NORTH SIOUX CITY | In a time when offenses, even at the prep level, are getting more complicated in football, Dakota Valley found its recipe for success to be a little different -- keep it simple.
The 9-0 and second-seeded Panthers will begin their playoff run Thursday at home as a team that rode strong defense and a punishing running game through its perfect regular season.
"It used to be that offensively we had to scheme up every week and now it is more this is what we do and we are going to do it to the best of our ability," Dakota Valley Coach Jeff Van Den Hul said. "We have to remember that sometimes coaches are their own worst enemy because we are working with high school kids and we are limited in practice. You have to keep it simple and the faster they can get comfortable the faster they can run it at a high level."
Nathan Rice leads a rushing attack that is averaging 255.8 yards per game with 702 yards and eight touchdowns. Austin Carter has run for 553 yards and Sam Chesterman has gone for 491. Quarterback Zack Poulsen has completed 20 of his 49 passes on the season for 562 yards and 24 touchdowns with just two interceptions.
It is a formula that the Panthers hope will serve them well as the weather is expected to turn colder. It also allows Dakota Valley to focus on itself and worry less about what its opponent as it prepares for games.
Dakota Valley's defense is giving up just 14.3 points per game and held four opponents to one score or less this season.
"We had high expectations this year because we had a lot of good returning players, and we just feel our scheme really fits what we have and the offenses we see throughout the year," Van Den Hul said.
Carter leads the team in tackles with 66, Luke Johnson has four of the team's 15 interceptions and Brennan Moran leads the way with 4.5 sacks.
Van Den Hul said his team gained confidence from its first victory of the season, a 20-0 shutout over Dell Rapids. It is a matchup that could be a semifinal rematch with the Quarriers earning the three seed. Add in a Tri-Valley overtime 42-41 victory and the Panthers have been tested on a couple of occasions.
"We had some games where we got behind and what not and you just never know how they are going to respond. Our kids have done a fabulous job of responding in the right way and getting everything they can out of the season," he said. "Finding out how your kids will react when their backs are against the wall, I think that is important. They can take confidence from that."
The Panthers will look to run that offense effectively against Pine Ridge, which brings a 7-2 mark into the 11A postseason. The seventh-seeded Thorpes bring an offense that will look to get the ball to their playmakers by running and throwing.
The Thorpes have persevered through a season that saw them claim a victory over Sturgis by forfeit after the game was canceled because of a racist statement about the school located on an American Indian reservation.
For the Panthers it is a chance to be back in the playoffs after missing out last season despite a 6-3 record.
"The kids are real excited after last year because I think they felt they got slighted a little bit with a good record and not quite making it," Van Den Hul. "This year they are just excited to have the opportunity."