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Warner headed to 9A title game following win over Ranchers

Warner’s Zach Wood (19) runs for the end zone beyond Harding County-Bison’s Gage Gilbert (42) during Friday night’s Class 9A semifinal game in Warner. Photo by John Davis taken 11/4/2022

WARNER – Harding County-Bison may have scored first, but Warner scored way more often on Friday night.

The Monarchs lit up the scoreboard with nine touchdowns in a 63-20 victory in the Class 9A football semifinals. The top-rated squad will now play in the state championship contest at 7 p.m. Thursday against Gregory at the DakotaDome in Vermillion.

While Warner ended up with a 43-point win against the Ranchers, it was anything but easy.

“It was a battle. Up front, they were solid. Our kids were solid,” said Warner coach Kerwin Hoellein. “It was a smashmouth football game, it really was.”

After the visitors took the opening kickoff and scored just five plays later, the Monarchs got their turn on offense and put together a 14-play drive that resulted in touchdown when Hunter Cramer spotted Zach Wood for a 6-yard touchdown pass.

It appeared that Cramer was going to run the ball, but then changed his mind at the last second.

“That was a designed run,” Cramer said, “but when I’m a quarterback, I don’t know what I’m doing half the time and neither do they, so it works out in the end.”

It turned out that the junior playmaker was just getting started. He added a short run for a score and then bolted 43-yards for a touchdown midway through the second quarter to put the Monarchs up 22-8.

Perhaps his biggest play occurred halfway through the third period. Rylee Veal had just scored a touchdown as Harding County-Bison sliced the Warner lead to 29-14 to get back in the game. Cramer then took the ensuing kickoff and raced 85 yards for a touchdown.

“That was a big one,” Cramer said, “because the fans got excited, everyone got excited and it took away their momentum.”

Warner’s Hunter Cramer, right, hides the ball as he faked a hand-off to teammate Zach Wood, left, on a kick-off return during Friday night’s Class 9A semifinal game against Harding County-Bison in Warner. Cramer went onto score a touchdown on the return. Photo by John Davis taken 11/4/2022

Cramer faked a reverse handoff, saw an opening on the right side and took advantage of a crucial block by teammate Payton Volk.

“I saw there was one guy out there,” Cramer said. “I saw my blocker (Payton) Volk. He went out there and blocked him like he’s supposed to, and I just went off after that.”

Cramer finished the contest with 146 yards rushing to go along with the four touchdowns he had a hand in.

“That’s the thing about Hunter when he can go back to that quarterback position,” Hoellein said. “We snuck him up in the fullback position a couple of times. He sneaks out in the flats a little bit. That’s the luxury we have with a kid like him.”

Of course, ahead of any potent runner, there’s quality line play and the Monarchs did their job up front.

“We all just know who we’re blocking,” said Warner senior Landon Jensen, “and everybody stays low and gets a good push.”

Jensen said the Monarchs feature multiple runners who know how to use those blocks.

“We’ve got great backs,” Jensen said. “Our running backs, they see a lane, they cut to it.”

Harding County-Bison’s Kaden Green, center, gets tackled by Warner’s Payton Volk, bottom left and Landon Jensen (41) during Friday night’s Class 9A semifinal game in Warner. In on the play are the Ranchers’ Nayati Bickerdyke, top left and Wyatt Head, top center and the Monarchs’ Levi Scepaniak, top right. Photo by John Davis taken 11/4/2022

Warner relied on what Hoellein referred to as the team’s “beast package” that features a pair of fullbacks behind that efficient offensive line with Cramer behind them.

“We kind of tell you where we’re going, but then you still have to stop it,” Hoellein said. “I thought that was a real good formation for us tonight that was successful.”

The Monarchs still had to deal with Veal who was a beast in his own right, rushing for 258 yards and a pair of touchdowns for the Ranchers.

“That was a good football team, I’ll tell you that. That (Veal), he’s a hard runner. You don’t just bring him down with a shoulder bump,” Hoellein said. “You can tell that they’ve been a successful program. They fought us to the end. I was proud of the way our kids never gave up and tried to maintain that lead.”

Wood, who had 61 yards rushing and 79 yards receiving, finished with three touchdowns on the night, adding a rushing TD to go along with touchdown reception on a pass from Brodey Sauerwein.

The Monarchs, 11-0, will now get a chance to play for a state championship against a one-loss Gregory squad that was the top-rated team in 9A before a mid-season loss that dropped the Gorillas down to second in the poll.

“Gregory is a good team,” Jensen said. “We’ll go down there and just do our best.”

Harding County-Bison (8-3) 8 0 12 0 – 20

Warner (11-0) 15 14 21 13 – 63

HCB – Gage Gilbert 3 pass from Kelby Hett (Braden Routier).

W – Zach Wood 6 pass from Hunter Cramer (Charlie Dulany run).

W – Cramer 1 run (Alec Mikkelsen kick).

W – Cramer 43 run (Mikkelsen kick).

W – Dulaney 7 run (Mikkelsen kick).

HCB – Rylee Veal 6 run (run failed).

W – Cramer 81 kickoff return (Mikkelsen kick).

W – Wood 18 run (Mikkelsen kick).

HCB – Veal 15 run (run failed).

W – Wood 39 pass from Brodey Sauerwein (Mikkelsen kick).

W – Dulany 1 run (Mikkelsen kick).

W – Payton Volk 6 run (kick failed).

OFFENSE: Harding County-Bison rushing (Veal 24-258, Routier 4-12), passing (Hett 10-27 for 44), receiving (Gilbert 4-17), first downs 11; Warner rushing (Cramer 19-146, Wood 8-61), passing (Sauer 5-7 for 106), receiving (Wood 4-79, Ashton Schuchhardt 1-27), first downs 13.

DEFENSE: Harding County-Bison, Wyatt Head 8 tackles, Routier 7 tackles, Grey Gilbert 5.5 tackles; Warner, Schuchhardt 12 tackles, Landon Jensen 8 tackles, Cramer 7 tackles.

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