Four Winds eliminated from postseason with 20-6 loss to St. John
ST. JOHN – Although the Four Winds Indians had to make the 92-mile journey to St. John, they remained unfazed. And why would they be intimidated? Coming into their postseason matchup against the St. John Woodchucks Saturday afternoon, the Indians were riding a three-game winning streak that helped net them their second-ever postseason berth in the NDHSAA 9B Football State Playoffs.
While the Indians were looking to capture their first-ever playoff win, the Woodchucks had different plans. Unfortunately for the Indians, these plans played enough of a damper to end their season, 20-6, on Oct. 16.
With the loss, the Indians (3-6) have officially been eliminated from the postseason. In two postseason games in the program’s history, Four Winds is now 0-2 (their first loss came on Oct. 13, 2018, when they lost to Oakes, 50-14). The Woodchucks, meanwhile, have now won three straight games dating back to Oct. 1 (54-42 vs. North Prairie).
Even still, the Indians held their heads high through the final team huddle of the season upon the game’s conclusion.
“The ride these guys went to, losing five in a row to start the season, is hard to do,” Four Winds co-head coach Mark Bishop said after the game. “These guys never stopped coming. They came in every single day and kept working their butts off to get better and get us here. The tears are because we lost. We deserve to keep going. With the work they put in, they deserved to get this one. They got nothing to hang their heads on.”
The Indians did not go quietly to open or close the game against the Woodchucks. After the Woodchucks fumbled the ball during their opening drive to start the game, the Indians attempted to maintain their momentum by creating a drive of their own, only to fumble it themselves. After St. John running back/linebacker Tuff Longie went for 15+ yards on the edge to put the Woodchucks up by six, the Indians responded with a late second-quarter push via a Jayden Yankton keeper to tie the game up, 6-6.
St. John rebounded with a 50+ yard play to not only put the Indians in a 14-6 hole but close out the half with a lead they would not let up.
“They prepared this whole week,” Four Winds co-head coach Travis Mertens said. “They wanted it so bad. It was a great week of practice. If a couple of different things go our way, maybe it is a different game, but it did not.”
Defensively, the Indians stayed within striking distance. A collection of critical late-down stops on the defensive side, coupled with a hungry running game, helped keep the Indians within one possession until the Woodchucks drained more than six minutes from the clock and scored a two-yard back-breaker with 2:36 left in regulation.
Yankton, one of a handful of seniors on a youthful roster, showed emotion once the game was over. The quarterback/linebacker, however, stood firm and recognized that, despite the loss, the team still showed fight from start to finish.
“The emotions, they are real,” Yankton said. “I have come a long way with these guys, and it is just not the outcome we wanted. It was heartbreaking, but as coach said, it is just a game. It is not going to define your life. You have to work to get past it.”
The Indians felt the sting of defeat once the buzzer rang one last time to signify the 20-6 loss. Even still, both Bishop and Mertens have optimism moving forward into future seasons. The key for the Indians moving forward will be to go above and beyond in making plays go their way.
“Consistency and being willing to do the dirty things,” Bishop said. “Understand that doing whatever it takes…my job might just be to be outside and contain, but if there is no one else that can make a play, then I need to rip across his face and get in on that. We cannot be content with just doing our job. We have to do the dirty things and do their job plus some. Just doing your job is not enough.”
Nevertheless, the Indians succeeded in more ways than one. They developed character. They gained experience. And, perhaps most importantly, they showed they could once again be a region contender.
To Mertens, the team accomplished what they needed to. Now, it is about building for what is to come in the future.
“We accomplished the goal we wanted to accomplish,” Mertens said. “Yeah, we wanted to win this game too, but that was a successful season for us and for our program.”