A true Hollywood story, the Four Winds Indians football team transformed a 0-8 season in 2017, into a historic playoff birth in 2018.
“Look at a football field. It looks like a big movie screen.” — Steve Sabol
And it’s the players themselves who write the scripts.
“We kept saying before the game (Friday against Nelson County) that this usually how Hollywood movies are made. You get the school that’s never made the playoffs, that’s kind of always been the laughing stock of the league and all of a sudden they have a group of kids that come and decide that they want to dedicate their time and their season in making the playoffs,” said Four Winds co-head football coach Travis Mertens.
Four Winds, which just two seasons ago was playing a junior varsity schedule. Four Winds, which just last season went winless allowing 52.4 points per game while scoring just 7.8 per, sat in a science lab on campus Tuesday evening watching film of their next opponent. It’s a weekly routine that wouldn’t normally get a second thought until you look at the calendar. Then you’ll understand why this time, it’s different.
It’s playoff week.
All season long, the goal was there — to make history. To become a 9-man football playoff participant for the first time ever. However, after winning the season opener against Dunseith, things began to get a little sketchy for the Indians.
“Then we go against New Rockford, one of the top teams in the state (lost 54-12) and a Cavalier team which is a perennial powerhouse (lost 46-16) and then with Larimore, we’re battling with them but then we just couldn’t quite make the plays or the stops (lost 70-42) although we did figure out our offense in the process,” Mertens recalled.
“But then we got to the (first) North Border game, we figured out our defense so we were finally starting to come together.”
The Indians ended the season on a four game winning streak, which included a second win over North Border on a Tuesday night that saw Four Winds lose star senior running back/linebacker Gionni Robertson to a broken right arm and a come from behind victory over Nelson County three nights later in which Mertens admits that they were on the cusp of letting it slip away.
“Talin Redfox made an interception at the end of the second quarter that I think, if Nelson County would’ve scored on that pass play, we may have broke.”
The interception kept the Indians deficit to 12 points at halftime. It was just close enough to allow them to march back. Four Winds defeated the Chargers 20-18 ensuring its spot in the field of 24.
“The whole game was just, kind of, surreal,” said co-head coach Mark Bishop. “It was the happiest moment I’ve ever had for me as a coach.”
Four years ago, Four Winds was just a JV squad, a team full of young pups. Talin Redfox has been with the program during this duration. He, along with four other seniors, was there during those competitive JV seasons and of course the struggles from a year ago.
“It wasn’t really a goal,” Redfox said about the Indians being a playoff program. “It was all about getting better during practices.
“When I first started out, I wasn’t really that good. But now, I’m not scared to be on the field. I understand that sometimes you do wrong things, sometimes you don’t but you have to keep grinding.”
Redfox, who play both wide receiver and cornerback, caught the game tying touchdown Friday night against the Chargers that set up the go-ahead two-point conversation on the next play. He also caught a touchdown pass in last Tuesday’s win over North Border. Asked if them being in the playoffs has hit him yet.
“Nah but it’ll be a different feeling cause we’ve never played on the weekend, to get up early and the long travel there,” Redfox said.
Four Winds (5-3) will be making the two hour, 40 odd-minute trek south Saturday to Oakes, to face a Tornado team that also knows about playoff firsts. The Tornadoes (7-1) went a similar route as the Indians, going 0-8 in 2016 before entering the playoffs for the first time last season, an opening round loss to Thompson.
“It’s a different atmosphere,” said Oakes head coach Greg Dobitz. “Things are amped up a little bit, it’s a faster game and it’ll be physical.”
What jumped out to Dobitz about the Indians is their athleticism.
“I’m impressed by their athletic ability,” Dobitz began. “They have some really good athletes on the team. Jaeshaun Shaw is a slippery, quick running back and their quarterback (Keldon) Keja throws a really good deep ball and they have some athletes who can go up and high point the ball.
“Their defensive line is going to get after you. They’re just a real well rounded team.”
Every time you line up in between the lines, the objective is to win. That’s what Bishop and Mertens are coaching the Indians to do, to take down one of the bracket’s No. 2 seeds in Oakes. But IF that doesn’t happen:
“We’ll be happy if we play together, play hard and do things the right way,” Bishop said.
But IF it does — Hollywood couldn’t have written it any better.
Four Winds was defeated by Oakes 50-14 on Saturday, ending a historic season for the Indians.
Chris Harris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter: @ChrisHarris_DLJ