Football Vermillion at Dakota Valley

Dakota Valley's Nate Rice runs for a touchdown as Vermillion's Trevor Tigert tries to make a stop during a high school football game in North Sioux City.

NORTH SIOUX CITY – Six years into building the Dakota Valley football team, Jeff VanDenHul will get a chance to test his team against one of the programs he knew the Panthers would have to measure up against when he took over.

Dakota Valley (9-1) is looking to reach the Class 11A state championship game for the second consecutive season when it hosts Dell Rapids in a state semifinal here Friday at 7 p.m.

“Dell Rapids has been there and done it,” VanDenHul said. “They are one of the programs we have been chasing for years and we want to make sure we are neck-and-neck with them year in and year out.

“Dell Rapids, West Central. When we first started Madison was in that conversation and teams year in and year out you have to account for, and I think Tea has taken that step now. It is a program you want to be like. That is kind of our goal to be a top program year in and year out.”

The Quarriers (6-4) have won state titles in 2008, '10, '12 and '14 and knocked off three-time defending champion Madison 14-13 last week to advance and give the Panthers home field for this contest. Madison had beaten Dell Rapids 28-7 the previous week.

The Panthers and the Quarriers met up in week one of the season in Dell Rapids with Dakota Valley claiming a 49-32 victory.

“We are both pretty different now so you can’t take anything from that,” VanDenHul said.

Senior quarterback Nate Rice ran for 215 yards and two touchdowns in the first meeting while also throwing for another score. Running back Sam Chesterman added 103 yards on the ground.

The ground game is where the Panthers have dominated teams all season and that was on display again in last week’s 46-30 win over St. Thomas More in the quarterfinals. Rice is coming off his most dominant performance of the season as he ran for 319 yards and four touchdowns.

“I don’t have enough adjectives to describe the way he plays football,” VanDenHul said. “He is explosive, patient, and as a runner, does everything right. Every year we have different types of athletes and I have never had anyone that is as patient of a runner that Nate is and able to explode into a hole as quickly as he has. It is a rare combination.”

Rice has rushed for 1,660 yards and 19 touchdowns on the season while having completed 43 of 81 passes for 565 yards, seven touchdowns and four interceptions.

Dakota Valley may have used the run to dominate most opponents, but its coach believes it is prepared to win any way it has to.

“I think we have been preparing all year,” he said. “Beginning of the year we started out and maybe threw three or four times. I think we threw 12 or 15 last week. We can throw the ball around if we need to, we can run power, we can do what we need to just like every team at this time of the year.”

Dell Rapids trailed Madison 13-0 at halftime last week before coming back to win. Quarterback Eddie Price hit Logan Ellingson for a 29-yard touchdown to provide the winning points. Logan Stone led the Quarriers on the ground with 50 yards rushing and Price finished 7 of 20 passing for 109 yards.

“They have a really good quarterback who has a strong arm and is a power runner and they have a really speedy receiver,” VanDenHul said. “They are going to try to stretch the field but they also have a really good run game. They will be a good test for us.”

The Dakota Valley defense has accounted for seven interceptions, 16 fumble recoveries and 18 sacks. Cole Schulz has racked up 68 tackles while Mitchell Kistner is second at 59.

VanDenHul knows his team will have to play its best, avoid turnovers, and try to get big plays on special teams like it did in the first meeting to advance. He is not worried about having to down the Quarriers twice in one season to do it.

“I don’t think it matters to me because this time of year you are going to get a good team and you will still have to play,” he said. “Just because you played them before it really doesn't matter one way or another whether you won or lost that game, especially since it was the first game of the year.”

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