MILLER — The Miller/Highmore-Harrold Rustlers are just one game away from reaching the Class 9AA state title game. Standing in the way of them earning a trip to the DakotaDome in Vermillion is the top-seeded Gregory Gorillas.
The two teams, which met less than a month ago in the final game of the regular season, will meet at 7 p.m. Friday in Gregory for a berth in the state title game.
“Both teams will be very familiar with each other. We are conference opponents, and just having played each other, we will know what to expect,” Miller/Highmore-Harrold coach Will Castle said. “They’ll know what we do and vice versus. There shouldn’t be too many surprises.”
The Gorillas, who are undefeated at 10-0, emerged with a 44-14 victory in the regular-season finale, but coach Brian Allmendinger is expecting things to be a bit different this time around.
“I would anticipate both teams will have at least minor adjustments on both sides of the ball,” he said. “Miller is a well-coached team and will be a difficult game for us. It’s extremely difficult to defeat a good team twice in a season, much less twice in one month.”
The Rustlers, who are 8-2, will look to use what they learned from the previous meeting to turn the tables against Gregory.
“We knew Gregory was good, but we learned just how fast they are and their team speed. It was a bit of a surprise for our guys going down there and not knowing how fast they were,” Castle said. “We know what to expect, we know what they are going to try to do against us offensively and defensively. Now we just have to go execute.”
Some missed opportunities hampered Miller/Highmore-Harrold’s bid to end the win streak for the Gorillas in the first meeting. Castle is looking for his to team to capitalize when it gets a chance this time around.
“We have to play our brand of football better. We aren’t looking to get into a shootout against them,” Castle said. “We need to execute better on offense, and when we get in the red zone, we need to come away with points. Last time we played we had four trips inside their 20 and we came away with 0 points.
“We need to punch it in the end zone when we get down there,” he said.
In the previous meeting, senior quarterback Andy McCance propelled Gregory to the victory. He was 12 of 19 passing for 374 yards and three touchdowns, and had 10 carries for 49 yards and two touchdowns.
“It’s hard to contain McCance, he is a great quarterback, can run the ball and throws great,” Castle said. “We need to make sure we know where Jayd VanDerWerff is at on the field at all times. He is a big key to their offense and is a dynamic playmaker.”
Another big factor for the Rustlers will be cleaning up some of the mistakes they encountered in the first game.
“We have to take care of the football and continue to do a good job of creating turnovers on defense,” Castle said. “Our special teams will play a big role, and we can’t have mental mistakes in this type of game.
“We need to stick to our game plan and make them drive the length of the field,” he said. “We can’t give up 1-, 2- or 3-play TD drives.”
The winner of tonight’s game will face the winner of the other semi-final game today between Kimball/White Lake and Irene-Wakonda, in the 9AA championship game at 1:30 p.m. Nov. 9 at the DakotaDome.
With teammates and coaches cheering from the sideline, Miller/Highmore-Harrold running back Henry Mullaney scores in the Rustlers’ season opener. M/H-H will travel to take on top-seeded Gregory tomorrow night for a shot at the 9AA championship game.
Next, Miller/Highmore-Harrold running back Garrett Knox heads upfield after catching a pass in the season opening game against Wolsey-Wessington.
Photos by Mike Carroll/plainsman file