ESPN 99.1 Game of Week: Lincoln High School Patriots, Roosevelt High School Rough Riders Play for it All
In week three of the regular season, Lincoln beat then, No. 1 Roosevelt, 35-28. On Saturday night, they'll do again, but this time in opposite roles.
The Patriots are the top team, and the Riders are the 'underdogs'. However, Patriots head coach Aaron Beavers and Riders head coach Kim Nelson say records don't matter, and it's the two best teams with one goal: win an inaugural Class 11AAA state championship.
"Polls are for the fans. It's neat to get recognized in high school football, but these are two really good football teams. It doesn't matter anymore. We are fortunate enough and blessed to get a shot at a state championship. It doesn't matter whether we are the underdog or favorite. These are two equally matched teams, and the better team will come out on top," says Beavers.
Nelson agrees with Beavers, and adds that both teams may be 'underdogs,' as the Riders are No. 2 and the Patriots will be playing without their starting quarterback Connor Burchill.
"The last time we played Lincoln, we were overconfident, and thought we could show up and win. We didn't play as hard. Being an underdog is both an advantage and non-factor. We were both preseason favorites and at the top in the ratings. It's now down to two teams, and I think we could both be underdogs. They lost a quarterback, and so, we are both underdogs, and somebody will have to win."
In the semifinals, both schools dominated their opponents for the most part, and had a few moments that served as wake-up calls.
Lincoln beat O'Gorman, 28-0 and it was close for the first quarter, with both the Patriots and Knights scoreless. Then, the Patriots took advantage of five fumbles by the Knights, and Caden Quintanilla did the rest. The senior running back ran for 118 yards and four touchdowns.
That was the good news, as their was some bad news, too. Senior quarterback Connor Burchill tore his ACL, and back-up quarterback Isaiah Roach will start in the championship game on Saturday.
Beavers says that Roach had done everything he can to prepare, and now, his teammates will have to help him avoid mistakes.
"He can't press himself. We have a bunch of ballplayers, and he just has to do his part, and he loves his part." Beavers said that Burchill is trying to do everything he can to at least suit up, and perhaps he will give the senior quarterback a snap in the game, but he won't know until Saturday.
With a back-up quarterback heading into the championship game, the Patriots will certainly rely on Quintanilla, and his blockers up front to take pressure off of Roach.
"Caden's done a superb job, and so has guys like Matt Wagner and Adam Belhaj. A lot people think we are riding Caden's back, but we are really riding the offensive line's back. They've been good up front, and good in pass protection, and will need to be for Isaiah because he doesn't need added pressure."
Lincoln will be trying to finish a perfect, and unblemished season, but there is one game left, and the Riders are standing in their way.
Beavers suggests the Patriots have to play clean, and hold the Riders to very few big plays.
"We can not have any turnovers, or very few. The same with the penalties, and it may come down to field position, or special teams. We have to hold onto the ball and the fewer snaps Taryn has, the better for us. On defense, we may bend, we just can't break."
The Riders defeated Brandon Valley last week in the semifinals, 65-35. Roosevelt opened up the game with a 27-0 lead, but then let the Lynx back in the game.
The Lynx trailed by a score in the third, down 34-27. However, the Riders turned on the jets again, and by the end of the third, it was 48-35 in favor of Roosevelt.
Nelson says playing a lot of really good football teams late in the season helped the Riders prepare for Saturday night.
"We are playing better at the end of the season. It's been really good for us at the end of the year, playing O'Gorman, Washington and Brandon Valley. We were able to play three really good teams that made us play hard, and it's been an advantage for us."
The Riders task won't be easy, and they will have to find ways to slow down Quintanilla.
"We have to find a way to get in the way. We have to get in Caden's runnings lanes, as it hard enough last time. It's that time of year, and we have to stop them to have a chance." Going up against a back-up quarterback may be an advantage, but as Nelson adds, he is pretty good, too. "We have to get them in third downs. Roach will make plays."
On offense, Roosevelt will just look to be more consistent, and to find ways to win the ballgame.
"The last time we played them, we scored 27, but didn't move the ball consistently. They are good, and so, are we. It could come down to the little things, like getting a turnover."
This one is for all the marbles, as the Riders and Patriots will be ready to play on Saturday night. Both of them want to hold up a trophy at the end, too.
"It would be the ultimate goal. We talk and dream about it. It would mean satisfaction, hard work and mission accomplished. Either way, I'm proud of our young men, and it would be nice to hold the trophy above our heads," says Beavers.
On the other side, it would validate all of Roosevelt's hard work.
"To win the first 11AAA title, it would be a feather in our cap, and to do it against Lincoln would be that much sweeter," Nelson responds.
The Patriots and Riders play at 7:30 on Saturday night at the DakotaDome in Vermillion. ESPN 99.1 will have the call of the game.