Canistota/Freeman recorded wins against a pair of undefeated teams en route to its second consecutive Class 9A championship.
After winning its first seven games of the season, Canistota/Freeman suffered its lone loss of the regular season to Viborg-Hurley, which went on to win the Class 9AA state title.
Canistota-Freeman opened the postseason with a 64-16 win against Oldham-Ramona/Rutland to earn the third seed for the quarterfinals. Then it dispatched Wall 44-13 to reach to reach the semifinals, where it inked a 56-22 win against second-seeded and undefeated Sully Buttes.
In the title game, Canistota/Freeman upset top-seeded and undefeated Britton-Hecla 46-34.
Helping Canistota/Freeman to defend its title with an 11-1 record were four players named to the Class 9A all-state team, which was selected by the South Dakota Football Coaches Association.
Britton-Hecla (10-1) landed five players on the team, while Gregory (9-2) had four players. Sully Buttes (10-1) and Warner (6-3) each had three players named to the team, while Burke (7-3) and Kimball/White Lake (5-4) were each represented by two players and Howard (8-2) had one player selected.
Nick Wittler, Sully Buttes
Sr. (6-2, 170)
Rushed for 1,855 yards on 179 carries (10.4 avg) and 27 touchdowns, while completing 94 of 156 passes for 1,716 yards and 24 touchdowns.
“Nick put our team in position to be successful,” Sully Buttes coach Mark Senftner said of his signal caller, who was the 2018 Class 9B all-state quarterback. “His play calling and ability to make players were the key to our offensive production.”
Jackson Eklund, Gregory
Sr. (5-8, 150)
Had 104 carries for 1,024 yards and 14 touchowns. He also had 13 receptions for 128 yards.
“Jackson is a hard-nosed, physical runner. He was always capable of breaking a long run at any given moment,” Gregory coach John King said. “He was one of our team captains and led by example on and off the field.”
Stanley Haskins Jr., Britton-Hecla
Sr. (5-8, 185)
Rushed for 1,233 yards with a 9-yard average and scored 18 touchdowns. He finished with 1,538 all-purpose yards.
“Stanley is an electrifying runner when the ball is in his hands,” Britton-Hecla coach Patrick Renner said. “One of the best athletes I have ever coached.”
Tyce Ortman, Canistota/Freeman
Jr. (5-11, 180)
Carried the ball 142 times for 1,465 yards (10.3 avg) and 18 touchdowns. Also had 25 receptions for 329 yards and six touchdowns.
“Tyce is a worker football player with great vision,” Canistota-Freeman coach James Strang said.
Grant Johnson, Sully Buttes
Sr. (5-11, 190)
Had 41 catches for 943 yards (23 ypc) and 12 touchdowns. Also carried the ball 19 times for 222 yards (11.7 ypc) and four touchdowns.
“Grant worked hard on and off the field. His effort in the weight room gave him the ability to gain extra yards after every catch,” Senftner said. “Grant was a threat to score every time he touched the ball.”
Jaden Frank, Burke
Sr. (6-2, 175)
Hauled in 30 passes for 548 yards and 10 touchdowns. Also had six catches for converstions.
“We have moved him around from tightend to wide receiver to quarterback throughout his career,” Burke Coach Mike Sebern said. “He has excelled wherever we need him. He is a captain on our team and a high-energy player.”
Justin Becker, Kimball/White Lake
Sr. (6-8, 215)
Had 34 catches for 722 yards and eight touchdowns, while carrying the ball 21 times for 136 yards and two touchdowns. He also completed two passes for 75 yards and a touchdown.
“Justin is a rare athlete who combines tremendous size and ability,” Kimball/White Lake coach Kenny Huether said. “He was a matchup nightmare for teams trying to cover him. He was a great kid and very coachable.”
Alex Braun, Warner
Jr. (6-1, 202)
Blocked for a team that rushed 303 times for 1,956 yards (6.3 avg) and threw for 802 yards. Team averaged 35.3 points per game.
“At the end of the season, Alex was playing great football,” Warner coach Kerwin Hoellein said. “We will look for him to be one of our leaders next year.”
Jett Lamb, Sully Buttes
Sr. (6-3, 265)
Led an offensive unit that gained 4,500 yards and had 62 touchdowns this season. Finished with 526 points (47.8 ppg).
“Jett was a leader on and off the field. He spent a lot of time working with younger players, improving their techniques and understanding of line play,” Senftner said. “His teammates respected his hard work and dedication to the game.”
Nick Nelson, Britton-Hecla
Sr. (6-5, 270)
Blocked for a team, which rushed for 2,937 yards.
“Nick is a large presence on our line and a kid who is fast enough to block defensive backs,” Renner said.
Micah Swensen, Canistota/Freeman
Sr. (6-0, 170)
Cleared the way for a team that rushed for more than 3,000 yards on 379 carries, and had more than 4,000 yards of total offense.
“Red is undersized, but is as tough, hardworking, quiet and dedicated player you can find,” Strang said. “he has great feet and hands.”
Finn Hanson, Burke
Sr. (5-8, 170)
Recorded 65 tackles, had five tackles for a loss, two quarterback sacks and recovered a fumble
“Finn was a four-year starter on defense for the Cougars. He was a captain and a valuable leader for our team,” Sebern said. “He always brought his ‘A’ game and created a lot of havoc with his quickness.”
Rhoss Oliver, Gregory
Jr. (6-0, 230)
Finished with 68 tackles, 16 tackles for a loss, six quarterback sacks and had two fumble recoveries.
“Rhoss has been a two-year starter for the Gorillas. He has a unique ability to shed blocks and get to the ball,” King said. “He is a physically strong player, but has the speed to run down running backs.”
Wyatt Bray, Britton-Hecla
Jr. (6-3, 215)
Had 58 tackles, including 39 solo stops. Recorded 15 tackles for a loss and had eight sacks that resulted in 51 yards lost.
“Wyatt is a captain, scholar and a fierce competitor on the football field,” Renner said.
Clayton Smith, Canistota/Freeman
Jr. (6-3, 220)
Recorded 35 tackles, including 25 solo. He had 8.5 sacks, 19 tackles for a loss, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
“Clayton is a hammer,” Strang said. “He is athletic and tough and controls the edges.”
Bailey Sage, Canistota/Freeman
Sr. (6-1, 170)
Tallied 56 tackles this season.
“Bailey is always first. First to the ball and first to lead,” Strang said. “He is an amazing player.”
Trevor Zuehlke, Britton-Hecla
In seven games, recorded 50 tackles and had three tackles for a loss. He had an interception and return 102 yards for a touchdown.
“Trevor is a coach on the field, a vocal leader and a student of the game,” Renner said. “One of the best kids I have ever coached.”
Paul Winker, Howard
Sr. (6-0, 170)
No statistics available.
Luke Murray, Gregory
Sr. (5-9, 157)
Had 86 tackles, 12 tackles for a loss, two interceptions and a fumble recovery.
“Luke has been a two-year starter for the Gorillas. He was one of the most physical players on our defense,” King said. “He has a tremendous abilty to find the ball and make plays. He is an outstanding student athlete on and off the field.”
Isaac Kraft, Timber Lake
Sr. (5-11, 180)
Recorded 37.5 tackles and had 5.5 tackles for a loss to go with three interceptions and two forced fumbles.
“Great athlete, student and leader,” Timber Lake coach Ryan Gimbel said. “He plays hard every down. We would not have had our success without him.”
Landon Leidholt, Warner
Jr. (6-3, 173)
Tallied 66 tackles and had five interceptions.
“Landon makes all of our defensive calls,” Hoellein said. “He is a run stopper and does a great job of protecting the middle of the field.”
Spencer Ketterling, Warner
Sr. (5-9, 170)
Converted on 34 of 34 point after attempts.
“Spencer had the trust of the entire coaching staff,” Hoellein said. “After a touchdown you knew the kick was going to be good.”
Evan Juracek, Gregory
Sr. (5-11, 180)
Had 28 punts for 1,078 yards (38.5 avg).
“Evan has started for the Gorillas for three years,” King said. “He is a very unselfish football player.”
Caden Lenz, Kimball/White Lake
Sr. (5-10, 170)
Had a total of 1,211 all-purpose yards and scored 11 touchdowns.
“Caden was such an all-around athlete, who was willing to play where we needed. He helped us everywhere — all special teams, offense and defense,” Huether said. “Also he did all of this while playing the entire season with a torn labrum in his shoulder.”
Cole Fosness, Britton-Hecla
Sr. (5-9, 175)
Had seven kick returns for 118 yards (16.9 avg) and had four punt returns for 64 yards (16 avg) and a touchdown.
“Cole is a playmaker in all aspects of the game,” Renner said. “He is a gifted athlete.”
CLASS 9A ALL-STATE FOOTBALL TEAM
Quarterback: Nick Wittler, Sully Buttes, Sr. (6-2, 170)
Fullback/Halfback: Jackson Eklund, Gregory, Sr. (5-8, 150)
Running back: Stanley Haskins Jr., Britton-Hecla, Sr. (5-8, 185)
Running back: Tyce Ortman, Canistota/Freeman, Jr. (5-11, 180)
Wide receiver: Grant Johnson, Sully Buttes, Sr. (5-11, 190)
Wide receiver: Jaden Frank, Burke, Sr. (6-2, 175)
Tight end: Justin Becker, Kimball/White Lake, Sr. (6-8, 215)
Lineman: Alex Braun, Warner, Jr. (6-1, 202)
Lineman: Jett Lamb, Sully Buttes, Sr. (6-3, 265)
Lineman: Nick Nelson, Britton-Hecla, Sr. (6-5, 270)
Lineman: Micah Swensen, Canistota/Freeman, Sr. (6-0, 170)
Lineman: Finn Hanson, Burke, Sr. (5-8, 170)
Lineman: Rhoss Oliver, Gregory, Jr. (6-0, 230)
Lineman: Wyatt Bray, Britton-Hecla, Jr. (6-3, 215)
Lineman: Clayton Smith, Canistota/Freeman, Jr. (6-3, 220)
Linebacker: Bailey Sage, Canistota/Freeman, Sr. (6-1, 170)
Linebacker: Trevor Zuehlke, Britton-Hecla, Jr. (6-2,195)
Linebacker: Paul Winker, Howard, Sr. (6-0, 170)
Linebacker: Luke Murray, Gregory, Sr. (5-9, 157)
Defensive back: Isaac Kraft, Timber Lake, Sr. (5-11, 180)
Defensive back: Landon Leidholt, Warner, Jr. (6-3, 173)
Kicker: Spencer Ketterling, Warner, Sr. (5-9, 170)
Punter: Evan Juracek, Gregory, Sr. (5-11, 180)
Player: Caden Lenz, Kimball/White Lake, Sr. (5-10, 170)
Player: Cole Fosness, Britton-Hecla, Sr. (5-9, 175)
Trey Ortman, Canistota/Freeman, Sr.; Riley Genzlinger, Howard, Jr.; Kaden Eng, Castlewood, Sr.; Gavin Sandal, Wall, Sr.; Kolter Clark, New Underwood, Sr.; Evan Juracek, Gregory, Sr.; Jaxon Kampshoff, Howard, Jr.; Rafe Kiehn, Kimball/White Lake, Sr.; Will Matson, Oldham-Ramona/Rutland, So.; Blair Blasius, Wall, Fr.; Jet Jones, Phillip, Sr.