Devils Lake takes the two-time defending Class AA state champion to the brink, falls short in a 17-15 loss to Bismarck St. Mary's.

With 4:20 remaining on the clock, down eight, Devils Lake head coach Jake Wateland called a timeout. The Firebirds were facing a 4th and 2.

“I told them just to believe.” 

Not only did the Firebirds convert that fourth down but they converted a second fourth down from the Bismarck St. Mary’s 15. The drive led to a score. But the Saints held on for the 17-15 win over Devils Lake Friday night from Roller Field.

The Saints, the two-time defending Class AA state champion, got the stop they needed.

“Devils Lake did what they needed to do,” said St. Mary’s head coach Dan Smrekar. “They got the drive, they got the score but we stood up and got it done on the 2-pt conversion.

“It was an exciting, good football game.” 

Trailing 17-9, the Firebirds (2-2) saw St. Mary’s get inside the red zone to the Devils Lake’s 15. The Saints were forced to a 36-yard field goal attempt that was missed. The Firebirds took over from their own 19.

Devils Lake took over six minutes to drive the ball 81 yards, capping it with a 3 yard touchdown run around the left side by Joey Hornstein. The Firebirds still needed two.

“I told the guys to refocus. You can’t get too excited about the touchdown cause it isn’t over yet,” Wateland said.

Hornstein got the ball again. This time, he came up a yard short.

“That’s a good team over there. They’re a well coached team and they were able to find a way to win on the last play of the game,” said Wateland.

St. Mary’s (4-0) took a 17-3 lead in the third quarter after Joey Heinert broke through the Firebirds defense and sprinted along the sidelines for the 45 yard touchdown run, followed by Joel Huber’s successful extra point.

The Saints got the ball again after stopping Devils Lake, but Josh Dahlen intercepted a Drew Dosch pass to start the fourth quarter to give the Firebirds a short field. Hornstein scored three plays later from 24 yards out. However, Marco Tambone missed the extra point leaving the score at 17-9.

That set up the dramatic final 10:38 of the game.

“Our first three games we didn’t get challenge and this one we did,” Smrekar said. Entering the game against Devils Lake, the Saints had won their first three contests of the season by a combined score of 131 to 8. “We had to stand up and fight. That’s what was good for our kids to have to stand up and fight and be in a good ol’ fashion physical football game.

“This is what football is suppose to be like. They’re not suppose to be about blowouts, they’re suppose to be good ol’ fashion tough football games.” 

“In the big picture, we want to get our program back on top in North Dakota, in AA football and to do that, you have to beat the best teams in the state. For us, I think we needed proof that we can play with them but we have to understand that we have to finish the games and expect to win,” Wateland said.

Chris Harris can be reached at and on Twitter: @ChrisHarris_DLJ