Hazen, Beulah and Killdeer fight for final two playoff spots
Slotted into the top two seeds of the Region 4 postseason bracket, the Bowman County and Dickinson Trinity football programs likely slept well this week knowing that they'll have playoff football to prepare for next week.
On the other end of the spectrum, a good night of shut-eye was probably a more arduous task for the Hazen, Beulah and Killdeer coaches and players, as one team will be left on the outside looking in during the Class A state postseason.
With one game remaining in the 2018 regular season, Hazen and Beulah hold a 3-2 record in the region, with Killdeer just a game back.
Beulah will take on Bowman County, the region's No. 1 seed, on the road while the Cowboys will travel to Hazen to face the Bison on Friday, Oct. 5.
Hazen defeated Beulah 22-16 on Sept. 21 and has the easiest path to the postseason, clinching the No. 3 seed with a victory at home. However, if Killdeer leaves Hazen with a win and if the Miners don't upset the Bulldogs, things get more complicated.
The trio would be locked into a three-way tie with a region record of 3-3. The first team to qualify would be the program with the best point differential against other two opponents. The final spot would be based on head-to-head competition between the two remaining teams.
For the Cowboys, they would need to defeat Hazen by five points or more to guarantee a playoff spot, walking into the playoffs as the No. 3 seed. If Killdeer is victorious by four points or less, then it would need Beulah to beat Bowman County.
"I told the kids you can control what you have in front of you, you can control your outcome," Dobitz said. "If we can win a football game, we'd like it to be by five, but I don't want to put numbers on it; we just have to win the football game first. ... We can control our destiny."
Regardless of the complex playoff scenarios, one thing is for sure: Hazen and Killdeer have quite the history.
The two teams have split their last six contests against one another, with the road team emerging triumphant four times during that stretch.
"I don't know how much home-field advantage really affects us. It's a 45-minute trip, it's not like you are on a bus ride for three hours and you get stiff or anything like that, so I don't think that's really going to make a difference." Hazen head coach Bret Johnsrud said. "With Killdeer, they've always been a well-coached team and it's always been a good rivalry game. ... It doesn't matter if you are home or away, this game has the same feel all the time: doesn't matter if it's the first game of the year, the last game or the playoffs."
Killdeer has won each of its last two visits to Hazen, including a 14-6 overtime win in the 2014 Class A State Semifinal, upsetting the then two-time defending state champs.
How will the 2018 version of this tussle play out? According the Dobitz, it will be a rough-and-tough affair.
"I expect a very tough game," Dobitz said. "They are well-coached and they are going to be a physical team, they always are against us and our kids are too, so it's going to be a physical game. Both teams are going to knock heads and our kids have to be mentally ready to do that. ... We have to be ready for anything they throw at us."
In 2017, Hazen was shutout by Killdeer 35-0 during the last game of the regular season. Ironically, despite the loss, the Bison entered the postseason after earning a tiebreaker over Bowman County.
"Since most of our kids played last year, they understand the situation that we're in," Johnsrud said. "This week is definitely one of those weeks where we want to come out and put our best foot forward. We don't want to leave anything in the hands of anybody else. We want to take it in our hands and basically decide our own fate."
The Bison are coming off a 28-6 victory over Southern McLean last Friday, while Killdeer survived a scare from Heart River, sealing a 34-33 victory after blocking an extra point with three seconds left in regulation. The special teams hold on the PAT not only kept the Cowboys' playoff chances alive, but provided the team confidence to perform regardless of the challenge at hand.
"We had to overcome some adversity. Our seniors had to come through and make some plays for us, and the younger guys too," Dobitz said. "It helps you. Even though you don't always to be in such a tight game, to have the kids come out and make the right plays at the right time, it was nice to see that."