By Brett Nachtigall
TEA – The Hot Springs Bison football team concluded its season last Thursday night on the road in the quarterfinal round of the Class 11A playoffs versus the state's top-seeded Tea Area Titans.
Despite keeping the game close in the first half with a stingy defense that only allowed one touchdown in each of the first two quarters, Hot Springs was shutout in the end and fell by a final of 0-33.
“Tea is a very good football team,” said Hot Springs head coach Ben Kramer. “We were prepared for everything they threw at us, they just executed better than we did.”
The big and fast Titans featured a roster of 52 athletes without much, if any, drop off from their first to second strings. They got on the board first with a 26 yard touchdown run by senior running back Carter Slykhuis and two-point conversion run in by sophomore quarterback Austin Lake, and then followed that up with another Slykhuis TD run of two yards right before halftime to go up 15-0 at the break.
In the third quarter, the home team added a 16-yard touchdown run by their sophomore quarterback followed by a 20-yard field by Kade Stearns. Up 26-0 heading into the fourth quarter, the Titans added a receiving touchdown on a 11-yard pass from Lake to senior runing back Wyatt VanTol.
Tea Area finished the game with a balanced total of 322 yards of total offense, including 148 passing and 174 rushing. Hot Springs meanwhile accumulated 121 yards with 46 passing and 75 rushing.
Hot Springs senior quarterback Morgan Harkless finished a stellar high school career by completing 5-for-19 passing with a long pass of 20 yards to fellow senior running back Andrew Wendland, who caught a total of two passes in the game.
Wendland and Harkless also led the team in rushing as Wendland went for 37 yards on 10 carries, as Harkless gained 15 yards on 14 carries as he was constantly flushed from the pocket and scrambling away from Titan defenders.
Tea Area's Lake completed 8 of his 12 passes for 124 yards and one touchdown, while Slykhuis rushed for 56 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Titan ground attack.
Defensively, Harkless (6 solo) and Brand Baker (3 solo) led the Bison with nine tackles apiece, followed closely by teammates Kalub Wilson (6 solo / 3 for loss), Wendland (4 solo / 1 fumble recovery) and Thane Lockhart (4 solo) with eight tackles each.
“It was a good season overall,” added Coach Kramer. “We lost a couple close ones down the stretch that we felt we could’ve had. They're a great group of young men, who have nothing to hang their heads about. They didn’t back down from anyone, never made excuses and should be very proud of the turnaround from last year to this year.”
As Coach Kramer eluded to, this year's 6-4 record overall was a marked improvement from the 2017 campaign which saw mostly the same players finish with 2-7 regular season record and then miss the playoffs. The 2016 version of the Bison, on which a good number of this year's seniors saw action as sophomores, finished with a 7-3 record overall and also ended their season on the road in the quarterfinal round of the Class 11A playoffs.
“They worked hard, came in with a great attitude and did everything they needed to be successful,” added Kramer. “It was a fun group to coach; really going to miss them next year.”
Seniors on this year's Bison football roster total 11, including the aforementioned Harkless, Wendland, Baker, Wilson and Lockhart, along with Matt Norton, Donnie Abbott, Garrett Heil, Caden Shanklin, Chad Kelso and Gage Uhlir.
This Friday, Nov. 2, top-seeded Tea Area (9-1) now hosts No. 5 West Central (6-4), who beat No. 4 Todd County by a score of 49-8 last week. The winner will advance to the DakotaDome in Vermillion on Thursday, Nov. 8, for the Class 11A championship, and face the winner of No. 3 Dakota Valley (9-1) vs. No. 7 Dell Rapids (6-4). Last week, Dakota Valley beat No. 6 St. Thomas More (6-4) by a score of 46-30, while Dell Rapids knocked off No. 2 Madison (8-2) by a score of 14-13.
The swarming Bison defense wrap up a Tea Area Titan ball carrier during the first quarter of their game last Thursday night in Tea.
Hot Springs quarterback Morgan Harkless is flushed from the pocket and attempts to pick up yardage downfield.
Photos by Kel Lorenz