On Saturday, Fargo South's James Johannesson reminded North Dakota prep football fans why he is one of the most dangerous running backs in the state.
Johannesson led the third-ranked Fargo South Bruins to a 38-24 victory over the Firebirds at Roller Field on Saturday afternoon, putting in a Czonka-esque performance: 14 carries, 331 rushing yards (25 yards per carry) and four touchdowns.
The senior running back admitted that his output against the Firebirds was his personal best at the varsity level.
"Yes, it was," Johannesson said, "but it was all because of my lineman. We just have to keep working hard every day in practice and keep getting better."
The Bruins are now 2-1 on the young season, but the most important thing for them is their 1-0 record in the EDC, which head coach Troy Mattern will be keen to continue.
Fargo South advanced as far as the Class AAA semifinal round in 2012, where they narrowly lost out on a chance to compete for the program's 13th state title (L, 13-16 vs. Bismarck Century).
Mattern and his team are anxious to return to that platform this season, and while Johannsson will be a key aspect of that goal, Mattern reiterated that winning championships requires a team effort, and he was pleased with how his group performed on Saturday.
"It's about more than just James," Mattern said. "I thought it was a complete game for us. I thought our quarterback Zach Kellen had a really good game as well to compliment (Johannesson), and success in the running game always starts up front.
"We've got to clean up a few things defensively to get off the field so that we can give our offense an opportunity to score."
On the other side of the field, the Firebirds offered a valiant effort on their homecoming weekend, but it was not enough to quell the Bruins' firepower on offense.
It's an admittedly tough ask to play the No. 3 team in the state on your home field, especially with starts like Johannesson crowding the backfield, but Devils Lake went down with a fight. In fact, going into the half, the game was still very much in reach for head coach Jay Schneider and his young team.
With the score 17-6 in favor of Fargo South, the Firebirds took over from their own 20 with less than four minutes to play in the first half.
The team hadn't exhibited much prowess in the passing game, which put the pressure on the Devils Lake running backs to perform. And they did.
Senior captain and running back Austin Schall picked the team up and placed it squarely on his shoulders during the waning moments of the second quarter, racking up 67 yards on the ground en route to a 6-yard touchdown run, which made it a one-possession game going into the half (17-12).
Page 2 of 2 - Schneider put the ball in Schall's hands eight times during that drive, and he delivered, including three runs of 14 yards or more.
"The line was definitely a big help on that drive," Schall said. "I just kept doing everything that I have been doing, and the line did their job. This is the best that our offensive line has performed all year."
The Firebirds were unable to generate a passing threat against Fargo South, but their run game produced throughout the game. The team accumulated 264 yards on the ground on 59 carries, including a 26-carry, 157-yard performance from Schall, who also added two rushing touchdowns to his team's effort. Senior Blake Prozinski also chipped in with 56 yards of his own and two scores.
"I thought our offense played really well," Schneider said. "We've obviously still got some things to work out in the passing game, but I thought we played (South) really tough.
"You take their running back out of the equation, and I thought things were pretty even between the two teams."
Unfortunately for the Firebirds, Johannesson's contributions were very much a part of the game, and now the team starts the season 0-2 in the EDC.
Devils Lake will have a break from district action this Friday in a non-conference fixture against No. 5 Jamestown, which will be another tough test for the Firebirds.
"There's no such thing as an easy game in triple-A," Schneider said.
But after Jamestown, Devils Lake will play their most important game of the season thus far, a home match up against West Fargo. If the Firebirds aspire to make the postseason this year, they'll need to win that game in order to avoid a dreaded 0-3 EDC record.
"That's going to be an important game for us," Schneider said. "We're gonna be going in knowing that we need to get a win if we wanna make the playoffs, and we know that they'll need a win too. We're just going to keep working hard to get better every day."