While the in between may not have been the prettiest at times, the Devils Lake football team (2-5, 2-3 EDC) used its first offensive play and last defensive play to defeat Fargo North (1-6, 1-4) 14-13 Friday night at Roller Field.
The Firebirds overcame three turnovers, two of which led to North’s 13 points, thanks to Joey Hornstein’s blocked 31-yard field goal attempt with 13.7 seconds left.
“Last week we had a good chance to win in the fourth quarter and we didn’t,” DL head coach Jake Wateland said. “We talked about finishing this week and the guys did a good job of finding a way to win.”
DL’s scoring was sprung by another block, this one on a punt by Luke Knowski on North’s first possession. The very next play, quarterback Jake Mertens found wide receiver Zach Dahlen up the seam for a 33-yard touchdown.
“That was huge,” Wateland said. “Coach (Travis) Thielges does a great job game planning each week. I’m sure they saw what they wanted and were able to execute on that play.”
The Spartans took advantage of a DL fumble a quarter later to tie it on an Adam Hummel 4-yard run.
On the next possession, the Firebirds caught a break when North recovered another fumble, but a facemask negated the call. Then Mertens hit running back Nik Desai on a swing pass and Desai showed his speed before being tackled at the 3-yard line for a 43-yard gain.
The Firebirds flipped to a fresh page in the playbook and put 6-foot-2, 250-pound lineman Hunter Fee in at fullback. On a second-and-two at the 2-yard line, Fee rumbled his way into the end zone and Lorezno Muroni’s second PAT was good to make it 14-7 with 7:52 to go before halftime.
“We put that in this week,” Fee said. “They wanted to try it, I made a play and got my first touchdown. I was thinking of not fumbling, get in there and score.”
DL looked to take command of the game, but a costly mistake flipped the momentum. The Spartans defense was getting driven on until it recovered a fumble and returned it 74 yards to DL’s goal line. On the next play, Hummel scored, but the PAT was missed and the score was 14-13 with 3:18 left in the third quarter.
The two teams exchanged punts until North got the ball at its own 20-yard line with 5:32 to play. The Spartans began driving and reached the red zone with 40 seconds left. After two incomplete passes in the end zone, Connor Fuglseth lined up for a 31-yard field goal with 13.7 seconds left.
Hornstein busted through and got a hand on the kick to seal the win.
“We talk about no matter if you’re on the field one time, every time you’re out there is huge and make sure you do your job to the best of your abilities,” Wateland said. “And Joey came through and blocked that kick to win the game for us.”
North outgained the Firebirds 254-216 yards on offense, but DL held the ball seven minutes longer and had its momentum killed due to some turnovers.
But the Firebirds found a way to get the win.
“We needed one,” Wateland said. “It’s been too long since we’ve won at home. North is a good football team, so for us to win in front of our home crowd is a great feeling. Thanks to the fans for toughing it out in the cold.”
The win jumped the Firebirds two spots from last place to sixth. They’ll host Grand Forks Red River on Friday, a team also with a 2-3 conference record.
The three teams ahead of DL and GFRR all have 3-2 conference records, making it a big week in the EDC.
“It’s a good win,” Fee said. “We'll build off of it and come back next week looking to beat Red River.”
Jake Mertens: 7-15, 107 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT.
Ethan Young: 4 att., 29 yards
Patrick Bracken: 3 att., 20 yards
Nik Desai: 7 att., 18 yards
Zach Dahlen: 2 att., 12 yards
Hunter Fee: 2 att., 3 yards, 1 TD
Nik Desai: 3 rec., 59 yards
Zach Dahlen: 3 rec., 42 yards
Tommy Reslock: 6.5 tackles 4 solo
Nik Desai: 6 tackles, 4 solo
Jacob Martin: 6 solo tackles
Hunter Brown: 4.5 tackles, 3 solo