A balanced ground attack that had Vermillion quarterback Jack Kratz handing the ball to Mehki Sheffield, and Jeremy Crowe, when he wasn’t keeping it to run downfield himself, helped the Tanagers finish its regular season with a 34-6 victory over the Dakota Valley Panthers Thursday night in the DakotaDome.
Also playing a huge part in the win was a Tanagers defensive line that kept the Dakota Valley offense shut down for nearly the entire game. The Panthers scored in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter after the Tanagers crew of starting defensive players had been pulled to the sidelines to give the second string a chance to play.
The win means Vermillion will be returning to the Dome next Thursday to face Tri-Valley in the first round of playoff action.
“To secure a home berth is really nice,” coach Tom O’Boyle said after the game.
He credited his team’s ability to control the line of scrimmage as a big factor in the night’s win.
“That’s who we are. We came in with a good game plan and the kids up front, on both sides of the football, really did a nice job,” coach O’Boyle said. “We prevented the big plays (by the opponent) from happening – that kind of has haunted us a little bit.
“I’m also pleased with the introduction of Mehki Sheffield in the backfield. That’s the first time we put him back there and he really did a nice job,” he said, “as did Jeremy Crowe. Again, our whole line did some nice things and our quarterback controlled the game. It’s nice to win 34-6 instead of those 28-26 jobs, I’ll tell you that.”
The Tanagers ended their regular season Thursday with a 6-3 record.
“We’re very, very proud and our kids should sure be proud of themselves and what they’ve done since June 1,” coach O’Boyle said.
His strategy Thursday night was for the Tanagers to have a strong, physical presence on the field throughout the game.
“We thought we’d be able to be physical up front and we just tried to hit them left and right,” the coach said, “and changed a little bit of the scheme with what our guards do and it was very successful.
“That’s a much lighter defensive front than our offensive line,” he added, describing Dakota Valley’s defense, “and our kids hit their targets and our backs ran hard. It’s fun when you can do those 70-yard drives and you don’t have to throw the football. That’s kind of nice – and you can call a quarterback keep and Jack Kratz can get outside, or Ty (Hertz) can do the same.”
Coach O’Boyle admitted that all aspects of the season that had just ended hadn’t quite sunk in as the game had ended only a few short minutes before.
“Maybe I’m a little bit too close to the fire right now to let it all sink in, but to know we’re 6-3 and we may end up third seed in this tournament – hey, now it’s anybody’s ball game,” he said. “We get to play some extra football and it’s great because your young kids get some extra football. They grow in the program as well.
“To go into the playoffs and advance is great and we want to play our best football at the end of October and play into November,” Coach O’Boyle said. “We might get our pitch and look to drive it.”