It has been a tough week for Pierre football coach Steve Steele and his staff.
Over the weekend, a couple players told him they’d begun showing symptoms and would be getting tested for the coronavirus. When classes resumed Monday, a few cases elsewhere in the school district (i.e. outside the football team) necessitated widespread contact tracing.
By Tuesday, the calls started rolling in for Steele, with at least one new confirmed close contact coming in every hour.
“The difficult part was finding out the close contacts as they came in,” said Steele, whose team was scheduled to visit Tea Area on Friday . “It’s not like (the state health department) gave us a list and said, ‘Here’s the football guys.’ It was as they processed each case.”
By Wednesday, about a third of the Governors’ roster was in quarantine, stemming mostly from an uptick in close contacts, which had resulted from a “massive spike” in the number of COVID-19 cases within the district, according to athletic director Brian Moser.
With entire position groups (and a glut of starters) unavailable, the competitive disadvantage for Pierre certainly would’ve been noticeable Friday night. But Steele was more concerned with his players’ safety.
The shortage of upperclassmen had forced the Governors to start pulling up some freshmen who’d already played Monday and would only have a couple of varsity practices under their belt heading into their varsity debut against a full-strength Titans squad.
Simply put: it was a recipe for disaster.
Less than an hour into practice Wednesday afternoon, Pierre was informed that its Week 4 game at Tea Area had been postponed.
“It was definitely a relief for those kids who would have to play even though they may not be ready,” Steele said. “Tea’s a really good team, so going in there with some kids who don’t have varsity experience and haven’t really practiced with us, you worry about their health and safety.”
With so many players unavailable to practice, Steele and the coaches had significantly simplified their game plan, cutting down to the “bare necessities” and pressing pause on some of their installs as they worked to get as many players up to speed at as many different positions as possible. “When you get these situations, some of those conversations are, ‘Well, you’re going to start, but it could be at one of these four different positions. So, learn them all as best you can,'” Steele said Wednesday afternoon.
“It was definitely stressful,” he later added, noting they reconfigured their entire depth chart at least 2-3 times on Tuesday. “It got to the point where even planning practice was challenging because we didn’t know who would be able to participate or who else we’d be losing before Friday’s game. It’s a lot of stuff that you have to keep in check.”
Selfishly, it is unfortunate that we’ll have to wait to enjoy Tea Area vs. Pierre.
After a hard-fought battle last year, Friday’s rematch between the two had the makings of an instant classic. The powerhouse Titans are off to a 3-0 start to the year with wins over then-No. 1 Canton and then-No. 4 West Central to their name, while the three-time defending champion Governors are coming off a 52-29 loss to Yankton, their first setback since Oct. 2019 (at Roosevelt, 39-34).
Tea Area coach Craig Clayberg said the experience gained from last season gave his team some confidence heading into the rematch; Steele described it as a “measuring stick game” adding, “You want your team playing against the best. That’s how you improve.”
But by sitting out this week, hopefully the Governors can get back to full strength ahead of their rescheduled showdown with the Titans, as well as their October clashes with Huron, Brookings and Mitchell.
“It’s pretty fresh today,” Steele said. “Some of our young guys were excited to get an opportunity to see what they can do, and a lot of the seniors are relieved because now they’re hoping they don’t have to miss a game.
“It’s a big whirlwind of emotions for a lot of different people, but just like everything else, we’ll find a way to push through it.”
11-man: Washington at Watertown
After overcoming a sloppy performance to fend off Rapid City Central in the Rushmore Bowl, the Arrows look to pick off a Warriors squad that’s hoping to bounce back from a 41-0 loss to Lincoln. Washington is averaging just 15 points per game, second fewest in 11AAA. Watertown is averaging 32 ppg, but has allowed over 30 against in two of its first three games.
Other games: McCook Central/Montrose at Bridgewater-Emery/Ethan; Mitchell at Dell Rapids; Canton at Huron; O’Gorman at Lincoln; Elk Point-Jefferson at Sioux Valley.
9-man: Ipswich/Edmunds Central at Warner
This is a sneakily interesting matchup with potential postseason implications. The Monarchs, ranked No. 3 in 9A, are off to a 4-0 start and sit 2.75 seed points behind the Tigers in Region 1. Ipswich/Edmunds Central, which is 3-0 on the year, is coming off a 14-0 upset of then-No. 3 Langford (Ian Beyers threw for 188 yards, Matthew Hettich had two catches for 111 yards).
Brian Haenchen (@Brian_Haenchen): Mitchell at Dell Rapids
Matt Zimmer (@ArgusMattZ): O’Gorman at Lincoln
Trent Singer (@TSingerSports): Dakota Valley at Sioux Falls Christian
Follow Brian Haenchen on Twitter at @Brian_Haenchen.