Firebirds show character in 13-7 loss to Jamestown
DEVILS LAKE – A football game on a chilly Friday evening at Roller Field served as a benchmark for the Jamestown Blue Jays and Devils Lake Firebirds.
Coming into the matchup, the Blue Jays kept it simple. They wanted to finish their regular season on a high note in preparation for the 2021 NDHSAA 11A Football State Playoffs.
The Firebirds, meanwhile, held a similar mindset. As a playoff team themselves, they too wished to finish the regular season strong.
They also wished to build on the culture they have shored up throughout the season. A culture of grinding it out. A culture of playing with emotion. And, of course, a culture of winning.
This culture showed itself once more on Oct. 22, and while the Firebirds faltered to the Blue Jays in overtime, 13-7, the message remained as clear as the night sky.
Always be present.
“It is about being there for every game,” Devils Lake head coach Todd Lambrecht said. “We have had tendencies, and I am not blaming anybody or saying anything to where we need to be excited about every game and playing every game with that enthusiasm all the time. If we can do that, it makes the rest of it just get that much easier all the time.”
With the loss, the Firebirds (4-5, 3-3) have now dropped each of their last three games against the Blue Jays, dating back to the 2018-19 season (postseason included). The Firebirds finished the regular season with a 1-4 record at home. The Blue Jays (7-2, 4-0) finished the regular season with a 4-1 record on the road. Their regular-season finale win is their first finale win since the 2018-19 season (they beat Grafton, 56-6, on Oct. 20, 2018).
Both teams - both offenses, in particular - quickly figured out that each respective defense came to play. Devils Lake quarterback Benjamin Heilman figured this out the hard way as the senior signal-caller was picked off during each of his team’s first two drives. Although the Firebirds mitigated the first interception easily, the second one happened deep within Devils Lake’s territory.
One Jamestown slant play from junior quarterback/tight end Jackson Walters and, just like that, the Firebirds found themselves in a 7-0 hole at halftime.
Nevertheless, the Firebirds stood strong. Not only did Devils Lake hold their defensive ground with a turnover scoop by tight end/linebacker Samuel Enget, but they immediately forced the Blue Jays to punt during their first drive to open the second half.
Then came the offense.
The trio of Heilman, Drew Hofstad and Keauno Newton combined their efforts to drive down the field, drain more than five minutes of clock and score on a Heilman-to-Newton pass worthy of a medal for the momentum swing it generated.
“It is great momentum,” Lambrecht said. “We were moving the ball well, but we just weren’t putting it all together. We got into a better situation where things were clicking, and things were going well. We were moving the ball and were having a few hiccups here and there, but those things change a game. You don’t catch a pass or special teams…one little play can change a game when it comes to that.”
To Lambrecht, being present and taking the extra effort to make the play occur was the tell-tale sign of his upper-level players taking the initiative. And the reward? A brand-new ballgame with the score tied up 7-7 with less than three minutes left in the third quarter.
“We were throwing the ball to Keanu," Lambrecht said. "We just ran a simple slant and threw the ball to him, and he willed himself into the end zone and said, ‘I am going.’ It is a senior stepping up and scoring on this because I have the ball. That play was huge.”
A Beau Brodina turnover allowed the Firebirds to go ahead of the Blue Jays late, but a muffed Firebird kick gave the Blue Jays the ball back.
A couple of punts and turnovers later, and both teams found themselves playing overtime football.
Devils Lake attempted to score first, but another unsuccessful kick gave the Blue Jays energy. Jamestown then utilized this energy to punch into the end zone via a Walters push.
Just like that, a 7-7 ballgame became a 13-7 heartbreaker for the Firebirds. With the loss, the Firebirds finished the regular season with a four-game losing streak.
Even still, the team came together for the post-game huddle and embraced each other with open arms.
To Lambrecht, his team’s camaraderie showed itself both on and off the field during the game.
It all revolves back to being present and playing with maximum effort.
“That is the culture that I really want to get going with, where we are physical and emotional,” Lambrecht said. “We are playing with emotion, and I am excited about what is going on and really getting into a game and leaving everything out here. That is the culture I really want us to set.”
The Firebirds will open their postseason with a date against Bismarck St. Mary’s on Oct. 29. Jamestown, meanwhile, will host Grand Forks Red River on the same date.