Playing on the home field before a large crowd of loyal supporters can be an advantage.
Sometimes that is.
Not so much when the team lined up across from the ball is the state’s top-ranked team, and undefeated as well. Rapid City Stevens became reacquainted with that harsh reality on Friday night as the Raiders fell to visiting Sioux Falls O’Gorman 62-7 in Class 11AAA action at O’Harra Stadium.
O’ Gorman, one of four unbeaten 11-man teams (Dakota Valley in 11A, and Canton and Mt. Vernon/Plankinton in 11B) in South Dakota wasted little time in establishing dominance as the Knights took the opening kickoff 78 yards in four plays capped off by a 12-yard scoring pass from junior quarterback Zach Norton to wideout Canyon Bauer, the first of four touchdown connections in the game between the duo.
For Norton, the first half was the stuff of dreams as he completed his first nine tosses in the game, 12-of-16 passes in the opening half, and three touchdown passes in leading his team to a 21-0 first quarter lead and a 42-7 advantage at halftime.
“That was a lot of fun. My receivers made a lot of great plays for me and the guys ran great patterns and were wide open for me so it was just a great experience,” said Norton, a defensive back last season and a backup at the start of the season. “Coach came up to me in the summer and told me what I had to do to be successful and it just worked out for me.
Traditionally a running team in the head coach Jayson Poppinga has transitioned his offense capable of moving the ball either in the air or ground this season.
“This is our third year here at O’Gorman and we’ve installed an offense that is pretty much a 50-50 run-pass team, and I think you saw that tonight,” Poppinga said. “We try to distribute the ball to our playmakers. I think we had seven or eight different guys catch passes tonight, and our quarterback Zach Norton did an outstanding job of making great decisions. He was a guy that we really didn’t know was going to be our quarterback but with an injury to our starter in the first couple weeks, Zach stepped in and the job has been his the rest of the year.”
Trailing 28-0 midway through the second quarter, Stevens finally got on the board as junior quarterback Colton Hartford led the Raiders on a 13-play, 59-yard drive, and culminated the drive with a 25-yard scoring pass to senior wideout Colton Doney.
Unable to run for most of the game — the Raiders had a total of three yards rushing in the first half — and forced into catch-up mode, Hartford and receivers Doney, Bransen Kuehl, Bridger Nesbit and Teigen Heckel made up most of the offensive in the half. Hartford was 13-of-20 for 143 yards in the half — though penalties and a failure to come up with a big play at crucial times stymied any attempt to get back in the game. A stout Knight defense that has help teams to under 10 points a game in the last four outings had something to do with the Raiders difficulties as well.
After Stevens came up empty on the opening drive of the second half, O’Gorman added another touchdown, a 1-yard plunge by Tate Wishard, and Wishard added another scoring run from 30 yards out to close out the third quarter. Reserve quarterback Teegan Schlimgen completed the scoring with a 12-yard run in the fourth quarter.
“We are a small football team and that lack of size has been a problem when we face the other Sioux Falls schools. And Stevens was bigger than us across the line, but our kids believe in what we do and execute at a high level,” Poppinga said.
Stevens interim coach Scott Sebo, who was standing in for Scott Hagen Friday night, declined to comment after the game.
Stevens (1-7) closes out the regular season with the traditional rivalry regular season finale against Rapid City Central on Thursday night at O’Harra Stadium (6 p.m.) The top-ranked Knights (8-0), meanwhile, close out the regular season with a trip to Brandon Valley.