On this special edition of After the Whistle, Phil Benotti and Luke Gamble preview the North Dakota Football season. All leading up to the first games this Friday on Aug. 20.
For the 11A division, two regions will make up the new classification, with five teams from the west. Three of the top five will make the postseason.
The five teams are:
- St. Mary’s High School
- Dickinson High School
- Jamestown High School
- Turtle Mountain High School
- Watford City High School
Seven teams make up the east region in Class 11A, with five of those seven making the postseason.
The teams are:
- Devils Lake High School
- Grand Forks Red River High School
- Grand Forks Central High School
- Fargo North High School
- Fargo South High School
- Wahpeton High School
- Valley City High School
St. Mary’s Saints:
We start with the St. Mary’s Saints, who have a chance to win their sixth state title in the last eight seasons this year. We’re going to see a lot of the same stuff out of them when it comes to being defensive first. They allowed one touchdown or less in seven games last season, and it’s expected that they will bring the same hard-hitting mentality this year. They’re always very disciplined, and they’re going to have to be this season with a lot of new opponents on the opposite side of the ball.
“It’ll be really important to study the film and get to know the other teams that we haven’t played in a long time,” says QB Nick Schumacher. “We’ll have to adjust to the new level of competition and just compete every week.
“You just approach it as it’s good for us,” says Head Coach Dan Smrekar. “I think it’s going to be good for our football and our program, but we’re looking forward to it. It’s going to be different. On the negative side of it is, you’ve got to try to establish new rivalries and those types of things, but that’ll come.”
Moving to Dickinson, a team that went 1-6 last year during the regular season but has a lot of promise this season. Dickinson returns a lot of guys with varsity experience which will play into their hands, players that we’re sophomores last year got varsity time, so they’ll be expected to step up in a big way this year, especially with so many players on both sides of the ball. Developing depth is the key thing that head coach John Tuchsherer says is important leading up to game one.
“John Tuchscherer: “When we’re having success as a football team,” says Tuchsherer. “As a football program, we have that depth. We have not as many guys not having to play both ways. So like I said, it’s finding guys and putting them in a position to be successful.”
Troy Berg: “It’s hard because you know these other schools have more people and they can have guys play one way or the other,” says senior Troy Berg. “Us being a smaller school we have guys playing both ways, and it’s going to be very important to have those main key guys playing both ways step up.”
Watford City Wolves:
The Watford City Wolves went 1-7 last season, but this new realignment gives them a chance to step up as a competitive team. The Wolves have lots of seniors with not only a little bit of experience, but most of them with 3 years of experience. One thing is the re-districting for schools like Watford City has the team traveling six hours to Grand Forks. Head coach Justin Johnsrud says that’s hard for kids who want their parents at the games because parents can’t take off early from work for a six-hour trek.
“The biggest downfall of traveling across the state, or six hours to a football game is that the ‘Friday Night Lights hype’ that everybody thinks about,” says Johnsrud. “You know, you lose the ‘rivalry type stuff and you lose the great part of the game where you have the crowd on both sides loud for good things and bad things. That’s the biggest loss to the kids.”
Turtle Mountain Braves:
Turtle Mountain will have many question marks entering 2021. The Braves are one of the few teams not to play last year due to the pandemic, so it’ll be interesting to see what kind of impact it’ll have on that program. As for Turtle Mountain’s schedule, the date that will be huge for them will be September 10th, a home game against Watford City, two teams that could be fighting for that third and final playoff spot.