Will the eastern streak come to an end in North Dakota 9-Man high school football this year? That’s one of the biggest storylines entering the 2018 season, in my opinion. New Salem/Glen Ullin is loaded with talent – and reached the Dakota Bowl and the state semifinal round in back-to-back seasons.
Now, the Holsteins have a chance to become the first team from the western half of the state to win a 9-Man state title since Mott-Regent back in 2007. Wyndmere-Lidgerwood made it 10 straight titles for the east last year, but the Warbirds will be filling a lot of spots vacated by last year’s senior-heavy team. I think 9-Man will be a wide-open race with some of the usual suspects in contention. Shiloh Christian is coming off a state runner-up finish – and Thompson, Cavalier and Napoleon/Gackle-Streeter are also fielding strong programs year after year.
9-Man Top 5 Teams
1. New Salem/Glen Ullin
Nobody has more proven talent returning in my opinion than New Salem/Glen Ullin. I think the Holsteins will be taking the cattle hauler back to the Fargodome this year after falling one game short of the Dakota Bowl a season ago. Last year, New Salem/Glen Ullin split a pair of slugfests with Shiloh Christian with the latter coming in the state semifinal round. The Holsteins couldn’t stop Canaan Fagerland, who rushed for 300 yards and five touchdowns in that game. The Holsteins' defense will need to stiffen up, but their offense will give opponents nightmares all season long.
Impact Players: The offense is loaded with three-year starter Evan Henke at quarterback. He passed for more than 2,000 yards last season and rushed for another 500, accounting for 35 touchdowns. Henke is also one of the top defensive players. He made over 20 tackles for loss from his defensive end position last year. Playmakers Braden Zuroff and Garrett Soupir give Henke a pair of great weapons. Zuroff finished last season with more than 1,200 all-purpose yards and combined for 16 touchdowns, while Soupir hauled in 40 passes for 822 yards and 11 touchdowns.
The Imperials took an unblemished record into the playoffs in 2017, but were knocked out in the second round at Cavalier in a 36-34 defeat. The program won a pair of titles in the 2000s, but hasn’t reached the Dakota Bowl since winning it all in 2011. I think that drought could end this season with a strong group of returning players led by a dynamic offensive backfield.
Impact Players: Quarterback Jamison Fettig is one of the top players in the state. He’s a two-time, all-state selection who is poised for a strong senior season. It certainly helps that he has first team all-state running back Nathan Weigel next to him on each snap. Senior Tyler Long is the anchor on the offensive and defensive lines. The Imperials have plenty of talent on offense, but it was the defense that secured many wins last year. They held teams to 17.2 ppg, which ranked third among 9-Man teams a year ago.
After coming up one win shy of reaching the Dakota Bowl last year, Cavalier slides in at number three on my preseason rankings. The tradition of the Tornadoes is remarkable, and I think Sandy Laxdal has another good crew this year. The team’s opening game of the season at Thompson on August 17 will be the most intriguing. The Tornadoes haven’t lost a regular season game to a team not named Thompson since 2012.
Impact Players: After losing first team all-state quarterback Austin Urlaub to graduation, you’d think that would be the big position concern for Cavalier. But, that’s not the case with senior Jayden Laxdal taking over the reins under center. Laxdal did a nice job filling in for Urlaub after he suffered an injury in the week one victory over Thompson last fall. The 5’9”, 155-pound quarterback ended up passing for more than 500 yards and rushing for more than 300 yards last year as a junior. Tom Enerson and Tanner Urlaub help bolster the backfield, as well. Conley Carrier is a great weapon at wide receiver, and if he gets space in the open field, you better look out.
Region one is home to the past three state champions in 9-Man, and Thompson would like to make it four consecutive this season. The Tommies certainly have a great shot with several great athletes returning to the field in 2018. The good news is that we’ll get to see what this team is made of right away with an opening night matchup against Cavalier on August 17. Last year, the Tornadoes swept the Tommies, with Cavalier defeating them 28-24 in the regular season and 58-20 in the playoffs. You have to believe revenge will be on the minds of the boys wearing green.
Impact Players: Another year of Thompson football means another year with a Cadyn Schwabe under center. Schwabe enters his senior season after an all-state campaign as a junior. He passed for more than 1,200 yards and rushed for 700 more, while combining for 25+ touchdowns.
The Tommies also return with their two leading receivers and leading rusher from last season. Seniors Marcus Hughes and Hayden Overby combined for about 1,000 yards receiving in 2017, while Nick Reck rushed for nearly 1,400 yards and double-digit touchdowns. Each one of these players also has a significant role on defense for Brady Schwab’s program. Region one is always tough, but the Tommies are the best of the bunch.
5. Shiloh Christian
The Skyhawks round out my top five after finishing runner-up to Wyndmere-Lidgerwood in the state championship last year. Shiloh Christian has no shortage of talent, but the concern is on the offensive and defensive line where they’ll need to have some inexperienced players step up and fill some big shoes. I’m looking forward to another competitive year in Region 5. Shiloh Christian will square off with my preseason #1 New Salem/Glen Ullin in the regular season finale.
Impact Players: Canaan Fagerland is in the conversation for best 9-Man player in the state. He had a monster junior season and was the key cog in Shiloh Christian making it to the Dakota Bowl. Don’t believe me? Just go back and watch the highlights of his 300-yard, five-touchdown rushing performance against New Salem/Glen Ullin in last year’s state semifinal. Fagerland ended up rushing for just under 2,000 yards on the season and totaled 24 touchdowns on the ground. If anyone can make up for an inexperienced offensive line, it’s Fagerland.
Meanwhile, quarterback Jaden Mitzel is coming off a breakout sophomore season in which he ended up earning 2nd team all-region honors while guiding the Skyhawks to the Fargodome. He put up big numbers during the year and finished with 1,529 passing yards and 33 passing touchdowns. Fellow junior Trey Brunelle was on the receiving end for nine of those 33 touchdown passes. He’s a good weapon to have back, too.
The Bubble Teams
Hankinson, New Rockford-Sheyenne, North Prairie and Mohall-Lansford-Sherwood
10 Players to Watch in 9-Man
|Canaan Fagerland, RB/LB||Shiloh Christian senior|
|Jamison Fettig, QB/DB||Napoleon/Gackle-Streeter senior|
|Nathan Weigel, RB/LB||Napoleon/Gackle-Streeter senior|
|Cadyn Schwabe, QB/DB||Thompson senior|
|Hayden Overby, TE/LB||Thompson senior|
|Evan Henke, QB/DE||New Salem/Glen Ullin senior|
|Braden Zuroff, RB/LB||New Salem/Glen Ullin senior|
|Isaac Undlin, TE/LB||Mohall-Lansford-Sherwood senior|
|Jayden Laxdal, QB/DB||Cavalier senior|
|Max Defender, FB/LB||St. John senior|