New Rockford-Sheyenne leans on youth to scrape by Four Winds in 28-20 win

John B. Crane
Devils Lake Journal

FORT TOTTEN – To say New Rockford-Sheyenne had a couple of hurdles to vault over would be an understatement. 

After a sick bug swept through several players during practice, the Rockets had to trek into Four Winds without one of their premier offensive guards in Hunter Jacobson. Then, of course, was the game itself, where the Indians plugged off the outside rushing attack. This made matters even worse for the Rockets, given the fact this was the very strategy that made them so successful over the course of their two prior contests. 

Nevertheless, the Rockets held on just enough to take home the 28-20 road victory Friday evening. 

With the win, New Rockford-Sheyenne (3-2) has now won three consecutive games and is 2-0 in region play. The win is additionally their first on the road this season (they lost their first road game of the season to North Prairie on Aug. 20). Meanwhile, Four Winds (0-5) is still looking to claim their first region win since Oct. 5, 2018 (20-18 vs. Nelson County). 

“It is huge,” New Rockford-Sheyenne head coach Elliott Belquist said after the game. “We have some young kids out there, and we are still learning. We did not look very good those first two weeks. We were figuring out what we needed to do with this football team and with these young kids. We got something figured out, and we just need to build more toughness, and we have to get some young kids to play hard football.” 

Although New Rockford-Sheyenne found the win column once the buzzer rang at the end of the fourth quarter, Four Winds drew first blood during the first quarter after Kelson Keja - who missed the previous handful of games due to injury - found the end zone via a five-yard rush. 

Keja not only made an impact on the offensive side of the ball but also on the defensive side. Less than two minutes later, the junior linebacker scooped up a turnover 15 seconds into the second quarter. 

Kelson Keja pushes by a New Rockford-Sheyenne defender.

“Kelson has been the workhorse for us since his freshman year,” Four Winds co-head coach Mark Bishop said. “He has been our starting running back. He has been running the ball for us for however many games now. He knows our offense inside and out, and we played him all over the place tonight just to give him breaks…having Kelson on the field is an easing feeling for me.”

New Rockford-Sheyenne, however, found a response, but not in the form of Hayden Meier or Kaden Jensen. Instead, the sophomore utility player in Connor Knatterud put the Rockets on the board midway through the second.

The sophomore did not stop the explosive playmaking there. After Four Winds came within four points of the Rockets midway through the third quarter, Knatterud gave his team a 22-12 led via a kick-return touchdown. 

Connor Knatterud takes the ball into the end zone on Sep. 17.

“It is an honor to be starting on the varsity team over some of the guys we have,” Knatterud said. “They give amazing effort. I just hope I can follow in the leader’s steps.” 

After Meier found another young New Rockford-Sheyenne player in Easton Benz to put the Rockets up by 16 with 11 minutes to go in the fourth quarter, Four Winds once again gave New Rockford-Sheyenne a steady run for their money, even after Keja exited the game due to a hand injury. Although Four Winds came within one possession of New Rockford-Sheyenne with 6:15 still on the clock, a slew of penalties against Four Winds prevented the Indians from gaining more momentum. 

“We just need to find that first win,” Bishop said. “Right now, we are learning how to win. When we get that first win, watch out. Once we get that first win, we are going to gain that confidence, and we are going to be ready.” 

To Belquist, his team’s winning performance against a gritty Four Winds team showed as much character for his team as it did for the Indians. In Belquist’s mind, the closely contested game was a confidence-builder for all parties involved. 

“They (Four Winds) are a much-improved football team,” Belquist said. “They have some nice athletes over there, and they fought hard. That was a good hard-fought game.”

New Rockford-Sheyenne will next take on Benson County at Maddock High School on Sep. 24. Four Winds, meanwhile, will continue their three-game home stretch with a game against Dunseith on Sep. 23.