There’s a little over two months before the 2022 South Dakota high school football season, but there’s never a bad time to get excited about some of the best games on the schedule for the upcoming year.
Schedules were finalized by the SDHSAA on May 4, and full schedules are available on the activities association website.
A lot can change between now and the start of the season, and there will definitely be some instant classics that won’t find their way onto this list. But for everyone who can’t wait, here’s a very early look at some games to keep an eye on.
Mitchell at Yankton
Opening the season with a rivalry game? Sounds good. Yankton and Mitchell had multiple meetings last year, and frankly, neither were particularly close. The Bucks outscored the Kernels by a combined 66 points in a regular-season game and playoff matchup last season.
However, these teams will always bring out the best in one another whenever they meet. Even if it’s another lopsided matchup, this will mark a fairly-motivated season opener for Bucks quarterback Rugby Ryken. Ryken should be among South Dakota’s best this upcoming season after throwing for 2,536 yards last season.
In a semifinal matchup with Tea Area during last year’s playoffs, Ryken completely exploded in a game that nearly pushed Yankton to the 11AA state title game against the then-undefeated Titans. He should be a player to watch all season long. Why not start with the season opener?
Brandon Valley at Harrisburg
Both Brandon Valley and Harrisburg had a lot of talented seniors. The Tigers, especially. The quarterback who follows now-Minnesota quarterback Jacob Knuth, one of South Dakota’s best football players ever, will have big shoes to fill. They shouldn’t be asked to fill them immediately, though. Harrisburg has likely South Dakota’s best running back in now-senior Gavin Ross, which should give the next quarterback time to develop.
As for Brandon Valley, the Lynx had to operate last year without thousands of yards of offense they had the year prior and still had a successful season. If they find more offense this year, the Lynx should be right in the mix for a state championship again.
Even with all the change these two teams are experiencing, this matchup will still be a rematch between the two Class 11AAA championship teams. In week three, no less. One would think that, even if both these teams regress from a season ago, a Brandon Valley-Harrisburg matchup is always worth seeing. This will be one you won’t want to miss early in the season.
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Sioux Falls Roosevelt at O’Gorman
When both these teams met in the playoffs last year, they were at the tail-end of a late season surge to establish themselves as perhaps the two best football teams in Sioux Falls. O’Gorman won big in the matchup, but this could be a decidedly different Rough Riders team.
Roosevelt is still dealing with the impact of Jefferson being adding to the Sioux Falls public schools landscape, and as seniors graduated in May, this next football season might be the one where they feel the affects the most. That’s the case, especially on the offensive line, where Roosevelt loses quite a few starters.
But the Rough Riders still have running back Nelson Wright, who was dominant whenever Roosevelt was. They also seem to have found something in quarterback Jackson Brouwer, who got better and better as the season went on and clearly has a lot of poor talent. O’Gorman will be tough, and look like the more polished team now, but Roosevelt can surprise people next year. They could start that early in the season.
Madison at Milbank
Milbank was a huge surprise late in the season last year. They hardly let anyone score on them. Ever. Losing Bennett Schwenn is tough, meaning Milbank will be without its best athlete from a season ago, but there are a few returners on the defense from one that was utterly dominant in the late-season stretch.
As for Madison, they lost quarterback Nate Ricke, running back/linebacker Trey Smith and a whole host of other really strong players, but they should be in a strong position, too. Sophomore defensive lineman Parker Johnson will be a terror up front for most offenses, and the team will be playing off of some momentum from an undefeated season.
You’ll see there’s a trend here. This was last year’s 11A state championship game. Championship rematches as a test at the beginning of the season are fun. No matter what the score was in the final game of the season, it’s likely that both of these teams will be thinking about this game all summer.
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Bridgewater-Emery/Ethan at Sioux Valley
Before Winner took over the class, this was the biggest matchup in Class 11B early last season. It likely helped both teams that it happened in the very first game of the season, since Bridgewater-Emery/Ethan’s 44-0 loss to the Warriors the next week changed the opinion of everyone looking at the class’ landscape for the rest of the season .
But these two teams still played each other really well last year in their two matchups (two BEE wins) and historically have been a strong opponent for one another. Sioux Valley will have a different look last year after losing quarterback Parker Puetz and wide receiver Damian Danzeisen, among others. But change should be expected in high school sports, and Sioux Valley could get back to where they were by finding the right quarterback.
Bridgewater-Emery/Ethan, too, was a really young team last year and still has some big losses. Quarterback Kaden Klumb, running back Koby Kayser and more have graduated, but there were a whole lot of underclassmen making plays throughout the Seahawks’ 11B championship run. If Winner is less dominant than they were, perhaps this class is more up for grabs than a season ago, too.
De Smet at Wolsey-Wessington
De Smet can’t possibly be as good as they were last year … right? The Bulldogs are down a class this year in 9B after dominating their way throughout the 9A regular season last year. De Smet eventually fell to Herreid/Selby Area, which sticks in 9A and doesn’t have a rematch with the Bulldogs on the schedule this year, in the 9A semifinal last season.
But De Smet does get a chance against one of its former 9A rivals in Wolsey-Wessington. This is a rematch of last year’s season opener for each of these teams, which sent the Bulldogs and the Warbirds on fairly separate paths. Wolsey-Wessington should be, as they always are, capable of scoring a lot of points. And De Smet just needs to see how much of its returning team can recreate the scoring they were able to put up last year, something that is aplenty in South Dakota’s smallest class.
De Smet had a fairly large roster last year — and though replacing players like Colt Wilkinson, Rett Osthus and Kalen Garry is a tall task — and not many 9-man teams can say they have a 6-foot-9 lineman (Damon Wilkinson) . Wolsey-Wessington is in a similar position, losing both Payson and Marrien Gohn, but with a lot of underclassmen still returning to fill the gaps. Point is, De Smet-Wolsey-Wessington is worth a watch every year.
O’Gorman at Sioux Falls Jefferson
Perhaps the two 11AAA teams with the most young talent in 2021, this should be a fun one if for no other reason than the quarterback matchup. Now in their senior years, O’Gorman quarterback Bennett Dannenbring and Jefferson quarterback Taylen Ashley are both Roosevelt transfers who competed for the starting job with the Rough Riders as sophomores. Now, each have spent at least a full season as the starter under center and have the potential to parlay their play into offers at the next level.
This should be a high scoring game. Dannenbring and Ashley both have their top targets from a season ago back in the fold this year — senior Peyton Hage for the Knights and senior Griffin Wilde for the Cavaliers, maybe South Dakota’s best pass-catcher. Both starting running backs return, too, in O’Gorman’s Maverick Jones and Jefferson’s Tayten Sanow.
The Knights were the much more polished team a season ago, making a run to the semifinal as Jefferson lost its final five games of the season. But a lot of that has to do with simply how young and depleted the Cavaliers were at the end of the season. Both of these teams should be able to take a leap this year, and at the end of the season, this very likely could be a matchup between two of the better teams in 11AAA.
West Central at Winner
Winner absolutely dominated everyone last year. It didn’t play a close game all last year on its way to an undefeated season and 11B state championship. Mount Vernon/Plankinton played them close, technically. At least closer than anyone else did, holding Winner to just 28 points yet only scoring eight themselves.
The Warriors lose running back and defensive back Kaden Keiser, offensive and defensive lineman Charley Pravecek and a few more senior running backs. But Winner was loaded last year. No reason to think they won’t be again.
This year, however, they won’t have to deal with just 11B teams. 11A West Central will be a really big cross-class matchup for the Warriors, who likely thought they could have dominated anyone. The Trojans lose dynamic receiver Braden Dierickx and others to graduation, but the 11A team should give Winner a challenge it didn’t face all season long. Or, at that point of the season, prove that the Warriors are going to enter the 11B playoffs ready to dominate again.
Sioux Falls Washington at Sioux Falls Lincoln
Tired of hearing about offense? Well, this matchup will have that, too, but it also features two players who may very well be the best defensive players in all of South Dakota. Washington defensive end Abraham Myers and Lincoln linebacker Gabe Gutierrez have both gotten high-profile college looks already and should continue to be a terror for opposing defenses next season.
If that’s not enough of a sell for this matchup, neither offense should make it easy on the opposing defensive unit. Lincoln quarterback Tate Schafer is a year more experienced under center and should be able to improve on some promising moments in his first year as a starter. He’ll have his top target back in wide receiver Jack Smith and, while Gutierrez should take a few carries as well, senior running back Angel Jurshge established him as a feature back with the Patriots wanting to limit Gutierrez’ offensive reps.
The Warriors will have junior running back Elijah Taniah back and a year older. The type of season he could have is limitless. His breakout happened early enough in the season last year where it cannot be solely linked to having his brother, then-senior Blessing Taniah, taking snaps as the lead back. Both of these teams should be good, so the late-season placement of the game will have a big impact on playoff positioning.
Tea Area at Pierre TF Riggs
After begging for this matchup all season long last year, we finally got it in the 11AA championship game. It didn’t disappoint. In fact, it could be one of the best finishes in South Dakota high school football history. After the Governors rallied back to tie the game, then senior kicker Cole Peterson drilled a 40-yard field goal as time expired to give Pierre his fifth-straight championship. Tea Area entered that game the undefeated juggernaut, but Pierre is still Pierre.
The kicker who made that kick graduated, but both of these teams return quite a few big names to their 2022 groups. Pierre, for instance, may have the best player in the state in quarterback Lincoln Kienholz. He’s already received offers from 11 Power Five schools and has cut a final four that features North Dakota State, Wisconsin, Washington and Wyoming. Pierre also brings in former Douglas standout offensive lineman Jason Maciejczak to block for Kienholz.
The Titans, who rarely ever have a problem restocking talent into their program, return dynamic running back Chase Van Tol, hybrid running back/wide receiver Blake Thompson and a few others that should keep this fast-paced offense going even in the post-Craig Clayberg era. By this point of the season, it wouldn’t be shocking neither team has experienced a loss in 2022 yet. That game, someone will have to.
Follow Sioux Falls Argus Leader reporter Michael McCleary on Twitter @mikejmccleary.