Each week, the Devils Lake football team is getting better. The coaches know it. The players know it. They finally got some proof of that last week with their first win at Grand Forks Central after starting the year 0-4.
Any win builds confidence. But how the Firebirds won added a little bit more.
Tied at 20-20, the Firebirds drove down the field in the final minute of Friday’s game, ending with quarterback Jake Mertens’ touchdown run with four seconds left to win the game.
“What I was really impressed by was how the boys expected to win,” DL head coach Jake Wateland said. “I was really impressed with their confidence at the end of the game and their willingness to win that game. When you have a shootout like that at the end, it’s just fun for the guys. They were excited after the game.”
Friday brings a tougher challenge with another road game at Fargo South. The Bruins are winners of two games in a row and are 3-2 overall.
“They’re big and physical up front,” Wateland said. “Their running back and fullback are really hard runners. We have to stop that first. But their passing game is also good. It’s a really balanced team. They have a senior quarterback who runs the ball well and throws the ball well.”
That quarterback is Jack Pifer, who has thrown for 583 yards, four touchdowns and just one interception. He has added 231 yards rushing, making him fourth in the Eastern Dakota Conference in total offense, averaging 162.8 yards per game.
But what the Bruins want to do first is run the football to set up the play-action pass.
On DL’s defensive side, stopping the run has been a struggle, but the unit improved last week against Central, only allowing 126 yards on the ground.
“We’re getting better,” Wateland said. “Last Friday was a big step, but the rain did limit the passing game on both sides of the ball. We know we’re not where we want to be quite yet. But it was a big step. Overall, the run defense improved last week and we need to build off of that.”
The rain against Central could be beneficial for DL in the long term. With most of their yardage coming through the air in their first four games, the Firebirds needed to establish the run.
They did just that, rushing for 251 yards against the Knights. Ethan Young and Nik Desai were both just short of hitting the 100-yard mark in the game.
“We needed that,” Wateland said. “That was the game plan going in, we planned on running the ball. It was a tight game the whole way so we were able to run the ball. Ethan and Nik ran really hard and our offensive line did a great job up front. That was a big confidence builder for us.”
Back-to-back road games is a challenge for any team, but Wateland said he is looking for last week’s win as a launching point for the rest of the year.
“Every game we play in the EDC is tough,” Wateland said. “Two road games in a row, it’s just staying focused this week. Last week is behind us and it’s staying focused on Fargo South this week.”
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.