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Showdown looming in Class 9B state title contest

Herreid-Selby Area’s Ethan Thompson (11) gets a pat on the helmet from teammate Hunter Friend, left, after Thompson scored a defensive touchdown during a game earlier this season against Britton-Hecla at Dacotah Bank Stadium. Herreid-Selby Area faces Hitchcock-Tulare in the 9B state championship game today in Vermillion. Photo by John Davis taken 10/14/2022

Somehow it’s only fitting that it has come down to this.

Herreid-Selby Area and Hitchcock-Tulare have been on a collision course since the season started and now the two unbeaten Class 9B football powers will meet head on in the state championship game at 11 this morning at the DakotaDome in Vermillion.

“I think it’s two really good teams,” said Herreid-Selby Area coach Clayton Randall. “Two teams that have done everything that you can do throughout the course of the season.”

While both squads had to navigate through solid opponents to get here, each had its eye on the other along the way.

“I’m excited about it,” said Hitchcock-Tulare coach Tom Salmen. “I’ve been wanting to have this happen the whole season.”

The teams are similar in may ways. Each has a potent offense that has racked up huge totals in both yardage and points. Both have solid defenses that have allowed each team to win every game by double-digit margins this season.

“We are very similar whether on paper or a video, whatever you’re looking at,” Salmen said. “We’re very similar teams.”

The one noticeable thing that is different is recent state title game history. The Wolverines have played in two of the past three championships, while Hitchcock-Tulare has not been to the dome since 2012.

It’s difficult to say how much will that factor into today’s contest.

“We know what that looks like,” Randall said of the championship game experience, “and we’re hoping to come out and just get settled in and play our brand of football early.”

Salmen is taking a different approach.

“I think it’s a little more comfortable for them, but maybe that’s a bad thing, too,” Salmen said. “I don’t want to my team to be comfortable.”

Make no mistake about it, there is a definite respect between the two sides when it comes to game planning for the contest. Each presents the biggest challenge of the season to the other.

“They have good athletes at every position,” Salmen said, “and they have good size.”

Randall said that the Patriots look like a complete team from what he has seen on film.

“The more you watch, the more you realize that there’s not a missing link out there,” Randall said.

Put a group of talented athletes in a controlled environment and it appears to have all the makings of a shootout before the final outcome is decided.

“I don’t think it’s realistic to think that either team is going to be able to completely contain the other team’s offense,” Randall said. “There’s too many good players, and too much space and perfect playing conditions.”

That said, both coaches would be disappointed if it did turn out to be a high-scoring affair, because it would mean that their solid defenses had not played up to their potential.

“I’m hoping it’s not that,” Salmen said, “because I think my defense is better than that, but you just never know.”

Hitchcock-Tulare head football coach Toim Salmen, center, talks to his players during a time out in a game earlier this season against Iroquois-Lake Preston in Hitchcock. Photo by John Davis taken 9/2/2022

In the end, Randall does believe that defense will play a major role.

“I do think it’s going to come down to defense though, eventually,” Randall said. “You’re going to have to get some stops and find a way to keep the other team out of the end zone, whether that be turnover on downs, forcing a punt or forcing a turnover.”

As is the case with any football game, play in the trenches will go a long way to determining who will end up winning the state championship.

“The game within the game (today) is which team can win that line of scrimmage,” Randall said, “because there’s plenty of talent on the back end of both teams to make plays if given opportunities.”

One thing is for sure, there promises to be plenty of suspense, emotion and electricity on display when the two kingpins of 9B football square off today.

“It comes down to heart. I think they have heart. I think we have heart,” Salmen said. “It’s who wants it more and is going to fight to the end to get it done. I think it will be a battle.”

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