Nelson County picks up emotional 57-8 win against Benson County
MCVILLE – On the surface, the chatter surrounding the Nelson County Chargers revolved around their high-octane offense. This, of course, was an arguable point heading into their homecoming matchup against Benson County on Oct. 1. The Chargers averaged 42.0 points per game heading into their contest against the Wildcats after they only averaged 20 points per game during the entire 2020-21 season.
The defense, however, has shown a marked sign of improvement, too. After averaging 43 points per game last season, the Chargers’ defense, heading into their Friday evening game against the Wildcats, only allowed 13.0 points per game.
And so, to appease both worlds, the Chargers capitalized on a slew of defensive touchdowns to overrun the Wildcats, 57-8, Friday evening.
The Chargers (7-0) are now 3-0 in region play with the win. Dating back to Aug. 27 (vs. TGU), the Chargers have scored at least 35 points in all six games played. Benson County (0-7), meanwhile, remains winless on the year.
“I think it all starts in practice,” Nelson County head coach Beau Snyder said after the game. “I think it is about the practice, scouting those teams and running those plays. Probably more being in position, but we have athletes that can make the play. It is a little bit of everything, but we prepare hard. It does not matter who we play. We prepared hard. I think that is what really helps our kids. They are ready for everything because we do everything in practice.”
However, the big news heading into the game came from the opposite end of the sideline as Justin Maddock continued to act as the interim head coach for the Wildcats in the absence of Bradley Kitzmann. Kitzmann was recently diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer.
Kitzmann did not have the playbook in his hands on Friday, but that did not stop him from attending the g. Nelson County even allocated all raffle ticket funds collected during the game to Kitzmann and his family.
“I am deeply moved and humbled by the amount of support and prayers I have received," Kitzmann said. "I would not wish this on anybody, but I am so thankful for everybody providing my family and me a little extra to get through this while we are fighting.”
“It is awesome,” Maddock said. “It is awesome how other football teams have come to support him. It is unbelievable. The best word is awesome. We fight each other out here on the gridiron, but at the end of the day, we are still North Dakotans. We are one big family.”
The Chargers immediately went to work on their first possession of the game as senior running back/linebacker Isaak Anthony found the end zone with ease after running back/linebacker Garrett Haakenson found a pair of significant gains to open the drive. Haakenson additionally rushed into the end zone later during the quarter and even tallied a defensive touchdown after he took an 83-yard interception to the house. Haakenson finished the game with four total touchdowns (two rushing, one receiving and one defensive).
The offensive production on the defensive side did not stop there for the Chargers, though. Anthony picked off the Wildcats for a 26-yard pick-six with less than two minutes to go in the first half. Nelson County finished the game with three defensive touchdowns (Haakenson, Anthony and wide receiver/free safety Cristian Fougner all scored a defensive touchdown).
Although Nelson County quarterback/free safety Cade Stein is used to putting points on the board, he will take as much help as he can get from his defense.
“It helps me,” Stein said. “It helps me a lot. I am absolutely OK with that if they keep scoring the ball. They always talk about the offensive side, but I love our defense. Our defense is playing very well, and I think that if we keep playing this way, we are just going to keep rolling.”
A 36-0 first half comfortably cushioned the Chargers in the driving seat. A 15-point third quarter and a six-point fourth quarter capped off a pristine performance, even if the team did not collect the shutout (Benson County scored a late rushing touchdown via running back/linebacker Logan Maddock with 4:12 left in the game). Haakenson and Anthony combined to account for seven of the eight Nelson County touchdowns.
While his team came out with yet another win, Snyder wanted it known that certain things come before football. This includes the support his program and his community have given to Kitzmann.
“It is huge for both communities, and for our kids to see that, too,” Snyder said. “We are here to help each other out. We are a football community statewide and region-wide. We just wish the best for him. We are praying for him and are hoping for the best. We want to help in any way we can.”
Although the Wildcats were unable to come up with the win, the players still found a way to remain positive in Kitzmann's presence. To Kitzmann, it is all about building character.
“They are my boys,” Kitzmann said. “I look out for them, and I try to do the best for them to give them the opportunities to win on the field and be better men off of the field.”
Nelson County will conclude its regular season with a road match against New Rockford-Sheyenne on Oct. 8. Benson County will cap off its regular season when they host Four Winds/Minnewaukan on Oct. 7.