Sophomore RB/returner Bradley Davidson records 2 return TDs in Devils Lake win

No football team could have started a new season better than the Devils Lake Firebirds did last Friday night against Williston.

Sophomore return man Bradley Davidson received the  game’s opening kickoff at his own 17 yard line, and he proceeded to take it all the way for an 83-yard touchdown, giving the Firebirds (1-0) a 6-0 lead just 14 seconds into the new season.

But Davidson wasn’t done.

After a quick three-and-out from the Coyotes, Davidson turned the resulting punt into yet another score, this time a 76-yard punt return.

“I saw an open lane, and I just took it,” Davidson said. “Then after I broke one tackle, it was one-on-one, and I knew I was gone. But it’s all about the team. They did a great job blocking for me up front.”

Quite the start for Davidson. In fact, he admitted that his goal coming into the season was just to get one return touchdown before the end of the year.

Now he already has two, and he insists that he’s ready to score even more touchdowns for the Firebirds in the return game.

“Oh yeah,” Davidson said with a smile when asked if he expects to score again on special teams this season. “If the line keeps up with blocking, definitely.”

Efforts from the Devils Lake special teams unit certainly helped clinch the win for the Firebirds, but without those return touchdowns, this could have been a completely different ballgame.

Much of the game was a defensive struggle, evidenced by the fact that the game’s only offensive touchdown was scored with less than four minutes left in the game.

The Firebirds garnered just 143 yards of total offense against a Williston defense that played inspired football throughout the game. Devils Lake also turned the ball over three times, once of which was returned by the Coyote defense for a touchdown.

Head coach Jay Schneider was pleased with the win, but he knows that his team has a few things to improve upon before next week’s fixture against Red River.

“We’ve got a lot of things to work on,” Schneider said. “It was a typical first-game experience. It was turnovers, it was not maintaining our blocks, missing a few tackles on defense, and that’s going to happen on the first game.

“But our special teams picked us up in the end and made the difference.”

Aside from the team’s special teams units, the Firebird defense also played a solid game, not allowing a single score for the entire 60 minutes while earning a few key turnovers along the way, which is significant considering how Williston turned up the heat in the second half.

The Coyotes finished a disappointing 1-8 last season, but that didn’t deter them from giving their all on Friday night despite going down so early in the game.

Williston pieced together a long, productive drive after the start of the second half, and it seemed for a moment like they were destined to shrink the Devils Lake lead. A costly turnover provided an abrupt end to their hopes of scoring, but it didn’t take long for the Coyote defense to pick the team up.

Shortly after the interception, Williston came up with a turnover of their own, an interception by DB Bradey Miller that came back 33 yards for Coyote touchdown. After that play, it seemed like Williston had all the momentum.

But an opening-week win wasn’t in the cards for the Coyotes despite a spirited second-half effort.

According to head coach James Klein the difference in the game was mental mistakes on special teams. Klein also alluded to the difference in speed between the Devils Lake special teams units and the looks they get in practice.

“We have to be able to show those kinds of looks in practice,” Klein said. “We have to get better, and we have to find better ways to practice on special teams.

“Our backups just can’t go at the same speed we see at the varsity level. It’s easier to tackle a JV player in practice than it is to tackle a varsity player on game day.”

Klein anticipates an improved effort from his team this season after a forgettable 2012 campaign. He is encouraged by his team’s performance, particularly on the defensive side of the ball.

“We’re trying to find guys that wanna play, and I think I found some guys that wanna step up, “ Klein said. “Now we just have to fine tune what we have and see what we can do next week.”

Williston isn’t the only team that will need finetuning, according to Schneider.

The Firebird skipper mentioned a number of diffferent things that his team will need to work on offensively, namely in the passing game.

Devils Lake accumulated just 53 yards through the air, and nearly half of those yards came on one throw, a 26-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Brody Bracken to running back Austin Schall to seal the game for the Firebirds.
Schneider will be looking for future improvement from his offense in the passing game.

“We’ve got good running backs. We’ve just gotta be able to throw the ball around, keep teams honest and keep defenders out of the box,” Schneider said. “We’ve also got to do a better job of maintaining blocks, whether it’s running or pass blocking.”

Senior quarterback Bracken knows that he needs to get better, and he seems committed to that cause.

Bracken is entering his first full season as the Devils Lake starting quarterback at the varsity level, and he admits that the speed of the game is different now than the speed he experienced on JV.

“I’m just trying to get in the swing of things,” Bracken said. “It wasn’t a matter of nerves. There are just a few things in the passing game that I need to spend some time on and get better at.”

On the other side of the ball, Schneider didn’t have too many complaints about his defense’s performance.
The Firebirds allowed 175 total yards throughout the game, and despite a few nervy moments that saw the Coyotes drive into Devils Lake territory, the team never allowed an offensive score, something that was encouraging to Schneider.

“We bent a lot, but we didn’t give up any points,” Schneider said. “Our defense played well and got a few turnovers.
“Overall, first game, I’m happy. A win is a win.”

Devils Lake will head to Grand Forks this Friday night to take on Red River.