Evan Henke of New Salem-Almont-Glen Ullin and Jaden Mitzel of Shiloh Christian are two of the more productive quarterbacks in North Dakota 9-man football.
And that’s not all.
Neither one is afraid to get his hands dirty on defense.
Henke and Mitzel are among the defensive standouts on their respective teams, which will meet this afternoon in New Salem in a 9-man semifinal playoff game. Kickoff is at 2 p.m.
Henke, a 6-foot-1, 225-pound junior defensive end, is No. 2 on the New Salem-AGU leaderboard in tackles with 59.5. Linebacker Brandon Schroeder is No. 1 with 60. Henke does lead the Holsteins with six quarterback sacks and an eye-popping 23.5 tackles for a loss.
Mitzel, a sophomore middle linebacker, is Shiloh’s No. 3 tackler with 42, including eight for a loss. Bartholomew Ogbu and Canaan Fagerland have 56 and 54, respectively.
New Salem-AGU coach Steve Kleinjan said Henke’s size, strength and instincts make him a force on defense.
“Evan is a good athlete who works very hard preparing for games,” said Kleinjan, whose team is 10-0 and hoping to advance to the state championship game for the second year in a row. “He spends a lot of time studying film and has a real grasp of what the other team likes to do. He’s a very instinctive and physical player … he reads well and he finishes well. Look at how many tackles he has for a loss. He gets into the other team’s backfield and causes all kinds of problems.”
Shiloh Christian coach Funnon Barker said Mitzel quarterbacks both the offense and the defense for the 10-1 Skyhawks.
“We put a lot of responsibility on Jaden’s shoulders and he’s done a nice job handling all of that,” he said. “He runs the offense and he also quarterbacks the defense at middle linebacker. He’s at those two important positions because he’s a smart, coachable player with a lot of ability.”
Defense has figured greatly in the success of both teams this season, but it took a backseat to big-play offense the first time the two teams met on Oct. 6, when New Salem-AGU outlasted Shiloh 36-34 in what was the Region 5 championship game. The Holsteins racked up 455 total yards, with Henke passing for 222 and rushing for 116. He accounted for four touchdowns. Running back Braden Zuroff scored three touchdowns on plays covering 71, 73 and 93 yards.
For Shiloh, Mitzel passed for 180 yards and three touchdowns, and Canaan Fagerland rushed for 105 yards.
“Both teams have a lot of playmakers and they really stepped up that night,” Barker said. “Neither team had much success stopping the other, but you know they'll be better prepared this time around, having played each other already. They know they have to play better defensively.”
Kleinjan said the weather conditions are sure to have an impact on today’s game. Snow fell throughout Friday and the high temperatures today are expected to be in the mid-30s.
“The first time we played it was a perfect night for football and we had a nice, dry field to play on. It’s going to be different on Saturday,” Kleinjan said. “In colder, wetter conditions, you’re probably not going to see the big plays that both teams are capable of making. A lot of big plays were made the first time, but this game might be more of a grind-it-out affair. Field position is going to be huge."
“When you're playing in the cold, it comes down to field position, execution, ball control and defense,” he said. "Both teams have high-scoring offenses, but ball control and defense usually win games played in November."
Offensively, Henke has completed 80 of 152 passes for 1,663 yards and 22 touchdowns. Zuroff has 890 yards rushing (119 carries) and 290 receiving (13 catches), while Schroeder has carried 89 times for 535 yards and caught 15 passes for 390. Garret Soupir leads the Holsteins in receiving with 34 catches for 662 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Mitzel is 72-for-109 for 1,374 yards and 30 touchdowns. Fagerland has 1,429 yards and 19 touchdowns rushing.
Cavalier (10-0) hosts Wyndmere-Lidgerwood (10-0) in the other 9-man semifinal.