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HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL

Gregory eager to get back on the map in 9A championship game

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Gregory's Owen Hansen (3) carries the ball past Lyman's Brayden Oldenkamp in the Class 9A semifinals Nov. 4 in Presho.

Football put Gregory on the scene when it won three state championships in a four-year span in 2014, 2016 and 2017.

Nobody on the current roster played on those teams, but both the team and the community are thrilled to return to the DakotaDome this year.

The Gorillas take the field at 6 p.m. MT Thursday in Vermillion as the No. 3 Gorillas (10-1) take on top-seeded Warner (11-0) in the Class 9A State Championship game.

“Back there in ‘14, ‘16 and ‘17, everybody knew what Gregory was about,” Gorillas head coach Mike Murray said. “We're excited to try to get that back for them, try to get that into their minds and remind them what Gregory's been about for so long, and that's football.”

Murray said that winning the title game on Thursday would put his town back on the map, but nobody is sleeping on the Gorillas ahead of the game.

Gregory boasts one of the most potent offenses in the state behind outstanding production by quarterback Rylan Peck, and a host of weapons like Owen Hansen, Kade Stukel and Eli Fogel.

“It's really nice to have so many weapons,” Murray said. “We have Hansen and Stukel running the ball, we've got speed and we've got a guy that can slice to the line and that we can go with the air.”

Peck leads the Gorillas in both rushing yards, passing yards and total touchdowns. The junior enters the weekend with a 50% completion percentage and 1,226 passing yards and 986 rushing yards on 104 attempts for 40 total touchdowns (22 rushing and 18 passing).

Peck gives Gregory the ability to pick up chunk yardage when the team establishes the line of scrimmage, and opens up the offense.

“We will just kind of spread things out, see what they give us and take what we can,” Murray said. “You never know, game to game, what that defense is going to give you...but we're going to try to find a chink in the armor somewhere and just run right through it.”

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Hansen and Stukel prove formidable forces in both the rushing and passing game. Hansen has hauled in 14 receptions for 296 yards and three touchdowns on the ground and boasts 99 carries for 687 yards and five touchdowns on the ground, while Stukel leads the team in receptions with 15 for 318 yards and four touchdowns and has added 66 carries for 492 yards and six rushing touchdowns.

Fogel leads the Gorillas in receiving yards and touchdowns with 13 catches for 405 yards and eight touchdowns.

Murray said the biggest key for his team on offense this week is to limit mental mistakes against a physical Warner football team.

“We’ve got to execute and make sure that we don't have any mental mistakes, like turnovers or penalties, those kinds of drive-killers,” he said. “I think we'll be okay there, and defensively we need to get nine guys to the ball and get the guy on the ground.”

Defensively, Gregory enters the Dome allowing 11.7 points per game and 104 yards of total offense per game. The Gorillas are even in turnover margin, forcing eight fumbles and hauling in 10 interceptions.

Trey Murray leads the team defensively with 68 tackles, including 14 tackles for loss totaling 54 yards and four sacks. He also has three three fumble recoveries.

Hansen has added three interceptions, a fumble recovery and a pair of defensive TDs, and Peck boasts three interceptions and one return for a score.

Murray said the Gorillas need to stay strong defensively against a prolific Monarchs offense. Warner averages 44.2 points per game.

“They're a big strong team, they like to just run hard and they're super aggressive,” Murray said. “They just want to pound the ball on offense and then toss it over your head when you start getting sucked up on the line of scrimmage.”

Since this Gregory team played youth football, they’ve heard how important winning a championship is for their town.

Murray said that motivation and expectation brought his team to the DakotaDome and now they’re in position to compete for a title.

“This tradition is kind of why we're here, so we're ready to give back,” Murray said. “Our community has given us so much motivation and so much support to get here. Now it’s our time to pay back what they've given to us by bringing it home.”

Contact Alex Dodd at ADodd@rapidcityjournal.com

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