Firebirds falter to Grafton in season-opening thriller

John B. Crane
Devils Lake Journal
Drew Hofstad celebrates with a teammate following a touchdown.

DEVILS LAKE - While Devils Lake (0-1) looked to punch in the ball from inside the two-yard line as the clock winded down to zero, the Firebirds could not cash in and lost to Grafton (1-1) in their season-opener, 22-20, Friday evening. 

The loss is Devils Lake’s first against Grafton in three contests dating back to the 2017-18 season. The loss additionally marks the second-straight year Devils Lake has dropped its home-opener (Devils Lake lost 38-0 against Bismarck St. Mary’s to open their 2020-21 season). 

"We have some young guys playing,” Devils Lake Football Head Coach Todd Lambrecht said after the game. “It is wanting it more than the person across from you. The last play, we executed and made the play, but it just did not happen. Sometimes that happens, and you have to learn to pick yourself up and keep going. There are also many times in the game where we need to want it more than the other guy does. We need to execute it better and not have penalties. We shot ourselves in the foot quite a bit tonight, and we have to learn and move on.”

Although rain clouds looked ominous earlier in the day, the skies surrounding Roller Field cleared up just in time for the 7:00 p.m. kickoff on Aug. 27. After Grafton went quietly with a three-and-out on the game's opening drive, Devils Lake quickly opened up the running game with a collection of outside screens and quarterback carries via Colton Schneider and Ben Heilman, respectively. 

After Devils Lake drew first blood via a fumble recovery touchdown almost immediately after they punted, Grafton countered less than three plays later to tie the game up, 6-6. 

Both teams continued to exchange lengthy blow after blow as the first half dwindled down. However, it was a costly Grafton penalty that made the atmosphere erupt. A pass interference penalty on Devils Lake wide receiver Keauno Newton netted Devils Lake one free play to close out the first half. 

Enter Drew Hofstad. 

After Heilman once again went with the lob toward the end zone, the sophomore and second-year varsity receiver in Hofstad came up with the athletic catch and touchdown to close out the first half of action.  

“He played last year for us on defense,” Lambrecht said. “He played a little bit of offense. He has a year of varsity underneath his belt, and he is a good player. He is fast, has good hands, is smart and can handle things. The quarterback threw it up, and he made a play. If you watch it on film, he looked where the line was at, put his foot there and reached as far as he could." 

Devils Lake holds their helmets high in a postgame huddle.

The ground-and-pound game continued into the second half. After Grafton collected the two-point lead with 11:06 left in the fourth quarter, it was time for Devils Lake to put a drive together. However, penalties, including half a dozen false starts throughout the game, plagued the Firebirds from start to finish.

“It does not make a difference if it is first and two or third and half a yard,” Lambrecht said. “You lose five yards, and that is a kick. It kills any offense, but it is about stepping up and running the next play even harder. That is where our guys need to understand and learn that.” 

Devils Lake will take to the road next week and take on Valley City at Hanna Field Sep. 3 at 7:00 p.m.