The South Central Hawgs have been crowned the Southern Plains Football League champions each of the past two seasons. The Buffalo Ridge Wildcats feel those two titles could just as easily be theirs. Saturday, the two teams who have combined to win each of the past six league championships will do battle once again, but this time there will be more than a trophy and bragging rights on the line.
For the first time, the winner of the SPFL will face the champion of the Oregon-based National Nineman Football League in the National Nineman Championship Game. The contest is scheduled for July 27 at the Metrodome in Minneapolis.
Buffalo Ridge had a stranglehold on the SPFL crown for four straight years from 2006-09, going undefeated in three of those seasons. But two seasons ago, the Wildcats fell short to the Hawgs in a title game that was called due to a severe thunderstorm with 9 minutes, 3 seconds left in the fourth quarter and South Central up 20-10. The pass-happy Wildcats were without their top quarterback, Jared Beck, in that game, and were without a large portion of their team the following season when they were eliminated in the semifinals playing with just 16 men.
When Buffalo Ridge did have its full roster last season, the Wildcats handed South Central its only loss of the year late in the regular season. They'll head into Saturday's 7 p.m. matchup at Truman High School hoping to ruin another South Central attempt at a perfect season, and this time head coach Mike Tiedeman said getting enough men to play shouldn't be an issue.
"When we had all our guys (last year) we did good, we just couldn't get them to all the games," he said. "This year we've got a lot of guys who retired and didn't play last year to come back because if we win this game we go to the (Metrodome) for the national championship. That's kind of why everyone's back this year."
The two teams met during the regular season on June 9 when South Central pulled out a 10-8 win thanks to a 37-yard field goal with 19 seconds left in the game. It was the only time this season the Wildcats (8-1 overall), who lead the league in scoring offense, were held under 27 points.
"Our offense went right up and down the field, but four times we were down inside the 20 and didn't score," Tiedeman said. "Our only touchdown came on a blocked punt. It wasn't a good game for us."
Tiedeman said the Wildcats gained more than 300 yards in the game, but just couldn't find the end zone.
Other than that contest, scoring hasn't been much of an issue for the Wildcats. With Beck still the focal point of the team's offense, Buffalo Ridge has outscored opponents a combined 350-63 in nine games.
In previous seasons, Tiedeman said Buffalo Ridge usually ran the ball 10 times or less in a game. This year, the Wildcats have been working on becoming a bit more balanced, giving Noah Sanderson, primarily a defender in past years, some touches out of the backfield.
"He had a couple hundred yards in one of our games, and it's pretty rare for us to get more than 50 yards because we pass so much," Tiedeman said. "He was doing pretty good and we just kept giving him the ball. He had about 20 rushes a couple weeks ago, too."
Defensively, Tiedeman isn't too worried about his squad. The Hawgs' only touchdown in last month's game came on a punt return, and Buffalo Ridge has the top defense in the league. The Wildcats surrendered just 7.0 points per game and posted four shutouts during the season.
"The defense did their job (in the last meeting)," Tiedeman said. "Our defense created four turnovers, I think it was one fumble recovery and three interceptions, and we still didn't come up with anything (on offense).
"The defense wasn't really happy, but I don't blame them a bit. Hopefully our offense will play the way it has the last few games and we'll be OK. If we can score a couple touchdowns early, that'll help build our confidence."