There might not be a true underdog or favorite for today's Class 9AA championship game at the DakotaDome.
Undefeated Deubrook Area (11-0) was ranked No. 2 in the final poll and was the 2-seed after quarterfinal re-seeding, while eighth-seeded Howard was voted fourth in 9AA with the Tigers' lone loses coming from powerhouses Canistota and Bridgewater-Emery/Ethan.
"I think when you have two losses, people don't pay as much attention, and maybe they shouldn't because there's other teams out there that are undefeated," said Howard coach Pat Ruml. "I think people lose sight of the fact that we play in the Cornbelt (League) and the two teams we lost to are such good football teams with state championships all over the place."
Fighting through injuries and flying under the radar in relation to flashier teams, the Tigers (9-2) are looking to capitalize on their first trip to the DakotaDome since 2009 - a season that ended with a state title.
One key to repeating that success will come on the defensive end in an attempt to slow down senior running back Ryan Knutson, who has rushed for more than 2,000 yards and 38 touchdowns. Dolphins quarterback Taylor Olsen is also a threat, having thrown for nearly 1,000 yards and 12 touchdowns.
"Our defense has given up a lot of yardage, but not many points," said Ruml, whose team shut out Clark/Willow Lake 50-0 in Saturday's semifinal. "We see these type of running games every week, so that could be a difference."
The Tigers come in with their own vaunted attack, however, with a three-headed ground game of Luke Loudenburg, Cole Potter and Evan Donahue. Potter, who has run for over 900 yards and 14 touchdowns, missed Saturday's contest with a knee injury and is a game-time decision, while Loudenburg (1,451 yards, 16 TD) and Donahue (822 yards, 11 TD) will be a load for the Deubrook defense to stop.
With this being the Dolphins' inaugural trip to the Dome, experience could also play a role as today marks the first-ever meeting with the Tigers.
"We are very confident," said Ruml. "We've been playing well down the stretch and we know we've beaten some quality teams. Obviously, Deubrook's a great team and they've got a lot of speed and a lot of weapons, so we're going to have to play well to win."