It has been a long time coming for the Kidder County football team -- longer than the eight years the current group of 22 young men have been playing together.
The 2019 Kidder County High School football team has become the first in program history to make it to the Dakota Bowl in Fargo. The team will matchup against undefeated Cavalier on Saturday. Kickoff is scheduled for 9:10 a.m. at the Fargodome.
"Before the season even started, like in the weight room and our preseason running workouts, there was talk about us making it deep into the playoffs and even maybe making the Bowl," Kidder County senior Isaiah Harter said. "At the time we were joking, of course, because we didn’t exactly know how great the rest of the teams in the state were and we didn’t exactly know how good we were gonna be."
At 10-1 overall, it has become clear how good the Wolves are.
Since a Week 2 loss to Linton/HMB the team has rifled off nine straight wins. Kidder Co. defeated Grant County/Flasher in the State quarterfinals 34-28 and top-seeded Finley-Sharon/Hope-Page 46-6 in the semis. The team's average margin of victory now totals more than 39 points per game.
"I think the determination of all the guys in the preseason to getting bigger and better was a big help to make it this far," Harter said. "I also believe our team has some of the smartest coaches in the state and that has also helped us be in our position right now."
"The thing that I am most proud of this season is probably how hard the younger classmen have stepped up and filled a role when we needed them," senior captain Parker Hager added. "We have had some injuries and there were people willing to step up and fill in the spots and that has kept us rolling through the season."
Starting quarterback Jonah Harter was injured on a hit in the quarterfinals, but head coach Jack Biesterfeld said his squad came out of the semis without any more injuries thanks in large part to the Wolves' defense.
Hager sits as the leading tackler with 111 on the season. Tristan Patzner has earned a team-high 15 tackles for loss. The junior inside linebacker has totaled 92 takedowns.
"I am very proud of our linebackers, they are just unbelievable," Harter said. "Our two junior linebackers are helping make tackles on literally every play. They play with so much passion and energy it’s hard not to be proud of them."
Passion and energy, along with discipline, will be required once again of the Wolves as they go up against the Tornadoes. The last two times Cavalier carried an undefeated record into the Dakota Bowl the Tornadoes won state championships.
"In order for us to win this game, we just have to all do our jobs, stay disciplined and our defense has to hold up," Hager said. "After that, our offense has to execute and play hard."
On offense, Hager and Harter lead the Wolves in rushing with a combined 1,989 yards on 176 touches. The duo has recorded 24 touchdowns. Junior Payton Cauthon has 52 carries for 607 yards, averaging 11.7 yards per carry. Cauthon has also hauled in nine receptions for 235 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Harter acknowledged the team's offensive line may be smaller than the Tornadoes, but a discrepancy in size has happened to the Wolves before.
"Our O-line is very undersized in almost every game that we have played this season, but yet they are pushing around kids that are outweighing them by 50 pounds or more," Harter said. "It makes me laugh when I go back and watch film and our O-line is pushing huge D-linemen out of the way like they are nothing."
To be the first team to make it to the Bowl in program history comes with a certain amount of pressure. Hager and Harter said the challenge is less intimidating considering the enthusiasm.
"There is pressure being the first team in school history to go to state but that doesn’t exceed the amount of excitement that is within our community," Hager said. "This team has made it their mission to be great and take every moment as it comes. We are brothers and when we stick together it takes a lot to stop us from exceeding our goals."
Not even a 6:30 a.m. practice could lessen the excitement. Harter said Biesterfeld has run morning practices in order to prepare for the team's 9:10 a.m. kickoff. Biesterfeld and his team are pulling out all the stops in order to make sure the team secures a championship trophy.
"I think we have a good chance to win and I will try my best to accomplish that goal and that is all I can ask for out of my team," Harter said. "I know my team has made so many people in the town of Steele so proud already, but it would be so much more satisfying to have finally won a championship for the Kidder County Wolves football program."
2019 Dakota Bowl
Nov. 15: Fargodome
9-man: Cavalier (12-0) vs. Kidder Co. (10-1), 9:10 a.m.
Class A: Langdon/EM (12-0) vs. Bishop Ryan (11-1), noon.
Class AA: Hillsboro/CV (11-0) vs. Beulah (10-1), 3 p.m.
Class AAA: Bismarck Century (12-0) vs. West Fargo Sheyenne (10-1), 6:40 p.m.