Sioux out to rectify ‘unfinished business’
No. 5 Grant County-Flasher: Check.
No. 2 TGU: Check.
No. 3 Shiloh Christian: Check.
No. 1 Cavalier: Pending.
The pesky Westhope-Newburg-Glenburn Sioux just won’t go away.
With the third seed out of 9-man Region 3, W-N-G (10-2) was supposed to bow out against a ranked team in the first round, and then the quarterfinals, and then the semifinals. Instead, the Sioux are in their second straight state championship.
“The way we do it, we just finish games,” senior quarterback Hunter Braaten said. “We just try to go as hard as we can the whole game. We know whether we’re down or up at halftime – we’ve been on both sides of it – that we just need to keep going.”
The Sioux’s never-say-die attitude will get its ultimate test today in the Dakota Bowl against the top-ranked Tornadoes (10-0), whose defense didn’t allow a single point until the postseason. Kickoff is set for 9:10 a.m.
After an overwhelming experience in a blowout loss to Hazen in the Class A state championship last year, W-N-G coach Tom Nesvold said he doesn’t expect his team to be so wide-eyed and nervous. The Sioux competed well in the second half against Hazen, but it was too late.
“This year we kind of stressed that we gotta have a good start and want to come out and keep things close right away,” he said.
Keeping things close is no small undertaking against Cavalier. The Tornadoes outscored opponents 416-0 in the regular season.
They finally allowed points in playoff wins against Lamoure-Litchville-Marion, South Border and Napoleon-Gackle-Streeter, but still won by an average of 42 points and have yielded 38 all year.
Nesvold instructed his team to ignore the big numbers.
“It’s tough to compare (teams) when you go from the east to the west,” he said. “I’m not gonna say there aren’t some great teams over in the east, but it’s hard until you actually see common opponents.”
Besides, the Sioux have something Cavalier has yet to see: Hunter Braaten.
The 5-foot-9, 160-pound signal-caller has put up impressive numbers in his own right. In the postseason alone Braaten has rushed for 883 yards and 12 touchdowns. He has 1,819 yards rushing and 1,118 passing on the year and also leads the Sioux’s defense with 136 tackles.
“Everybody that we’ve played, all they have to do was shut down Hunter and none of them have been able to do it,” said senior tight end Ethan Miller, who owns a team-high 28 receptions for 390 yards.
Nesvold said Braaten has “carried” W-N-G during the playoffs and throughout its current six-game winning streak. He expects Cavalier’s defense to give him plenty of attention.
“I don’t think anybody’s really seen anyone (like him), aside from the teams we’ve played,” Nesvold said. “They’re gonna spy on him, they’re gonna chase him – which they should – and they’re gonna try to contain him.”
The Tornadoes, led by a bevy of talented running backs, pound the ball on the ground. Senior quarterback Ryan Chrest keeps their offense (58 points per game) operating smoothly and rarely needs to throw.
Cavalier’s answer to Braaten is tailback and linebacker Brock Robbins. Nesvold said the 6-3, 205-pound junior is every bit as athletic as Braaten.
“We gotta get a hat on him,” Nesvold said. “On defense we gotta gang tackle. On offense we have to make sure we get him blocked all the time.”
Cavalier is in search of its fifth state championship, and its first since winning three straight Class AA titles from 2002 to 2004.
W-N-G still seeks its first Dakota Bowl win. A bit of redemption after last year’s finish is what the Sioux’s been after all along.
“We thought we left some unfinished business, so we’re gonna try to rectify that,” Nesvold said.
Added Braaten: “The hardest part is knowing you came so close but you didn’t quite get it. Our goal at the beginning of this year was to make it back to the state championship and win it this time.”
Ryan Holmgren covers high school sports and general assignments. Follow him on Twitter @ryanholmgren.