By Joe Mellenbruch
It hasn't exactly been a season to remember for Devils Lake Football.
Just one year removed from a 2012 playoff run that saw them advance to the state quarterfinals, the Firebirds are now languishing at the bottom of the EDC, still without a district win for the current campaign.
But head coach Jay Schneider understands that their game against Grand Forks Central is just as important as any other they've played this season, perhaps more important than them all.
"There's a sense of urgency," Schneider said. "We've talked about it all week how we don't want to end up at the bottom of the EDC. We definitely want to get a district win this season."
Devils Lake (1-7, 0-5 EDC) currently finds itself in the basement of the EDC, but despite their struggles throughout the year, they are still just one game behind rival Central, who will visit Roller Field this Friday night in a battle for pride and redemption.
The Firebirds have won each of their previous two match ups against the Knights (1-7, 1-4 EDC), including a 23-6 home win last season. Central, whose only 2013 win came against fellow basement-dweller Fargo North (1-7, 1-4 EDC), has not been a traditionally difficult team to beat in recent years, which makes this a prime opportunity for Devils Lake to escape a last-place district finish and close out the season, in front of the home fans, with a victory.
Schneider knows that results haven't fallen in his team's favor this season, but he knows that his players have given everything they got, and he expects no different against the Knights.
"I know the record doesn't indicate it, but we've competed well in most of our games this season," Schneider said. "This is a great group of kids. I think our guys have competed hard all year, and I expect them to come out the same way on Friday.
"And I'm expecting us to come out with a win."
It's true, the Firebirds have lost more games than they've won in 2013, but that isn't to say they've given up without a fight. Quite the contrary.
On homecoming weekend, Devils Lake was within a touchdown of Fargo South, the third ranked team in North Dakota Class-AAA. Senior running back James Johannesson had a career day for the Bruins that afternoon, but if you remove his performance from that game, even half of that performance, it's easy to believe that the final score of the game would have been much tighter.
The Firebirds also gave a tough game to West Fargo (4-3, 4-1 EDC), once ranked as high as third in the state. Devils Lake actually led that game at halftime in Fargo, and they kept the score close throughout the second half.
Page 2 of 2 - So, it isn't a matter of the team's will power or technical ability, but it seems that making adjustments and adapting to changes within a game that has been Devils Lake's achilles heel this season, which has directly led to their inability to close out winnable games.
"Our kids have tried," he said. "We as a coaching staff have tried, but it just seems like whenever something goes wrong, it snowballs on us a little bit more this season. But you're always going to have years like that."
Turnovers also have been a key component to the Firebirds' struggles this season. Schneider estimates the the team's turnover ratio is somewhere around -10, a figure that would make it difficult for any team to be successful.
At the end of the day, football is a simple game. You need to have possession of the ball to score, and if a team keeps giving the ball away to their opposition, it makes it very difficult for that team to win football games.
"We've gotta keep better control of the ball," Schneider said. "We've turned it over way too many times this year."
But everything that has happened this season can be forgotten for this one game, a game that the Firebirds will be anxious to win.
Action gets started at 7 p.m. tonight at Roller Field. Tailgating will be also be offered to all interested parties, starting at 5 p.m. at the bus barn.