Semifinal Preview: 8-Man, Division II

Carter Bruna (3) & Kevin Diederich (4) will try to lead Hanover past Pike Valley. (by Matt Gilmore)
By: Mark Schremmer & Conor Nicholl for
Nov 15, 2017

Share This Story:

East: No. 2 Pike Valley (11-0) at No. 1 Hanover (11-0)

The No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the 8-Man Division II will meet a week early.

The second-ranked and undefeated Pike Valley Panthers will face the top-ranked and undefeated Hanover Wildcats in the East semifinals. The winner will advance to face the winner of Hodgeman County and Otis-Bison in next week’s state championship game at Fischer Field in Newton.

Pike Valley is undefeated, but the Panthers have had a couple of close calls. They edged Osborne 30-28 in Week 4 and needed overtime to secure a 28-22 win over Mankato-Rock Hills in Week 6.

Last week, Pike Valley earned a 52-0 win over Hutchinson Central Christian. It was an impressive defensive showing by the Panthers as Central Christian entered the game averaging more than 70 points per outing.

The win put the Panthers back in the semifinals for the second consecutive season, matching their best season in school history. Pike Valley also made the semifinals in 2002 and 2005.

The Panthers’ multiple-set offense averages 353.4 yards per game, with 223.4 yards via the ground attack.

Two-time returning all-state back Lane Peters has been dealing with an injury and has played sparingly the past few weeks. Peters, who has more than 4,500 career rushing yards, did not play in last week’s win over Central Christian.

In Peters’ absence, Cole Strickler has stepped into the backfield and now leads the Panthers with 691 yards and 14 touchdowns on 89 carries. He’s also caught 27 passes for 503 yards and seven touchdowns.

Strickler, one of eight-man’s all-around top players, rushed for two touchdowns, caught a touchdown pass, and returned an interception for another scores in the win over Central Christian.

Senior quarterback Davante Hammer has passed for 1,092 yards and rushed for 544.  

Pike Valley is led by coach Don Melby, who boasts a career record of 216-142.

Hanover is the defending state champion and enters the semifinal on a 23-game winning streak.

The Wildcats have found little trouble on their way back to the semifinals. Their closest margin all season was a 64-32 win over Mankato-Rock Hills.

Last week, Daiken Stallbaumer and Carter Bruna each scored a pair of touchdowns during a 58-12 win over Caldwell.

Stallbaumer, a junior quarterback, has passed for 624 yards and rushed for 503 yards. Kevin Diederich and Bruna have rushed for 730 and 682 yards, respectively.

Hanover is coached by Matt Heuer, boasts an impressive mark of 125-25 in his 13th season as a head coach.

A year ago, Hanover ended Pike Valley’s season with a 48-0 playoff victory.

Hanover 36, Pike Valley 20  (Schremmer)

West: No. 3 Otis-Bison (10-1) at No. 4 Hodgeman County (9-2)

Otis-Bison and Hodgeman County, the champion and runner-up from District 6, match up for the second time in three weeks. Last year, District 6 titlist Dighton and runner-up Wallace County also met in the semifinals. Dighton won both contests.

In 2017, Otis-Bison, behind a dominant ground attack that rolled up 524 rushing yards, defeated the Longhorns, 58-26, at home for the district title. Otis-Bison’s ground game has averaged 10.5 yards per carry this year, including a double-digit average in the last seven contests.

However, senior running back Blake Bahr has not played since the first Hodgeman County game and is probable to return Friday. Otis-Bison is into the final four for the third time in coach Travis Starr’s 13 years with a runner-up in ’10 and a semifinals berth in ’11. The Cougars have outscored teams 564-154, while Hodgeman County is at 516-197.

Junior Anton Foust has enjoyed a brilliant season under center with 41 of 68 passing for 823 yards and 20 scores against two interceptions. He has 115 carries for 1,051 yards and 19 scores. Bahr, hurt with a leg injury, has 71 carries for 998 yards and 19 TDs. Junior Maitland Wiltse has 17 catches for 421 yards, 12 for scores. Otis-Bison has averaged 10.8 yards per play.

Defensively, the Cougars have enjoyed a big improvement after they permitted 212 points in a 6-3 season last year. Senior Daniel Scott leads with 98 tackles, and junior Luke Higgason paces for 14 TFLs. Senior Landon Hoopingarner has anchored the lines at center/nose guard.

After a 5-4 year in ’16, Hodgeman County battled through injuries during the season, most notably with a season-ending injury to junior Luke Shiew after Week 1. Longhorn senior quarterback Jacob Salmans and sophomore running back Eli Salmans were both banged up, and Jacob missed two games. However, the Longhorns have played well in the postseason. Hodgeman County is in the semifinals for the first time since a runner-up berth in ’13.

Jacob Salmans and freshman Isaac Salmans have combined for 68 of 117 passing for 1,180 passing for a 13/3 TD/INT ratio. Eli Salmans has rushed 169 times for 1,263 yards with 22 rushing scores. Hodgeman County is at 7.3 yards per rush and eight yards a play.

Eli rushed for 246 yards in a key district win against Dighton, and fighting ankle problems, he had just 50 yards versus Otis-Bison. However, in the first round of the playoffs, he had 20 carries for 234 yards and four scores in a 59-14 road win against Northern Valley. Last week, in a 52-6 victory versus South Barber, he delivered eight carries for 90 yards and two scores.

Hodgeman County has come up with multiple big plays on defense and special teams in the playoffs. Versus Northern Valley, the Longhorns forced three turnovers and returned a kickoff for a score. Against South Barber, Hodgeman County again forced three turnovers and had a pick-six. The Longhorns have just three offensive turnovers all year and stands at plus-18 in turnover margin with five defensive/special teams TDs.

On a per-play basis, Otis-Bison has been more explosive and Foust’s large frame has been very challenging for defenses.

The Cougars have the size advantage up front, though the speedy Bahr needs to play Friday to add another threat. Hodgeman County has played very well the last two games and likely needs big plays again on defense/special teams to offset some run defense struggles versus Otis-Bison.

The Longhorns permitted 419 rushing yards in a 58-34 loss to the Cougars last season.

Otis-Bison 44, Hodgeman County 32 (Nicholl)

Use your Facebook account to add a comment or start a discussion. Posts are subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook name, photo & other personal information you make public on Facebook will appear with your comment.