Spirited effort by Firebirds falls short against Red River

Staff Writer
Devils Lake Journal
Jacob Mertens, seen here talking with coach Jay Schneider, had a huge night Friday throwing for over 300 yards and two touchdowns. The Firebirds fought hard against Red River, but fell short 42-27.

By Harry Lipsiea

Journal Sports

No matter if it was a shovel pass on a two-point conversion, onside kick attempt or going for it on fourth down, the Devils Lake football team laid it all on the line Friday evening. The Firebirds battled a powerful Grand Forks Red River team in the squad’s home finale at Roller Field.

In the end, however, a huge-fourth-quarter effort by the senior-heavy Roughriders proved to be the difference in the EDC match-up. Leading by just one point after three quarters, the squad scored three straight touchdowns to distance themselves from the Firebirds. Grand Forks Red River walked away with a 42-27 victory.

“We had some trouble stopping the inside run game in the fourth quarter and that is when Red River took it to us,” Devils Lake head football coach Jay Schneider commented.

The loss shouldn’t sour the game effort from the Firebirds. Devils Lake had many highlights on both sides of the ball while pushing one of the top teams in the state to the brink.

“Our kids played hard,” Schneider complimented of his team. “We played with more emotion and excitement then we had the previous week.”

Early on it looked as if the game would be a runaway victory for the Roughriders. After a 14-yard scoring play through the air and an interception return for a touchdown, the visitors earned a 14-0 lead after one quarter.

Red River built to its lead even more as Casey Schmacher ran in for a seven-yard touchdown to take a 21-0 advantage.

Just when it seemed like the Roughriders were going to ride out a lob-sided victory, the Firebirds responded in a big way. With pressure on the backside, sophomore gunslinger Jacob Mertens made a smart throw to running back Bradley Davidson who then sprinted 61 yards for touchdown. The scoring play cut the deficit to 21-6.

The momentum stayed on the home team’s side as the defense made a stop and followed it up by forcing a fumble on Red River’s next drive.

After their opponents turnover, Devils Lake capitilzed late in the quarter. Mertens connected with wideouts JJ Duty and Jordan Swanson for first down throws. A scamper by Bradley Davidson then brought the Firebirds to the one-yard line with just seconds remaining.

In the final play of first half, Mertens faked the hand off ran a bootleg to his left and found receiver Zackery Shepherd in the end zone for a touchdown making the halftime score 21-12.

The third quarter was a defensive battle for the most part as neither offense was able to get much going.

That was until Devils Lake found paydirt with less than a minute remaining. After a pair of first down throws by Mertens, the Firebirds got back on the scoreboard when Davidson ran in for a 17-yard touchdown. Devils Lake cut the deficit to just one as Mertens found Shepherd with an impressive shovel pass to end the third quarter.

It was, however, all Red River from there. The Roughriders scored on two rushing touchdowns by quarterback Derek Murph and a Austin Reynolds scampered to a take a 42-20 lead late in the fourth.

Again, the Firebirds showed absolutely no quit. An impressive 50-yard driver featuring the run and pass was capped off with a one-yard touchdown by Mertens made the final score 42-27 in favor of the Roughriders.

The stats were very comparable. Grand Forks Red River had 375 yards of total offense while Devils Lake had 351 yards.

Most of it came through the air as Mertens completed 19-of-34 passes for 301 yards and two touchdowns.

Shepherd finished with four catches for 89 yards and a score. Davidson caught three passes for 86 yards and a touchdown while Jordan Swanson hauled in six catches for 80 yards.

Davidson 52 yards and a score on 20 carries.

Impressively, the Devils Lake defense forced three Roughrider turnovers. Dawson Scott and Nik Desai led the way with six tackles apiece.

“Offensively we had a very good night throwing the ball. Our line gave us time, Jacob threw some really good balls, and our receivers made the catches and some plays. Our defense played very well in the second and third quarters,” Schneider commented.

Red River improved to 3-2 in the conference while Devils Lake is now 1-3 in the EDC.

“Overall, we were pleased with the way we played on Friday. We just came up a little short on the scoreboard,” the coach added.