “fun group to be around,” credited assistant coach Terry Huber for the work he’s put in with the linemen.
“We make some mistakes here and there, but when you go back and break things down, we are making mistakes due to overthinking things,” Muth said. “We aren’t short on effort or attitude on our offensive line.”
The guys on the line don’t quite realize yet how good they are, he added.
“If we can get them to let loose a little and trust themselves and the process, they can get to another level,” Muth said. “We have to be there.
“Playoff football is physical football and the offensive line leads the way.”
Slowing Down Buri
Brookings got a boost this season when Josh Buri, a standout running back from Stewartville, Minnesota, decided to transfer across the border to be able to play football this fall.
A year ago as a junior, he rushed for 1,994 yards and 30 touchdowns for Stewartville, and has continued to put up big numbers in South Dakota.
Buri, a 5-foot-11, 201-pound senior, has run for 1,127 yards and 17 touchdowns this season. He has also caught nine passes for 122 yards and a touchdown.
“Josh has been a nice complement to our program,” Brookings head coach Brady Clark said. “We have a lot of players that are very skilled and have stepped up as the season has progressed. This allows us to run or pass the ball efficiently at all times.”
Scouting The Bobcats
Brookings is guided by first year-head coach Brady Clark, a Hartford native who played college football at Black Hills State University and was most recently the head coach at Oldham-Ramona-Rutland.
He inherited a team that lost in the Class 11AA championship game to Pierre a year ago, which marked the program’s title game appearance since 2015 (against Yankton).
According to Clark, the Bobcats have progressed each week this season.
“We still aren’t playing at the level we believe we can reach, but if we continue to trust the process, we will get there,” he said.
The Bobcats also scored the addition of senior lineman Parker Theobald, who played with Buri in Stewartville, Minnesota. Theobald has recorded 44 tackles and 6.5 sacks this season.
Buri has led a rushing attack that averages 303.1 yards per game and has scored 34 touchdowns this season. Junior quarterback Jaxon Bowes has passed for 694 yards (86.8 per game) with 10 touchdowns and four interceptions.
The Bucks will no doubt look for ways to slow down Buri (who averages over 14 yards per carry), but if they focus only on Buri, they’ll miss all of Brookings’ other offensive weapons, according to Muth.
“We’ve got to play really good football; trust our reads and get in the right run fit,” Muth added.
Brookings, which Muth said has a physical defense, is not going to make many mistakes.
“If we are going to be successful, we have to be the more physical team, and stress their thought processes with scheme and execution,” he added.
Follow @jhoeck on Twitter