BROOKINGS – A week removed from picking up their biggest win of the season in a 16-0 shutout win over the Watertown Arrows, Brookings sets their sights on the Golden Eagles of Aberdeen Central who make the trip south this Friday to take on the Bobcats at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium.
Aberdeen Central comes in with an unblemished 3-0 record and ranked third in the latest South Dakota media poll, and second in the coaches poll.
The Bobcats enter on a two-game winning streak, ranked fifth in the the media poll, and tied for fourth in the coaches poll.
“I remember during warmups I looked over at our sidelines and I see the number of our guys who are hurt and it’s terrible,” said Brookings head coach Brady Clark, whose team was without starting quarterback Jaxon Bowes, as well as Cole McKeown who can be plugged in anywhere on offense and is a defensive deterrent when the opponent has the ball.
Having to thrust younger players for their first career varsity start into a rivalry game is no small task, but Clark was pleased with how his team got along minus some big names.
“Our offense, once they got going, they looked good,” Clark added. “Especially with a young center and a quarterback making his first varsity start in arguably their biggest rivalry game.”
Despite the early whirlwind of nerves, the Bobcats pushed forward with increased comfort and confidence, which Clark made note of.
“One nice thing to see – we got better as the game went along,” Clark said.
Justin Cofell, the aforementioned junior quarterback making his first career varsity start, finished 11-of-18 for 95 yards and without a turnover.
“Justin managed the game very well for his first varsity start. No turnovers and looked comfortable for most of the game. Couldn’t be happier with his effort,” said Clark in his comments following the game.
And after Hunter Gray was forced from the game with cramping issues, Tyson Brandt picked up the slack.
The junior running back had big gains of 35, 37 (for a touchdown), and 66 yards, totalling 144 yards on just seven carries.
Brandt, along with the entirety of the running game, took a big step forward which the Bobcats look to build off starting this week.
“Our running game finally took that next step in trusting our blocks and trusting where the hole is going to develop. And it’s so key when a team can run the ball like that, especially at the end of a game,” Clark said.
Through three games
Bowes remains with 212 yards passing on 9-of-19 attempts, tossing two touchdowns and three interceptions.
Cofell has thrown for 95 yards on 11-of-23 attempts.
Gray’s 178 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries leads the rushing attack.
After his big week, Brandt’s season total jumped to 172 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries, and Israel Caldron has chipped in 114 yards and three touchdowns on 17 carries.
Gray also leads the team in receiving yards, logging 216 yards and a touchdown on just nine receptions.
Defensively, Jaxton Eck has logged 20 tackles (11 solo) to go along with a sack and interception returned for a score.
Josh Devine’s three interceptions (two last week) is tied for the team lead with Lincoln Hardin, as the Bobcats have snagged twelve picks in three games.
Sam Hardin has registered 17 tackles (10 solo) to go along with an interception, and Zach Moe has added 14 tackles (seven solo) and a pair of interceptions.
In the kicking game, Payton Theodosopoulos converted three of four field goals last week – missing from 39 yards before splitting the uprights from 45, 32 and 37 yards.
Devine has punted nine times for a 30.5 yard average and a long of 45.
Scouting the Golden Eagles
Aberdeen Central, who along with Watertown dropped down from 11AAA to 11AA for this season, enters at 3-0 with wins over Douglas (49-0), Yankton (40-28), and Mitchell (33-14.)
Their head coach, Scott Svendsen, is a product of Texas high school football and his team has several similarities to what teams in Texas do on the football field.
“They’ve got a coach who coached down in Texas for a long time and that’s what they love to do down there, so he brought that mentality to South Dakota and to Aberdeen. And he’s got the athletes to do it,” Clark said. “They have a very good quarterback and very good skill players. And they like to throw the ball.”
For Clark, limiting the big play and eliminating turnovers are two of the major keys to the Bobcats’ success on Friday night.
“Defensively, if we control the line of scrimmage - which I think we can, and we eliminate the big plays and those extra effort plays, I think we’re going to be okay,” said Clark. “Offensively, the same thing. We need to control the line of scrimmage and control the clock and keep their offense off the field. And that means no turnovers.”
Doing the little things right is what will provide the Bobcats with success this, and every week.
“Where Watertown had success last week is gaining yards after missed tackles. We have to make sure we’re getting eleven guys to the ball, which we did a pretty good job of. But when our guy meets their guy at the line of scrimmage we have to make that tackle,” Clark said.
Brookings will again turn the offense over to Cofell under center as Bowes continues to nurse an injury, but will get McKeown back in the lineup.
“Cole McKeown is back so that’s a huge plus for us. He just brings another element as a skill guy. He understands football and you can put him anywhere and he’ll find success,” Clark said.
Kickoff between the Bobcats and Golden Eagles is set for 7 p.m. tomorrow night.
Brookings will also recognize the night as Parent’s Night as well as Teacher Appreciation Night.
Additionally, Brookings students will be wearing purple in recognition of suicide prevention month and to help bring further awareness to mental health.
Bobcat Backers will again be hosting a pregame cookout southwest of the stadium beginning at 5 p.m., with the new tradition of the “Bobcat Walk” commencing around 5:30 in the same location.