Nelson County clinches first-round bye with 16-6 win over Rockets

John B. Crane
Devils Lake Journal

NEW ROCKFORD – The inevitable was on a crash course with reality Friday evening. Something had to give. 

The writing was on the wall, and it was visible enough for the packed crowd to see. Between the Nelson County Chargers and New Rockford-Sheyenne Rockets, one team would come out with a victory and, more importantly, a first-round bye during the upcoming NDHSAA 9B State Football Playoff Tournament. Although the other would still come out ahead – they would host the first playoff game on their home turf – the goal was to battle hard and win now, if possible. 

And battle hard both teams did. In what amounted to a defensive fight up front, Nelson County prevailed over the Rockets, 16-6, on Oct. 8. 

New Rockford-Sheyenne vs. Nelson County 10/8/21

With the win, the Chargers finished the regular season undefeated (8-0). New Rockford-Sheyenne’s five-game winning streak dating back to Sep. 3 (18-6 vs. St. John) was additionally snapped. 

Although the Chargers failed to score 35+ points for the first time since their season home-opener against St. John on Aug. 20 (14), Nelson County head coach Beau Snyder cheerfully rushed into his team’s celebration huddle upon the game’s conclusion. 

“I have wanted to do that all season,” Snyder said. “We started that game one, and I have been thinking about doing that at the end of the year and getting that championship. It feels good. Kudos to our kids. I am proud of our kids and the way they fought and battled. You have to give them credit. They come to practice ready to work. Just a great group. I could not be prouder, and we are ready to go to the postseason and make some noise.” 

It looked like it was business as usual for the Chargers after their first possession of the game. After Nelson County received the ball with approximately 7:00 to go in the first quarter, the Chargers almost immediately drove down the field. They promptly scored their first touchdown of the game via a 30-yard slant from senior quarterback/defensive back Cade Stein to sophomore wide receiver/defensive back Cristian Fougner. 

Then came Garrett Haakenson. After he garnered most of the touches through the early going of the game, the senior running back/linebacker had yet to truly take off with an explosive play for a considerable distance. The narrative quickly faded after he unleashed a 40-yard run on the edge to put the Chargers up 16-0 with 6:15 left until halftime. 

This, however, was the last time the Chargers found the end zone. Not only did a collection of penalties stall out two separate drives at midfield before the end of the first half, but Nelson County could not crack the Rockets’ defensive pressure. 

New Rockford-Sheyenne head coach Elliott Belquist was proud of how his team limited the explosive plays to the absolute minimum. Heading into the game, Nelson County averaged 44.3 points per game over their previous six matches. 

“They have to realize they can play with good teams,” Belquist said. “They did not give up any huge plays, which was what we talked about a lot. Just limit the huge plays over the top. They got one slant that got there, but we held our own. We held our own, and I am just happy with the way our kids fought.” 

Offensively, New Rockford-Sheyenne caught Nelson County’s secondary off-guard after Hayden Meier found Nick Berglund in open space for a 75+ yard touchdown reception. 

Even still, Nelson County strived to find their offensive electricity during the second half. At first, it looked as if the machine was finally full steam ahead. But then, the machine quickly grounded to a halt after the Chargers turned over the ball via an interception in the end zone during their first possession of the second half. 

The Chargers, however, were able to go back to their roots in establishing the run game and managing the clock. 

“It just shows our guys that sometimes we are not going to be able to score all of those points, and we just have to gut it out,” Snyder said. “I tried to manage the clock as best I could in the second half. I knew if we had possession of the ball more than they did, we had a good chance at the end of the day. That was just what we were focusing on. We did not get too fancy. We did get fancy a little bit, but then we threw an interception and then went back to the run game and made sure we secured the ball and got those first downs.”

As the third quarter trickled in the fourth, the Chargers emphasized stingy coverage and steady clock management. After New Rockford-Sheyenne began to establish a lengthy drive of their own with less than three minutes to go in regulation, Haakenson not only tallied a go-ahead interception but also captured a critical first down to give the Chargers the win. 

“Just make a play,” Haakenson said. “I tried to do something to help my team out, and that is what happened.” 

Although his team came up with the defeat, Belquist made sure to tip his cap to the opposition when it was necessary. After all, both teams will begin their playoff campaign soon and make more noise. 

“They have a really good football team,” Belquist said. “They have a little bit of everything. They have nice team speed and some strength up front. I am happy with our performance. Obviously, we lost, and that hurts. We need to watch film and make some changes and fix some things, but they are a good football team. Our kids played hard.” 

The NDHSAA 9B State Football Playoff Tournament bracket will be released at 11:00 a.m. CT on Oct. 9.