With no extra hype or buildup, district rivaly football games are typically hard-fought and exciting.
But bring in two teams that are both 9-1, both fighting for a spot in the state champinship and are facing off for the second time in a season, and fans should be in store for one of the better prep football games of the season.
Saturday at 1 p.m. the No. 4 Northern C 6-Ma
n Big Sandy Pioneers will host the No. 8 Northern C Valier Panthers in the state semifinals. The state game will kickoff at 1 p.m. in snowy Big Sandy.
The Pioneers and Panthers have become fierce rivals over the years, and that rivalry has done nothing but grow this season. The Pioneers have lost only one game this season, that loss coming to Valier, 46-44 in week five in Big Sandy. Now the Pioneers have a shot at a little revenge, as they hope to return the favor to the Panthers, earning a spot in the state championship game in the meantime.
“I am excited, and the boys are excited,” Big Sandy head coach Greg King said. “I think everybody is excited and looking forward to this matchup. I like being at home, we don’t have to make a three hour bus trip. Home field advantage always adds something, and the crowd should be bigger for us this time too. Hopefully we get a good group out here, hollering and cheering for the Pioneers.”
And coaches always say that the team that makes the least amount of mistakes will have the best shot at winning. That may be true, but the Pioneers will also have to find a way to stop some very talented players, while trying to force those mistakes onto the opposition.
Valier is led by quarterback Clint Christaens, an accurate passer in a very successful spread offense. Christaens also has outstanding targets in players like Justin Sullivan, a speedy receiver who can stretch the field and get behind the defense for quick scores. The Panthers seem to lean on the spread offense, and Christaens arm, but Cody Berg also gives the Panthers’ offense the ability to run the ball with great success. Either way, the Panthers can put up points, and if they aren’t limited, they have the ability to keep things close, and possibly surprise the Pioneers for the second time this season.
“It has the possibility of being another tight game,” King said. “I expect Valier to stay in their spread look and throw the ball up the Sullivan kid. We are just going to try and get Christaens to make some unwise decisions and hopefully throw a couple of balls away to our defense. We have to make sure we don’t get beat deep, and we have to make sure we cover their short dump passes. And we have to wrap up and make the tackles, we have to do that every game, but we need to do that more crucially now since it is the end of the year.”
The forecast for Saturday afternoon is showing snow and temperatures in the mid to low teens. If the weather plays a role, the nasty conditions could also help the Pioneers force the Panthers to turn away from the passing game.
And while it may hurt the Panthers, it could assist the Pioneers.
Big Sandy has ran very well this season, utilizing the speed and strength of running backs like Jessey Bailey. Last weekend in the teams win over Westby/Grenora, Bailey rushed 38 times for 299 of the teams’ 360 rushing yards. Bailey averaged nearly eight yards per carry and scored three touchdowns. Lane Martin will also have a handful of carries, while quarterback Trevor Lackner can also hurt teams with his legs, having a knack for finding the end zone.
But when Lackner isn’t using his legs, he also gives the Pioneers an attack through the air. Lackner had two passing TD’s last weekend, while hitting targets Martin, Zac Leader and Kaden beck six times for 67 yards. Big Sandy typically utilizes their run game more than their pass, but like the Panthers, they can switch between the two attacks to get things rolling in their favor.
Saturday is a huge game for the Pioneers. They have reached the state semifinals three straight years, but have fell short of the title game three straight times as well. They have a beatable opponent at home this weekend, and will look to take that next step at 1 p.m. on Saturday in Big Sandy against Valier. The winner will travel to either Geraldine/Highwood or Hot Springs for the Six-Man state championship game.
Big Sandy vs Valier
Saturday, 1 p.m.
in Big Sandy
Radio: 101.3. KRYK
Follow on Twitter at