Devils Lake “D” defends Roller Field
By Sam Herder
The Devils Lake football team knew it had to stop the run in order to win its season opening game Friday against Williston. Up 13-9, the Firebirds had three plays, five yards and under two minutes to do it. They held strong, stuffing three straight Coyote runs on the goal line to get the ball back and run out the clock, sending the home crowd at Roller Field and the DL sidelines into a frenzy.
“It was a big win for us,” first-year head coach Jake Wateland said. “We had a lot of young guys last year and we had to take some lumps with those guys learning. We expected them to do what they did tonight. For us to win the game on the 4th-down-and-goal like that is just great for our guys.”
The triumphant win was close to a heart-breaking loss. The Firebirds fumbled on their own 9-yard line with 3:18 left in the game. With a rushing attack featuring quarterback Deacon Daniel and running back Boston Horob, Williston chewed up the clock with a first-down run to the 5-yard line. Horob recovered his own second-down fumble to set up a third-and-5 at the 5-yard line.
The Coyotes ran to the heart of the DL defense, only gaining one yard with the clock ticking away. After a DL timeout, Williston faced a fourth-and-goal on the 4-yard line and the game.
It went to the outside with an option look to Horob, a play they scored on earlier. Only this time, a host of Firebird defenders met Horob for the game-winning stop.
“Just proud of our guys,” Wateland said. “We played a ton of guys on defense tonight and everyone stepped up and made plays for us. Just proud of the effort.”
The Firebirds had chances to take control of the game in the first half. After Bradley Davidson went untouched for a 5-yard touchdown at the beginning of the second quarter to put DL up 6-0, the Firebirds forced a quick punt to get the ball back at their own 44-yard line.
Davidson broke a big gain for 23 yards for his team-leading 107 yards on 12 carries and the offense was rolling. Nik Desai, Dennis Nelson, and Davidson runs brought the Firebirds to the 1-yard line with a first and goal. But a false start sent them back, and a fourth-and-2 run by quarterback Jacob Mertens was stopped short.
The Coyote offense went to work with their passing game, marching down the field as the halftime clock neared. The drive resulted in a 27-yard Sergio Perez field goal for a big swing in points.
Looking for a big play to spark the offense in the second half, the Firebirds found one on a first down with over four minutes left in the third quarter. Jacob Mertens dropped back and found Desai running open down the right sideline. Mertens hit Desai and the junior running back found the right corner of the endzone.
“We’ve been waiting for that play to work,” Desai said. “We decided to pull it on them. Once I saw no one out there I knew I had to catch it for our team and get it in the endzone.”
Erin Nelson knocked in the PAT to put the Firebirds up 13-3, making her the first female to score a point on the football field in DL varsity history.
“It was great, you can't ask for a better person on your team, I don’t care if it’s a boy or a girl,” Wateland said. “She just works hard at everything she does. She’s always staying after to work and coming in early to work on kicking. That first one, she missed by about a foot. I just said, ‘Hey, kick it a little further’ and she did. A big smile on her face and it was great to see.”
DL had the momentum, but Williston brought itself back with Horob scoring on an option pitch from two yards out. Dennis Nelson got a huge block on the PAT to keep DL up 13-9 with 7:52 to go.
“We were expecting it to be a close one in the fourth quarter,” Desai said. “We knew it was going to be a battle at the end. We just had to give it our all at the end and grind it out. Fourth quarter, we knew we were going to win it.”
It came down to the defense to win it. After being ran all over in last year’s game against Williston, the Firebirds defense stood firm in crunch time, protecting the endzone with a goal line stand and securing the 13-9 win to start the season 1-0.
“It’s been a long offseason preparing for this job,” Wateland said. “I’ve been really nervous about it and hoping the guys would buy in to what I’m telling them and expecting to win in close games. That’s what I talked to the defense about the last two times we had to break down with the timeouts, is to expect to win and to stop them. And for those guys to do it, it’s a great feeling.”