Football Dakota Valley Elk Point-Jefferson

Dakota Valley's Luke Johnson, right, goes for a pass as he is defended by Elk Point-Jefferson's Preston Fejfar.

Justin Wan, Sioux City Journal

NORTH SIOUX CITY | Jeff Van Den Hul is ready to learn more about his undefeated football team. That shouldn’t be a problem after Friday.

Van Den Hul led Dakota Valley to the postseason his first two seasons guiding the Panthers. After a 2-7 campaign in 2015, Dakota Valley was denied a playoff berth last year despite a 6-3 mark.

Going into Friday night's ranked Class 11A battle with No. 4 Tri-Valley, the No. 3 Panthers know that a 3-0 start to the season will only get them where they want to go if they keep playing well.

"I don't feel that you know what any team is until the fourth or fifth game so we are really just trying to find an identity right now," Van Den Hul said. "We have had success up to this point and time but your first three games don't mean anything if you don't come out and prove yourself every week.

“They are buying into whatever the heck we are telling them. They have bought into our system and it is my fifth year, but our third year in this system and they play fast and play hard.”

Van Den Hul said the hard work in the offseason is paying off for his team and that has been on display the first three weeks. The Panthers opened the season with a 20-0 win over Dell Rapids before scoring road victories over Todd County (65-22) and Sisseton (43-7).

The Panther offense has been driven by its running game through three games having outgained its opponents 875-275. Nathan Rice leads the balanced attack with 333 yards – a staggering 22.2 per carry average -- and four touchdowns while Austin Carter has 144 yards and three TDs. Sam Chesterman has also run for more than 100 yards for the Panthers power offense.

“Offensively this is still a little new for us so we are still finding our way with that, but we have been able to grind out yards when we have needed to grind out yards,” Van Den Hul said. “We can get big plays when we need it.

“We are just more run downhill, more misdirection. We pass when we need to ... but we have been very successful moving the ball on the ground.”

Quarterback Zack Poulsen has not been asked to pass but has been effective when he has. He has completed 5 of 10 passes for 193 yards and four touchdowns.

“He lead blocks on certain plays and he is going to make sure people know that he is lead blocking,” said Van Den Hul of his 5-foot-11, 200-pound QB. “He is fast and he is violent to the hole, and when we need him to pass he is hitting every pass that we need him to throw.”

The defense, led by Zach Masters and Chase Hammerstrom, Cater and Brennan Moran, has yet to allow a point in the opening quarter.

They will be tested by Tri-Valley which has posted victories over Hot Springs (48-13), Lennox (27-20) and Vermillion (27-7). Landon Freeman ran for 103 yards and two touchdowns in the Mustangs' most recent win over Vermillion.

Tri-Valley showed its grit in its win over Lennox scoring 20 points in the fourth quarter to secure the come-from-behind victory.

“They are a 50-50 (run-pass) team with more spread and they do multiple sets that try to confuse you with alignments,” Van Den Hul said.

After two long road trips the past two weeks, the Panthers are looking forward to playing in front of the home fans.

“We will play on the road, we will play at home, it doesn’t matter,” Van Den Hul said. “After two long weeks it will be fun to play in front of our crowd again. This is a great group of kids and they are ready to play at the drop of a hat.”

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