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For high school football fans, this might be the best time of the year.

With Class 11B, 9AA, 9A and 9B playoffs opening up last week, this Thursday it will the big schools' turn.

Class 11AAA, 11AA and 11A all open their playoffs this week, and that means seven western South Dakota teams will start their quest to the DakotaDome in Vermillion.

"It’s really exciting for us because it wasn‘t too long ago we weren’t in the playoffs," Douglas coach Dan Maciejczak said. "Three of the last four years we’ve hosted and had a chance to win, but biggest thing is the school being able to see that we can do this. It's good for the community and good for kids."

Douglas won't be the only school playing in a playoff game, as Rapid City Stevens, Rapid City Central, Sturgis, Todd County, Pine Ridge and St. Thomas More all play as well.

Here is a preview of those games:

Class 11AAA

Rapid City Central at Sioux Falls Washington: The defending state champions haven't missed a beat this season.

Sioux Falls Washington is 9-0, averaging 41.1 points per game offensively and is giving up 10.8 points per game defensively.

It will be a tall ask for Rapid City Central, who is coming in at 2-7. One of those seven losses came in week eight to Washington by a score of 52-19.

The message this week from Cobbler coach Erik Iverson to his team? Anyone can be beaten.

"The one good thing is that we've played them before, so in some situations we know how they're going to come out," Iverson said. "Everyone is beatable, especially if we can play mistake free and not turn the ball over."

Turnovers were a big issue for Central when it played Washington, as the Cobblers coughed the ball up six times. Iverson said he was happy with the way Central moved the ball against Washington once it was able to settle down, but by then the score was out of hand. 

Iverson also said stopping Warrior running back Tupak Kpeayeh will be essential if Central is going to pull off the upset.

Kickoff in Sioux Falls is set for 3 p.m. MST.

Rapid City Stevens at Brandon Valley: It wasn't a pretty game for the Raiders the last time Rapid City Stevens and Brandon Valley played. 

At O'Harra Stadium in week six, Brandon Valley forced five interceptions on its way to a 30-14 win.

"Oh definitely, we'd like to have the first quarter back," Stevens coach Scott Hagen told The Journal following the Brandon Valley game. "We got stuck in bad field position and couldn't dig out of it."

It's been a good season against eastern South Dakota teams for Stevens so far, with the exception of the Brandon Valley loss. At 5-4 on the year, Stevens topped Sioux Falls Lincoln 23-19 in week seven, and gave Sioux Falls Washington its closest battle of the year in week five, but ultimately lost 29-28.

The Raiders passing attack that gave the ball to the Lynx five times during the previous game has looked better as well. Quarterback Tiegen Heckel had three passing touchdowns in a 41-7 rout of rival Rapid City Central last week.

"Our timing has gotten a lot better, we're just clicking now," Heckel said after the Central game. 

Kickoff between Stevens and Brandon Valley is set for 5 p.m.

Class 11AA

Yankton at Douglas: It's been an up down season for Douglas, as coach Dan Maciejczak admits. The Patriots have seen the high of upsetting Harrisburg and the low of giving up 70 points to Pierre.

Right now, Maciejczak has the Patriots at 5-4, and he thinks they are playing their best football of the season.

"I think our kids have learned to play together, they’ve learned that it’s not about 'I' it's about 'team,'" he said. "I think the big credit goes to the seniors. They've  done a good job of getting team to mesh together. Our numbers aren’t as big as other teams so we have to utilize every piece we have to maker the puzzle work."

The Patriots take on Yankton, who comes to Box Elder with a 3-6 record.

"Offensively they come out in a lot of different sets," Maciejczak said. "The players have got to be locked in. They are a very good football team, all their different sets cause problems, so we have to make sure we're working hard and focused."

Kickoff will be 6 p.m.

Sturgis at Mitchell:  For Sturgis coach Chris Koletzky, the year started with a bang.

A 40-21 win against Belle Fourche during the first game was the first win for the program in 20 games, but now the Scoopers have a bigger hill to climb.

At 3-6, Sturgis takes on Mitchell. More scary than the Kernals 6-3 record, according to Koletzky, is the defense that is giving up only 14.1 points per game.

"Their defense has played really well against some really good teams," he said. "On offense they are somewhat similar to what they do last year, they do spread it out a little more last year, but you look at the weather (40 degrees, potentially 40 mile per hour winds) and we know what we're probably going to see."

Despite the program reaching a high it hasn't reached in a few years, the Scoopers are clear underdogs to Mitchell.

Koletzky knows that, and he isn't afraid to preach that to his players.

"What I tell them is 'we're the underdog, they're expected to win, all the pressure is on them,'" he said. "If we can get some good things to happen in the first half and hang on in the fourth quarter, they have all the pressure and we don't."

Kickoff at Mitchell is set for 5 p.m.

Class 11A

Milbank at Todd County: Last season was not easy for Todd County. The Falcons went 2-7, but with a renewed commitment this season, they sit at 7-2 and will host a playoff game for the first time in coach Bob Kornely Jr.'s memory.

"It’s been a fun season," he said. "Looking at last year we were 2-7, I don’t know if anyone thought we’d turn around and go 7-2. That was above expectations. A lot of it is the same guys are a year older with a year more of experience."

Having running back Mark Rodgers back also helped the Falcons, according to Kornely. He went down with an injury during the second week last season.

Although Todd County has enjoyed having its leading runner back this season, he went down before the St. Thomas More loss last week. Milbank will not have to plan for Rodgers, as he will be out for the playoffs, but that isn't the only reason that Kornely is concerned about the Bulldogs.

"They’re very good on defense, athletic, physical, they run the ball well and it’s going to be tough moving the ball against them," he said. "Offensively, they have some good trick plays, some good screens, a reverse, flea flicker type of stuff. They keep you on your toes."

Kickoff will be at 5 p.m. from Mission.

Pine Ridge at Dakota Valley: A look at the past two seasons and someone would be fair to wonder how the Thorpes even got to the playoffs.

Their 7-2 record is a far cry from what the last two seasons have been, as they posted back-to-back 0-8 records.

"After coming off two 0-8 seasons it's exciting for the boys, especially my older kids," Pine Ridge coach Sam Bravo said. "They’ve been getting beat up every year, and this year was a lot different. It’s tough coming off a 0-8 season so I just try to keep them in the game and keep their minds focused. To be honest, this was probably one of our better seasons in the last 10 years."

This year it has been Pine Ridge who has been beating up its opponents. Its average margin of victory in its seven wins (not including a forfeited game against Sturgis)  is 26.6 points.

Now it will face Dakota Valley, who is 9-0 this season.

"They’re big and they like to run the ball," Bravo said. "I've told my kids that it’s football, anyone can walk out a winner. We just have to go out and play our game, execute our blocks and make good tackles to stay with a team like that."

Kickoff will be at 6 p.m. in North Sioux City.

St. Thomas More at Dell Rapids: The season didn't start the way St. Thomas More coach Wayne Sullivan would have liked.

After week three the Cavaliers stood with a 1-2 record, still trying to get over a 34-13 home loss to West Central.

The Cavs made a quarterback move, going with Ryder Kirsch instead of Kane Cavanaugh. STM has won six straight games by a combined score of 269-52.

"He (Kirsch) has really come a long way, he had a great mentor in Kane. We've been moving him (Cavanaugh), around and that gives us a great athlete," STM coach Wayne Sullivan said. "Kirsch has gotten more comfortable with the offense. He's a sophomore and I've had four other quarterbacks who played as sophomores and they had very good careers."

Sullivan said the team has moved Cavanaugh to almost every position in the offense besides offensive line. It was more his leadership, Sullivan said, that made him so valuable as he was willing to let the quarterback job go for the good of the team.

"He came up to me and just said 'coach, I will do whatever it takes to make the team better,'" Sullivan said. "His leadership has personified this team. We couldn't have done this without him."

Dell Rapids comes in as the three seed with a 7-2 record, and Sullivan said he has concerns about the size of the Quarriers.

"They're a big, physical, downhill running team," he said. "They're very well coached and disciplined. Coach Hansen does a great job with that program."

Kickoff will be at 5 p.m. 

Updated with comments from Sturgis coach Chris Koletzky

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Sports Reporter

Sports reporter for the Rapid City Journal.