High stakes showdown: Bobcats at Governors

Aaron Jorenby/Register: Brookings’ Tyson Brandt (24) runs with the ball during the Bobcats’ 35-20 win over Yankton last Friday at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium in Brookings.

One regular-season game remains ahead of the playoffs starting next week in the larger classes of South Dakota high school football.

For Brookings (6-2) it’s a biggie as the Bobcats travel to Pierre Thursday night for an 11AA clash with the Governors (7-1).

What’s at stake for the winner?

Number two seed and home-field advantage until the championship game. An ESD championship. And while the Bobcats won’t admit it, getting a win against Pierre would provide a little bit of revenge after the 2020 championship game where the Governors steamrolled Brookings 38-6 in winning their fourth straight 11AA title.

LAST WEEK

The Bobcats got a bit of a taste of what they’ll see tomorrow night in Pierre in the form of the Yankton Bucks and their at times high-flying offense.

After a scoreless first quarter Brookings opened the scoring as Justin Cofell found Hunter Gray who slipped out of a tackle and went the rest of the way, a 45-yard strike that gave the Bobcats the lead.

After Yankton tied the score on their next drive, Gray’s 21-yard run pushed the Bobcats back in front.

An interception just before the half snuffed out Brookings’ chance to further extend the lead, but Cofell and Gray would again connect midway through the third quarter and give the Bobcats a 20-6 lead.

Yankton answered right back to make it 20-14 and had momentum and a chance to take the lead after intercepting Cofell for the second time in the game, but Zach Moe’s tackle on a Bucks fake-punt in their own territory gave the ball back to the Bobcats.

Four plays later, Tyson Brandt found paydirt on both a touchdown run and subsequent two-point conversion as Brookings opened a 28-14 lead.

Down two scores at the midpoint of the fourth quarter the Bucks had to play with some desperation, and Sam Hardin made them pay with an interception.

A nine-play drive ate up most of what time remained before Gray’s fourth touchdown of the night put Brookings up 21 and they’d go on to win 35-20.

We took another step forward,” head coach Brady Clark said. “The biggest thing we need to do is clean up our mental mistakes. We had seven penalties which is the most we’ve had all season and when you’re playing higher-level teams you can’t have those mistakes.”

Gray totaled 218 yards – 152 rushing and 66 receiving on six receptions. Brandt added 87 more yards on the ground, and Israel Caldron provided an additional 51.

Defensively, Jaxton Eck recorded a pair of sacks along with seven tackles including three for loss, and Brock Longville also had a sack and five tackles, two for loss.

When the Bucks had success, a big play was involved at some point in the drive. A 38-yard pass on one scoring drive, 28 and 29-yard receptions on another, and a 31-yard pass on the third.

It’s those big plays that Clark says the Bobcats need to eliminate.

“Teams haven’t really been able to sustain drives against us and when they score it’s been big plays leading to it,” Clark said. “It’s been a communication error here and there, but it’s something we can fix.

REVENGE FACTOR?

The last time Brookings and Pierre met on the football field the Govs showed the state why at the time they had won three straight titles and were on their way to a fourth. Is revenge on the mind of the Bobcats?

“Yeah, there’s a little chip on our shoulder,” Clark said. “But we’re not treating it as a revenge-type game because revenge can leave a bad taste in your mouth, and you start doing things you don’t normally do. It [losing to Pierre in the championship game] isn’t something you forget about, but it’s not something you want to dwell on. You learn from it and come prepared.”

Pierre is led by junior quarterback Lincoln Kienholz who many times is option A, B, and C on any given play, either by using his arm or his legs.

“He always looks to throw the ball downfield,” Clark said. “It’s not that he isn’t a good runner, but his first instinct is I’m looking down the field as long as I can, and then if I have to run, I’ll run.”

Kienholz has thrown for 2,202 yards in eight games, completing 109-of-203 passes with 30 touchdowns and just two interceptions. He is also the Governors leading rusher with 722 yards on 101 carries and eight more touchdowns.

For the Bobcats to have success against Kienholz, they’re going to have to continue to apply pressure, something the head coach says the Governors signal-caller hasn’t seen a lot of this season.

“I don’t feel like he’s been pressured a lot this year,” Clark commented. “The times he has had pressure applied teams have missed tackles. They’re right there but then teams miss tackles, don’t break down, come flying in and he makes a move on them. And that’s part of why he’s a dang good football player.”

“We’re going to bring pressure, it’s a big part of what we do,” Clark added. “The big thing for us is that we’re communicating when we bring that pressure so that we don’t have two guys in one gap. Trust our jobs and responsibilities. Kienholz is good enough that he’ll recognize that and take advantage of it. Our big focus this week is staying in defensive coverage and doing what we can to keep him in the pocket.”

Jack Merkwan is Kienholz’s primary target, hauling in 30 passes for 933 yards and 14 touchdowns.

Matthew Hanson and Cade Kaiser each have 24 receptions, the former with 524 yards receiving and six touchdowns and the latter with 343 yards receiving and five scores.

A week after holding the ball for nearly 34 minutes against Yankton, ball-control again will be another key factor against Pierre.

“We need to put together long, sustainable drives. That’s one of our best defenses for their offense,” Clark added.

BOBCATS BY THE NUMBERS

Cofell has thrown for 590 yards in six games as a starter, tossing eight touchdowns against three interceptions.

On the ground, Gray retook the team lead in rushing yards with 529 with seven touchdowns, while Brandt has carried 81 times for 494 yards and four touchdowns.

Caldron is second on the team with five touchdowns, totaling 241 yards rushing.

Gray (20 for 315 yards) and Brandt (23 for 230 yards) have 53 of the Bobcats’ 65 total catches, with Gray having scored four touchdowns.

Jackson Hoffmann has just six receptions on the year, but three have gone for scores.

Defensively, Josh Devine leads the team with 50 tackles (27 solo) while Eck has 49 tackles including 31 solo and 12 for loss. He also has recorded five sacks, tied with Longville for the team lead while Caleb Loehr has added four.

Brookings has intercepted 17 passes on the year; Lincoln Hardin has four of those, Devine has three, and Moe, Sam Hardin, and Payton Theodosopoulos each have two.

Theodosopoulos saw his streak of consecutive made extra points end last week, but the senior has converted 21-of-23 on the year.

Devine’s punt average sits at 37.9 per boot.

The Bobcats and Governors renew acquaintances at an earlier start time of 6 p.m. tomorrow night at Hollister Field in Pierre.

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