The powerhouse programs in Class 9B are at the top of the list once again in my preseason poll with programs like LaMoure-Litchville-Marion, New Salem and Cavalier expected to field strong teams again. Those three were among the final four last year in a playoff field that had expanded from 16 to 24 for the 2021 season. The 24-team bracket produced just a couple of first round upsets a year ago with Grant County/Flasher and North Prairie winning road game. But I feel that a huge positive to the expanded field led to great drama at the end of the regular season with more teams in contention for a playoff spot during the final weeks.
A new year has brought about some change as far as teams shuffling from region to region along with some new additions altogether. For instance, Maple Valley/Enderlin ended its co-op. Enderlin will field its own varsity football team for the first time in close to two decades. Meanwhile, Maple Valley has paired up with Hope and Page to form Maple River. The other move coming from that is that Finley-Sharon is combining with MayPort-C-G. There’s also some change with a couple of 6-man teams (defending 6-man state champ North Border and Midway-Minto) making the jump to 9-man. It’ll be fun to follow some of these changes and I’m excited to see the small-town passion on display throughout the state again this fall.
ND Class 9B
The 2021 season could not have been more dominant for the Loboes. They allowed a combined 54 points in their 12 games and shutout eight opponents. Offensively, they averaged just over 50 points per game and scored 42 points in the state championship victory over Cavalier. The Loboes graduated five seniors off that squad including all-state QB Corban Potts who combined for 37 TDs last season. The bad news for the rest of the division, though, is that head coach Andy DelaBarre has a ton of talent returning which includes four players that were named 1st team all-state last season.
Senior RB/LB Brady Lettenmaier is coming off a monster season (203 rush, 1,666 yds, 23 TD) that was capped off by his 210-yard rushing performance at the Dakota Bowl. The offense will also rely on senior TE/S Colton Ness who finished last year with 24 catches for 522 yards and 10 scores to go with his eight interceptions on defense. Ness has been one of the most dominant players in 9-man football the last few seasons and I’m interested to see how he caps off his career in his final go-around. Senior WR/DB Tate Mart is another standout on that defense that thrived off turnovers. Mart had a couple of picks in the state championship game to finish the season with eight interceptions of his own. Mart will also get more looks on offense as a utility weapon. Seniors OL/DL Brock Wendel and RB/LB Garrett Hebl are the other two all-state picks returning for LLM. At quarterback, you'll see senior Anthony Hanson make the move from tight end to under center. Hanson has experience playing QB at different age levels and should be able to take advantage of his speed in addition to his good arm strength.
2. New Salem-Almont
The Holsteins had the cattle hauler rocking again last year in its first season back in 9-man since finishing runner-up at state in 2018. It was a bitter finish to their season though letting a late lead slip away in the overtime state semifinal loss to Cavalier on their home field, 36-34. New Salem returns six starters on offense and five on defense which gives them a huge advantage right off the bat. I expect them to stampede their way through the regular season and have another shot at making the trip to Fargo in November.
Senior QB/LB Ty Wolding was a playmaking machine last fall. The dual threat QB rushed for 736 yards and 17 TD, while passing for 12-hundred yards and 19 scores. He has the unique ability to turn a broken play into a big gain with his improvisation skills. Sharing the backfield with Wolding for the second consecutive season is sophomore RB/LB Brock Norton who led the team with 790 yards on the ground last season. Look for Wolding, Norton and junior Wyatt Kuhn to be the big three playmakers for the offense. The Holsteins also feel good about their group in the trenches led by senior and first team all-state returner AJ Heins (6’3”, 290 lbs). Heins was virtually un-blockable on defense piling up 46 tackles, 5 sacks and 15 TFL. He’s also a big reason why the Holsteins racked up rushing yards in bunches. The 2-time state wrestling champ has emerged as one of the top lineman recruits in the state for the 2023 class.
Three straight years in the Dakota Bowl and three straight runner-up finishes. Tornado fans certainly have little to gripe about as far as being competitive year in and year out, but there’s no hiding the fact that there’s a sour taste in the mouths of this proud program. Even a coaching change hasn’t kept opponents from being swept up in their path of destruction. After taking over for the legendary Sandy Laxdal, Mitch Greenwood guided Cavalier to the Dakota Bowl with a perfect record before coming up short against LaMoure-Litchville-Marion in the championship game. They flat out know how to win in Cavalier and that’s why they’re almost always in my preseason top five. I also like how they’re challenging themselves on opening night by taking on a Class 11B opponent in Northern Cass. The Tornadoes typically have some lobsided scores in the regular season, but this should be some stiff competition to start.
The Tornadoes will be trying to fill the void left by a talented senior class led by players like Brysen Cleem, Trevor Hinkle, and Demetrius Avila. Hinkle and Avila played huge roles on a defense that limited opponents to just 9.2 points per game last season. It’s not like the cupboard is bare on that side of the ball, though. Last year’s leading tackler, Jacob Steele is back along with Landon Carter. That duo will be asked to do a lot this season, though, because they’re the top two returning weapons on offense. Steele rushed for nearly 600 yards and 6 TD last year while Carter caught 21 passes and turned 13 of those into touchdowns to go with over 300 receiving yards. Steele and Carter are a great 1-2 offensive punch, but someone else needs to emerge for this offense to click like it did last year.
Some eyebrows might raise on having MayPort-C-G this high considering they failed to reach the quarterfinal round in last year’s state playoffs, but keep in mind their exit was courtesy of the state champs from LaMoure-L-M. The Patriots return seven starters on both sides of the ball from a team that finished 8-2 last year. They’ve had some offseason victories, as well. They added some players from Finley-Sharon after the breakup of the FSHP co-op and 9-man powerhouse Cavalier moved out of their region. Their defense made huge strides in improving from 2020 to 2021 and I think they have the personnel to take even another step forward to improving on that side of the ball this year. The schedule has some big challenges with Wyndmere-Lidgerwood in the opener and LaMoure-L-M on September 23rd, but MPCG has a great shot to make some noise in 9B this fall.
Head coach Adam Sola is excited to bring back a bunch of seniors led by 1st team all-state RB and LB Ethan Bergstrom who racked up 930 rush yards and 17 TD last season. Towering 6’6” 195 lb QB Landon Koenig is back to run the offense after passing for nearly 1,000 yards and seven touchdowns as a junior. The team gains another significant weapon in senior RB/LB Xyler Carlson who rushed for 950 yards and accounted for 13 touchdowns last season for Finley-Sharon/Hope-Page. Carlson also registered 35 solo tackles last year for the Spartan defense. Head coach Adam Sola says, “On the field our biggest strength has to be our run game. We will have the ability to spread the ball around to a variety of guys this fall, but it all starts with a solid offensive line.” That offensive line is anchored by a couple of all-region returners in Lucas Fugleberg and Andrew Aarsvold.
5. North Prairie
The Cougars finished 6-4 last year which was good enough for the third and final playoff spot out of region four last season. Coincidentally, the two teams that finished ahead of them won’t play in region four this fall. St. John was moved to region seven, while reigning region champ Bottineau moved up to Class 11B. The window is open and North Prairie has the talent to break through.
There’s plenty of excitement surrounding the playmakers for North Prairie. Senior Nicholas Mears was an all-region player last year after passing for 793 yards, rushing for 886 yards and combining for 26 TDs. Mears put up those numbers despite missing two games due to injury. Head coach Josh Keller is excited about another year with Mears leading his offense. “Nicholas did an excellent job running the offense for us last year. He is a terrific athlete who is a threat both running and throwing the ball.” Senior WR/DB Mitchell Leas is another solid two-way player that racked up 425 receiving yards and made 21 solo tackles and a pair of interceptions on defense. Blake Mattson will get the bulk of the carries at RB after making the transition from TE in the offseason. He’ll be running behind an offensive line that features 6’5” 270 lb junior Nate Tastad. Do yourself a favor and watch Tastad’s HUDL reel sometime. Make sure you have some syrup next to you because he serves up plenty of pancakes. Tastad was offered by defending FCS national champ NDSU in late June. The Bison have had success finding players in the Cougar trenches before. Former North Prairie standout lineman Karson Schoening just wrapped up a solid collegiate career with NDSU a few years ago.
The Warbirds have been trending in the right direction the last few seasons with back-to-back 7-3 finishes. This year, they’ll look to take things one step further after advancing to the 2nd round of the playoffs a year ago. Interestingly enough, last year’s three losses came courtesy of the two teams that played in the state championship game. They lost to Cavalier twice and LaMoure-L-M once. Stud rusher Andrew Arth returns for his senior season after having his junior campaign cut short due to a season-ending injury midway through last season. He still managed to rush for 659 yards and 12 TD in five games. Junior Tyler Brandt is back for his 2nd year as the starting quarterback after earning all-region honorable mention last season. Those two will be playing behind an offensive line that’s been impressive according to head coach Scott Strenge. “Our line play was a strength last year and I am hopeful we can build on last year’s success.”
After winning a combined seven games from 2013 to 2017, the Mustangs have three 7-win seasons over the past four years. Mark Kennedy transformed the program into a winner, but now the head coaching duties have been handed off to Connor Hill. The loss of standout senior and 2021 Midco Sports 9B player of the year Chris Jenner is a big one, but the cupboard isn’t bare either for this new coaching regime. Senior lineman Ayden Amundson returns after an all-state season and senior Rylan Scheig is a veteran presence at quarterback entering his third year as a starter.
The Storm went on an impressive run in the playoffs last year by winning not one, but two road playoff games to reach the quarterfinal round where they were outmuscled by eventual state champ LaMoure-L-M. The backfield will have to replace 1st team all-state QB Jace Friesz, but they’re hoping Jace’s younger brother Javin can do the trick. Javin has been a force on offense the last few years and finished his sophomore season with 771 receiving yards, 11 TD and 685 rush yards and 8 TD. The Storm also return four starters on the offensive line, which is a huge plus for any program.
The Mustangs made the jump from one win in 2020 to seven wins in 2021. I think they’ll continue to be one of the better teams in 9B this season. They were 7-1 in the regular season last year and played New Salem very tough in a 22-16 defeat. Senior FB/LB James Schumacher will be the player to keep an eye on for the Mustangs. They open the season with a tough matchup against Grant County/Flasher.
Class 9B Preseason Player of the Year
Colton Ness, LaMoure-L-M
10 Players to Watch in Class 9B
- Andrew Arth, Wyndmere-Lidgerwood
- Caden Belgarde, St. John
- Ethan Bergstrom, MayPort-C-G
- Landon Carter, Cavalier
- Javin Friesz, Grant County/Flasher
- AJ Heins, New Salem-Almont
- Brady Lettenmaier, LaMoure-L-M
- Nate Tastad, North Prairie
- Wyatt Caraballo, Divide County
- Ty Wolding, New Salem-Almont