Thursday night's 51-20 win over Standing Rock (0-4) continued to emphasize that Four Winds football (3-0) has a new identity, built upon by its senior class, and is ready to move back into NDHSAA 9-Man play as a force. Led off by seniors Keja and Shaw, the Indians blew past the Warriors for the second time this season.
When JaeShaun Shaw, Keldon Keja, Jonah Jackson, Dennis Davis, Romeo Ironshield, and Bronson Walter started playing football for the Indians four years ago, Four Winds was a program on the rocks.
The program wasn't taken seriously by other teams in its region. Freshmen and sophomores would stop showing up to practice because they weren't getting playing time. In 2017, the Indians lost every game by an average of 52 points. Now in 2020, operating as an independent team, Four Winds has only allowed 52 points all season.
Thursday night's 52-20 win over Standing Rock (0-4) continued to emphasize that Four Winds football (3-0) has a new identity, built upon by its senior class, and is ready to move back into NDHSAA 9-Man as a force. Led off by seniors Keja and Shaw, the Indians blew past the Warriors for the second time this season.
"It was a good team win," Indians co-head coach Travis Mertens said. "We came out and executed on offense right away. Defensively, it took us a while to get going, but things came together. It was a good win to send our seniors off."
Heading the offense for the Indians was Keldon Keja, who scored four touchdowns for Four Winds and threw for one. Highlighting Keja's night was a 74-yard heave from the quarterback to freshman wide receiver Dalen Leftbear in the end zone. Keja has been running the offense in Fort Totten his entire career, and Thursday proved to be another day at the office.
"I can't say enough good things about the kid," Mertens said. "He's been a four-year starter for us and he's our leader. It seems like when we need a play, we can call his number and he steps up for us. He plays every play like it's his last and he sets the example for everyone else."
Complimenting Keja's electric performance on offense night in and night out is Walter on the offensive line. The 6-foot-10-inch 375-pound lineman's impact has allowed the Four Winds offense to move up and down the field with ease. The Indians' acceleration on the rush could best be seen through Shaw. He had pulled Four Winds down the field twice, resulting in touchdowns.
"We have a lot of experience up front and our quarterback is pretty experienced, so when everyone seems to get their blocking and everything right we tend to make big plays," Mertens said. "They've been playing a lot of years and they are familiar with the play call. It seems like when they execute that we have big plays."
The fourth quarter would see the offense shine as Keja's long touchdown throw would be followed by an exclamation point-scoring play as Leftbear would tip a Warrior pass to himself, make the pick, and take it in for the score. With the number two defense on the field, the starting defense was on the sideline cheering them on.
"Guys are on their feet, yelling, jumping off the bench, and are excited for younger guys to make plays," Mertens said. "It shows that football is such a team game and one person can't do it all. As soon as the guys realize that it makes for an exciting atmosphere."
The senior class's commitment for four seasons has rubbed off the underclassmen coming up. Four Winds has seen a larger turnout and a consistent roster compared to past seasons this year, with underclassmen staying on, whether they are playing or not. Alongside a strong night from Leftbear, sophomore running back Kelson Keja would rush for a touchdown, and junior wide receiver Jayden Yankton would make pick off the Warriors at the end of the first quarter.
"One thing that we're looking forward to, that we've seen this year, is that our freshmen and sophomores are at practice every day," Indians co-head coach Mark Bishop said. "They're not starting, but they're here and getting better every day. In the past, freshmen and sophomores wouldn't show up to practice because they weren't starting, but now they are here putting in the work every day."
"That's what this senior class did for us," Mertens added.
Four Winds' senior classes are one that has stuck with Mertens and Bishop's vision through thick and thin. The Indians are now in their second year of dominating the independent scene and are preparing to reenter 9-Man regional play next year. However, while the Indians' only home game and Senior Night feels like the end of the chapter, the season isn't over. Four Winds faces Dunseith on Oct. 19, who is currently playing in Four Winds possible future region, and Larimore on Oct. 24, a team Four Winds looks to measure up to every season according to Mertens.
"As a coach, there are more competitive games that I would like to win," Mertens said. "It's our only home game of the year and the seniors last home game, and it can put the icing on the cake, but our season is not done yet. We want to try and finish out the season with two more wins. We're going to enjoy this win and come back next week ready to work."
Jack Williams covers Lake Region sports and general news for The Devils Lake Journal. Contact him via email at JGWilliams1@gannett.com, on Twitter @jackgwilliams or phone at 701-662-2127 .