Preview: Firebird football looks to stop run in season opener against Williston
By Sam Herder
If there’s one thing the Devils Lake football players have heard from their coaches this week, it’s this: stop the run.
The Firebirds open their season at 7 p.m. Friday at home against Williston, a team they lost to 28-21 in last year’s season opener. It was the Coyotes only win of the season.
Back is Boston Horob, Williston’s dual-threat quarterback. Horob is essentially another running back in the backfield with the Coyotes running him out of the shotgun formation and different quarterback power variations.
“They’re pretty big and physical,” first-year Firebird head coach Jake Wateland said. “The only film we have on them was our game last year, and that was Game 1. They were physical and played hard. That’s going to be our challenge this year, is match that physicality and making sure we’re doing our job defensively and stopping the run.”
DL’s defense struggled to get off the field in last season’s game. The Coyotes ran for 245 yards and converted numerous third and fourth downs.
The Firebirds only forced one punt.
DL brings back a big core of its defense with upperclassmen.
“Biggest key for us is stopping the run and being solid defensively,” Wateland said. “I expect our defense to carry us on early in the season while we get our offense clicking. The offense is looking good, but our team will be built around our defense.”
Keying in on Horob is the main task for the Firebird defense. Williston does not pass often, but Wateland said it’s important for his defense to also take care of the passing game and not give up a big play.
“We had a crisp, focused practice (Monday),” Wateland said. “And then we watched film the other night. The guys came in to put in some extra work to prepare. You can tell the guys are hungry and are ready to go.”
While stopping the run is a big key, DL will need to get its own running game going to put itself in a position to win.
“They play the same defense as we do and they did a good job of stopping our running game last year,” Wateland said. “So we really have to work on establishing the run game early on. Obviously anybody’s offensive success starts with the run game, so that’s our main goal is to get that going.”
Watching film on last year’s game most likely leaves a bitter taste in DL’s mouth. The game went down to the wire with the Firebirds giving up a late score with under a minute to play.
The Coyotes continually ran the ball down the field in the fourth quarter.
With many returners for both teams, an intense battle is expected.
“I think a lot of times what we try to do is we’re fired up too, and the guys will be fired up,” Wateland said. “Those nerves are a good thing, but for them to understand that that enthusiasm and nervousness has to convert into focus. We harp on it a lot to do your job. Focus on your responsibility and good things will happen. I think the guys are a little ticked off at last year’s game, but that was a year ago. Just focusing on this week play by play.”
With back-to-back 2-7 seasons, the Firebirds believe they have the team to begin ascending the program in Class AAA football.
Wateland notes the offseason gains his team has made is encouraging. Now it’s time to see if they can translate to under the lights.
“It’s one game at a time of course,” Wateland said. “That’s the thing we’ve focused on this camp is getting better each day. But it’s been on the back of everybody's mind since Day 1 is Williston Week 1. For our goals as a season, every game that we play, we expect to win. It’s a big game for us.”