During the 2014 campaign, Killdeer’s Zeb Doe spent every moment on offense in the trenches.
This season, the 6-foot, 215-pound senior was placed at the fullback position, a move that has proven to be very beneficial for him and the Cowboys.
Doe has been a valuable commodity as the lead blocker for senior running back Derek Tabor (1,273 yards, 14 touchdowns), and as a ball carrier. He has carried 84 times for 620 yards and 10 touchdowns for the Cowboys, who are in the Class A state championship game for the second straight year. No. 3-ranked Killdeer will meet No. 1 Park River-Fordville-Lankin Friday at the Fargodome in a rematch of last season’s state title game, won by the Aggies 26-18.
Doe, who started at offensive guard and inside linebacker in 2014, said the Cowboys were hoping for an opportunity to turn the tables on Class A football’s biggest stage.
“It didn’t really matter to us who we played in the state title game, but we’re glad it’s Park River. We wanted a second shot at them,” he said. “They’re the defending state champions and they’ve had another great year. We're definitely looking forward to it.”
Doe, who also has three receptions for 92 yards and two touchdowns, had played fullback and linebacker since his junior high football days, but in 2014, he was asked by his coaches to move to offensive guard. He said he wasn’t eager to oblige.
“They told me we needed help on the line. I could understand why they wanted me to play there, but I had to think about it for a long time,” Doe recalled. “It was for the good of the team and I wanted to help, so I said yes. I’m glad I made the move … we wound up having a good year, and it was important for me to see things from the linemen’s point of view.”
After a successful season as a lineman, Doe was excited to return to fullback.
“I spent most of my years playing behind really good backs, so I didn’t see much playing time. This year was going to be my year,” he said. “It’s kind of the best of both worlds. I get to handle the ball and block.”
Killdeer coach Lou Dobitz, whose team is 9-1 and has won its last nine games, said Doe would have excelled at either position this season.
“Zeb did a great job up front last year and we had even talked about keeping him there this year,” he said. “But we had other linemen who were ready to play and that opened the door for Zeb to play fullback. We’re very happy he’s there. He’s run the ball very well ... he has good running back skills, and I think his experience on the line last year made him a better blocker.”
Doe admits there are times he misses playing in the trenches.
“I liked playing with those guys. We took a lot of pride in what we did together last year,” he said. “I learned a lot about linemen and it made me better appreciate what they do. It isn’t just going forward and hitting the guy in front of you. There’s a lot more that goes on ... a lot of communication and coordination. When linemen work together as a team, a lot can get done.”
Doe is best known for his defense. He’s the Cowboys’ leading tackler with 74 stops – 28 solo. He has a team-high 11 tackles for a loss.
“As a linebacker, Zeb has improved a bunch since his sophomore year. He’s learned a lot about reading plays, especially,” Dobitz said. “He’s a tough, physical linebacker with the speed to get to the ball carrier in a hurry. He and (linebacker) Daniel Arthur are a great tandem.”
Doe leads a Killdeer defense that has pitched back-to-back shutouts in the postseason – 43-0 over Westhope-Newburg-Glenburn, and 33-0 over Velva-Sawyer. The Cowboys have allowed 12.1 points per game this season.
“Shutting out teams like Westhope and Velva was quite an accomplishment, I think. Both of those teams had great offenses,” Doe said. “That gives us confidence going into the state championship game because we know what we’re capable of doing against that kind of competition.”
Other defensive leaders for the Cowboys include Arthur, Dillan Jepson, Tabor, and Hayes LeMieux, who have 67, 63, 60 and 51 tackles, respectively. Jepson, a second-team all-state selection in 2014, has 11 tackles for a loss and five quarterback sacks. Tabor has five sacks, and LeMieux five interceptions.
“I had a really good feeling about this year’s defense,” Doe said. “We had some experience back from last year, and the younger guys who came in were ready to make their mark. They've really stepped up. We all put in a tremendous amount of work getting ready for this year, and it's paid off.”
Park River-FL is 11-0 and has been ranked No. 1 in the Class A poll since day one. The Aggies lost several key players from last season's team to graduation, but still have plenty of firepower. Quarterback Levi Cudmore has thrown for 1,164 yards and rushed for 441. He has accounted for 24 touchdowns – 16 passing. Four of Cudmore’s receivers average more than 25 yards per reception – Daman Flaten 13 for 449, Jackson Hankey nine for 286, Jordan Omlie seven for 262, and Will Zimmerman six for 151.
The Aggies also boast a strong running game. Cadyn Hunter has rushed for 1,436 yards on 111 carries, and Hankey has 935 yards on 80 attempts.
“They’re very athletic and very quick. They have good skill people and big front lines on offense and defense,” Doe said. “It’s going to be two physical and athletic teams going at it on Friday. It should be interesting.”
The Cowboys are hoping to bring home Killdeer’s first football state championship since 1995.
“It’s been a long, long time for Killdeer,” Doe said. “Hopefully we can get it done. If we play our best, I know we can.”