Behind 29-consecutive points, including a safety and defensive touchdown, on July 6, the Buffalo Ridge Wildcats secured a spot in today's Southern Plains Football League championship.
Those 29 second-half points carried the Wildcats to a 29-12 win over the Panic of Nicollet and, for the third time in the past four years, into an SPFL championship showdown with the South Central Hawgs, of Truman. The Hawgs earned their place in tonight's 7 p.m. final in Truman by way of a 19-0 shutout of the Steele County Warriors.
Not only are the Wildcats and Hawgs familiar opponents, they are also evenly matched. The last three games between the two teams have been decided by a total of just two points.
Buffalo Ridge coach Mike Tiedeman says that high turnout will be key if his team is going to keep its season alive against the 9-man football league's top-seed.
"If we get our players to show up, all of our starters and have enough guys in the heat (we'll compete)," Tiedeman said. "Either way it'll be close. The last three games we've played have been two-point games. I'm guessing it's going to be another one of those less-than-a-touchdown-to-win kind of games."
The most recent of the razor-thin decisions came on June 15 when Buffalo Ridge edged out the Hawgs 15-13 in Lake Benton, with a third-quarter field goal proving the difference. Tiedeman expects the Hawgs to be extra motivated today. Not only is South Central trying to avenge a loss, they are trying to make amends for a game that ended a winning streak spanning nearly three seasons and defend their home field in the process.
"It's at their home field and they're pretty mad," Tiedeman said. "They had about a 17, 18, 19-game win streak going at the time. I know they've been pretty much on a tear since then, taking it out on the rest of the league."
Even without the extra incentives fueling the Hawgs, Buffalo Ridge was preparing for a tough test today, seeing as South Central features a dangerous backfield duo.
"They run the ball a lot. They pass too, but they've got a speed back and then they've got a fullback that just runs people over," Tiedeman said. "They do a lot of rushing; that's usually our biggest problem with them."
Buffalo Ridge will turn to its defense, which produced eight points of its own in the win over the Panic, to keep the Hawgs from running wild. Players like Jeff Thorson (who returned an interception 15 yards for a score against the Panic and added eight tackles), Curtis Lustfield (who picked up a safety in the semifinal win) and Toby Ball (who racked up 10 total tackles against the Panic) will be especially important.
Also at stake, apart from the SPFL championship, is a trip to Corvallis, Ore. for the National Nineman Championship on July 27.
"The winner actually gets to go to Oregon for the national championship, so there's a lot on the line. It's going to be one of those knock-down, drag-out fights," Tiedeman said.