The last time the St. Thomas More football team played in Class B, the Cavaliers fell to Parkston in the 2014 state title game in the Dakota Dome.
After the past four seasons in Class A, the Cavs are back in B and will open the 2019 state playoffs tonight at home against Elk-Point Jefferson. Kickoff at Dutton Stadium is set for 6 p.m.
"We move up to A, it's loaded. We move back down to B, it's loaded," longtime STM coach Wayne Sullivan (29th season) said with a slight laugh. "That's okay, and that is the way it is. I have said it for many years, you take the top five or six teams in B and put them in A, and they'll do just fine.
"Those two classifications are pretty close as far as talent-wise and as programs. Either A or B, we know it is going to be a tough row. You have to bring your A game. This is going to be a fun time with the teams that are left."
Sullivan said the Cavaliers begin each season with two goals: The Black Hills Conference championship and a state championship.
STM, 7-1 and ranked fourth in the recent state media poll, seeded seventh in the state playoffs, achieved its first goal with an unbeaten BHC mark. Sullivan knows that they can't achieve the second goal without winning their first playoff game.
"It's one-game-at-a time," he said. "You can't go on without winning that (first) game. We're coming out focused for 48 minutes and playing a real tough Elk Point-Jefferson team."
The Huskies come into the game at 4-4 and the 10th seed. EPJ closed the regular season last week with a 35-12 win over Flandreau.
"They are the best 4-4 team that is out there right now," Sullivan said. "According to their schedule, three of their four losses are to top-ranked teams with Bridgewater/Emery/Ethan, McCook Central/Montrose and Mt. Vernon/Plankinton.
"They are well balanced, they move the ball really well. They've got a great offensive line, real good running backs (Riley Schmitz and Brody Weavill) and a fast quarterback (Ethan Hammitt). So they are going to be tougher than heck."
With the top 16 teams in Class B qualifying for postseason play, the top eight get first-round home games. Sullivan said getting a home game is a plus, something they hadn't been able to do in the last couple of years in Class A.
"Last year we had to travel to Dakota Valley, and the year before we traveled all of the way to Dell Rapids one week and had to go back to Dakota Valley," he said. "It's real tough to get off a bus for that long period of time and try to play your best. Our goal is to win that home opener, so we can have another day to play. It's always good to sleep in your own bed and go through the same routine."
The Cavaliers go into the game winners of their last six games, after suffering a tough 46-20 loss to No. 2 Winner in the second game of the season.
Since then, STM has outscored its opponents 242-29. The Cavs beat Stanley County 24-8 to close the regular season.
Behind 6-foot-6 senior quarterback Ryder Kirsch, senior running back Ryan Wojcik and wideout Grant Huber, Sullivan believes they are a much more balanced team than they have not only been in the past few years, but earlier in the season.
"Everybody has always thought of us as a spread out, throw the ball 60 times a game team. We've been real balanced as of late, running the ball, throwing the ball," he said. "We have been able to depend on our run game to open up our passing game. We know that everybody is going to blitz us, they are going to bring the house.
"If we can slow that down by running a little bit and give our quarterback some time on pass-action passes, or other options — being able to run the ball and utilize the clock and eliminate turnovers — then you know you have a good chance to win."
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With that said, a key tonight is controlling the line of scrimmage. Sullivan said that at any level, football is all about that line of scrimmage. The team that takes control up front, will likely win.
"That is plain and simple, and we put that on our boys," he said. "Coming out right away, being able to get some first downs gives ourselves a chance to score; it will set the tone. Special teams is also where momentum can swing. We have to execute and make sure we're doing things right."
Other area playoff games
In the other area playoff teams in Class 11B, it will tough battles out of the chute for Hot Springs and Lead-Deadwood.
Hot Springs, seeded 16th, will travel to No. 1 seed Bridgewater-Emery/Ethan and No. 15 Lead-Deadwood will be at No. 2 Winner.
Bridgewater-Emery/Ethan is the top-ranked team for a reason, as it has outscored its opponents 372-102 this season. The Seahawks closest game was 21-16 over Mt. Vernon/Plankinton. In their last three games, they have outscored their opponents 156-26.
The Bison, also down at Class B for the first time in several years, are 4-4 overall, coming off a 14-7 loss to rival Custer. Hot Springs opened the season with a 51-0 loss to STM and also fell to fellow 11B and BHC foe Lead-Deadwood 62-55.
Lead-Deadwood, 3-5, has lost its last three games and had a bye last weekend. The Golddiggers will take on an 8-0 Winner team that also had an open week last week.
The Warriors, who won Class B state titles in 2015 and 2016, are averaging 43 points a game in eight games.
In 9-man, several area teams will kick off the playoffs tonight as well.
In 9B, Kadoka Area (3-5) will be at Faith (5-3) and Dupree (3-5) will be at Harding County (7-1). The Ranchers are ranked fourth in the last 9B media poll.
In 9A, Philip (7-1) will be at Wall (6-2), New Underwood (6-2) will be at Sully Buttes (8-0) and Lyman (3-5) will be at Gregory (7-1).
In 9AA, Menno/Marion (2-6) will be at Jones County/White River (4-4) and Rapid City Christian (2-6) is at Lemmon-McIntosh (7-1).
All Nations Football Conference playoffs in 2nd round
The inaugural All Nations Football Conference begins its second week of playoffs tonight with quarterfinals action.
Last week, Marty Indian defeated Crazy Horse 50-0, Cheyenne-Eagle Butte thumped St. Francis 52-12, Flandreau Indian ran past Oelrichs 66-14 and Tiospa Zina crushed Takini 94-8.
In today's quarterfinals, it will be Flandreau Indian (3-4) at Crow Creek (6-0), Tiospa Zina (4-3) at Little Wound (5-2), Cheyenne-Eagle Butte (5-2) at Lower Brule (4-2) and Marty Indian (4-3) at Red Cloud (6-0).