Emotions prevail in 45-12 Four Winds victory over Benson County
LEEDS – Two teams were playing for two different goals Thursday evening at Leeds High School. For the Four Winds Indians, it was about securing another win and locking up a coveted playoff berth. On the other hand, the Benson County Wildcats wanted to battle hard for their former head coach in Bradley Kitzmann, who was recently diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer.
Although the Wildcats played tough, the Indians prevailed and clinched a playoff berth with the 45-12 win against them on Oct. 7.
The Indians (3-5), after starting the season 0-5, finished the regular season with a three-game winning streak dating back to Sep. 23 (56-12 vs. Dunseith). The win additionally secured the Indians their second-ever postseason appearance in program history. The Indians previously made the postseason during the 2018-19 season (they lost to Oakes in the opening round, 50-14). Benson County, meanwhile, finished the year winless (0-8).
“Definitely accomplished,” Four Winds co-head coach Mark Bishop said after the game. “We said early on this year that we were going to find out. Were we riding the coattails of a great senior class, or were we building something special? Now, we have proven with a ton of sophomores and freshmen starting that this program has turned it around and that we are going to be something.”
After Benson County won the toss and deferred to the second half, the Indians started the offensive onslaught with a Dalen Leftbear touchdown carry on their first possession of the game. The Indians, via quarterback Jayden Yankton and running backs Kelson Keja and Adam Charboneau, swiftly established the run and solidified the play-action passing game. While Keja marked off a slew of big-time rushing gains, Yankton and Charboneau combined to rush for three touchdowns during the game (two and one, respectively). Keja, meanwhile. picked up two total offensive touchdowns (one rushing and one receiving).
Ever since they picked up their first win on Sep. 23, the Indians have started to gather momentum and maintain it. To Bishop, this is a tell-tale sign of his team getting stronger as the season progresses.
“We are just as good as most teams we see out here,” Bishop said. “It just comes down to our youth, and we kept making one small mistake here or there that would just kill a drive. We would turn the ball over, or we drop a pass or miss a block. We are not making those mistakes anymore. Football is just the ultimate team sport. One guy makes a play or misses a block, and the whole play crumbles. All of it is just coming together now. That youth…our young guys have just learned what we are doing, and now they are ready.”
Although a slew of penalties stalled several Benson County drives, the Wildcats remained strong. They were able to first find the end zone during the second quarter after sophomore running back/linebacker Logan Maddock scooped up a Four Winds turnover and promptly went 30+ yards the other way. Benson County additionally used a dose of trickery via a fake punt during the third quarter that eventually went 50+ yards to the house (also via Maddock).
Justin Maddock, the interim Benson County head coach in Kitzmann’s absence, thinks his young team will only continue to improve as they develop more experience.
“We have young core guys here,” Maddock said. “We start a lot of sophomores, and they have a lot of fight in them. They have been a part of winning teams, and they really want to get this program back to where it was 15 years ago when we were going to state playoffs and state championship games. That is their drive, and that is their goal. The big character trait with this team is that we do not quit.”
Although Four Winds initially was taken aback by the opposing team’s trick plays, they remained strong and continued to extend drives and pad their 30-6 lead heading into the second half. From capitalizing on a handful of Benson County turnovers to grounding out the rushing game, Four Winds scored an additional 15 points during the second half to come out with the 45-12 win.
“We are going to be a team to deal with for years to come,” Bishop said. “We are not going to be the stomping grounds anymore. Four Winds football is legit, and teams will know that they need to show up to play us.”
Even still, both the Wildcats and Indians understood the bigger picture. So before the game, both teams marched to the middle of the field and knelt to pray for Kitzmann.
“North Dakota is amazing in that regard,” Maddock said. “We have had multiple schools have fundraisers for Brad and hold him in their prayers and their hearts. The prayer…the kids wanted to start doing that after we found out about Brad. We have been inviting the other teams to come and pray with us, and every team has been more than happy to do that. Everybody is behind him and hopeful for a recovery for him.”
The 2021 9B Football State Playoffs will get underway on Oct. 16.