We’re guaranteed a new state champion in 9-man. I don’t get to write that very often before the season even kicks off, but that’s the case following the realignment in North Dakota high school football. In fact, three of the final four teams from the 2018 playoffs will play 11-man football in Class A this year (state champion Thompson, runner-up New Salem-Glen Ullin & Oakes).
1. New Rockford-Sheyenne
Oh, what might’ve been. The 2018 Rockets put up insane numbers all year, but the only number that mattered at the end of their season was a bitter-tasting 32-28 loss to eventual state champion Thompson in the state quarterfinal round. The Rockets led that game 22-20 at one point in the second half before a couple of turnovers cost them a trip to the semifinals. One year later, I’m picking them to get sweet redemption and claim the 9-man crown. Elliott Belquist’s team is coming off a year where they ranked 2nd in scoring offense (50.0 ppg) and 2nd in scoring defense (12.4 ppg/allowed). They lost some key starters as you’ll read below, but they have a good contingent back that’ll be hungry for title.
This list must start with UND commit Bo Belquist. The 6’1”, 165-pound WR/DB is back for his senior season after putting up huge numbers a year ago to earn first team all-state honors. Beqluist hauled in 54 passes for 1,096 yards and 18 TDs in 2018. He also rushed for nine scores and returned five punts for touchdowns. How about this for a nugget? He scored a touchdown on 29 percent of his offensive touches last season, whether it be through the air or on the ground. Success in 9-man football relies heavily on having players that can flourish in open space, and Belquist might be the best in the state at doing that. The Rockets are tasked with replacing the other part of last year’s big 1-2 punch on offense, quarterback Teddy Allmaras. Last season, Allmaras completed 68% of his passes for over 2,200 yards, 35 TDs and added 5 rushing TDs. Those numbers landed him a first team all-state accolade. My guess is that junior Johnny Grann will get the first shot at playing QB. Seniors Hunter Thompson and Nathan Holzwarth should provide the offense with plenty of explosive plays, as well.
2. Ray/Powers Lake
The co-op of Ray/Powers Lake seems to be a perfect fit. The Outlaws went from a 5-4 mark in their first year as a co-op in 2017 to suffering their only loss of 2018 in the state semifinals, losing to New Salem/Glen Ullin 18-7. Steve Perdue’s Outlaws get it done the old-fashioned way by running the ball and playing great defense. Last season, Ray/PL led the state in scoring defense by holding opponents to 12 ppg. Despite it coming in a losing effort, the Outlaws were the only team to hold the high-powered New Salem-Glen Ullin offense under 20 points last season. In fact, they’re the only team to accomplish that in the last three years. I think the Outlaws will keep it rolling again this year behind one of the state’s top rushing attacks led by senior running back Brock Viall. Maybe this year they’ll get over the hump and make it to the Dakota Bowl?
The ground game is going to be Ray/Powers Lake’s bread and butter. Brock Viall recorded some big-time performances when the team needed it most last season, including a 200+ yard rushing and two TD performance in a close win over Mohall-L-S late in the season. Seniors Isaac Nordloef and Wyatt Puckett will anchor the offensive and defensive lines and should help pave the way for another big season from Viall. They’ll have to replace a trio of first team all-state defensive selections: Zach Schultz, Aiden Nordloef & Kyle Van Berkom. From his QB position last year, Van Berkom amassed 2,100 yards of offense and a combined 29 touchdowns. We’ll have to wait and see who takes over the reigns under center. Junior Noah Fredrickson will likely get the nod.
I see Richland as a heavy favorite to claim the region one title this fall thanks to its electric offense led by 3rd year starting quarterback Cole Myers. Myers has passed for over 2,000 yards in back to back seasons and knows how to find his playmakers. The Colts did graduate some significant contributors on both sides of the ball, but I feel they have enough to keep the stampede going. The big question marks for Richland will be on the offensive and defensive lines. They don’t have much size and will have to replace a good number of players up front. They also need to improve defensively. They had several instances last year where they had to put up massive point totals because they were giving up big scoring numbers to the opposing team. If they can find a better balance on offense and compete hard defensively, I think the Colts could make a deep postseason run.
Like I mentioned above, Cole Myers will be the focal point for coaching staffs when they game prep for Richland this season. The quarterback is savvy and will make you pay for mistakes. Carter Lingen and Gavin Reiland have played a lot of football over the past few years, too. I expect them to get open and make a lot of plays up and down the field in Colfax.
For some teams, a 6-4 season like Cavalier had in 2018 would be a success. But, the expectations are always high for Sandy Laxdal’s program, and the Tornadoes are hungry to win their 6th region title in the last decade – and perhaps nab their first state title since winning back to back crowns in 2013 & 2014. The Tornadoes season spun out of control from the start in 2018 with a 36-6 loss at Thompson that included a season-ending knee injury to their starting running back and top tackler from the previous season Tanner Urlaub. The good news for Cavalier is that Urlaub was just a junior last season and should be a force on both sides of the ball in 2019. With a combination of good coaching, experience and top-end talent, I see Cavalier pushing New Rockford-Sheyenne for a region two title and perhaps more.
Earlier this summer, 6’5”, 190-pound TE/DB Andre Carrier committed to play football at NDSU, and I think he’s poised for a big senior season. Opposing teams are going to have a tough time finding a defensive back to match up with his size, and if I’m the Cavalier quarterback I know who’s number I’m looking at in the red zone. Carrier has piled up over 1,000 receiving yards combined over the last two seasons and will be more of a primary target this season. Urlaub’s return will provide a huge boost for the Cavalier defense and should add to the offensive firepower, as well. The interior line should be solid with Andre and Isaiah LeTexier returning as starters. Colton Ratchenski is expected to start at quarterback for the black and orange.
5. Kidder County
The Wolves have been a team that has hovered just over the .500 mark each of the last three seasons, but I see them making a jump this year to contend for the region crown in the new-look region four. On the surface, people will see that Kidder County finished 6-4 last season. But, look a little closer and you’ll see that those four losses came to opponents that reached the state quarterfinal round (New Salem/GU, Oakes, Napoleon/G-S & New Rockford-Sheyenne). I know moral victories don’t count, but it’s something worth noting. What’s also worth noting is the fact that head coach Jack Biesterfeld will have the dynamic running back duo of Isaiah Harter and Parker Hager for a third straight season. If the Wolves can limit the turnovers and penalties, their defense and ground game should be able to carry them to a deep playoff run.
Not only do the Wolves return the all-senior backfield of Hager and Harter, but starting quarterback Jonah Harter is back for his junior season. Their chemistry should help Kidder County hit the ground running once falls camp begins. The team did graduate a first team all-state lineman in Jaxon Deckert, so younger players will be tested up front. But, the good news is they’ll get senior TE/DE Ty Biesterfeld back after he missed all of last season with a shoulder injury. Biesterfeld made 30 tackles as a sophomore.
The Bubble Teams:
Napoleon-G-S, Mohall-L-S, MayPort-C-G
10 Players to Watch in 9-Man
- Bo Belquist, New Rockford-Sheyenne
- Tanner Urlaub, Cavalier
- Andre Carrier, Cavalier
- Cole Myers, Richland
- Jack Ihry, F-S-H-P
- Sam Satrom, MayPort-C-G
- Brock Viall, Ray/PL
- Kolby Nelson, Surrey
- Isaac Nordloef, Ray/PL
- Adam Jollie, St. John
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