Nelson County pulls away late to defeat St. John, 28-22

John B. Crane
Devils Lake Journal

LAKOTA – The St. John Woodchucks were looking to play heartbreaker. 

For a moment, they were well on their way to doing as much to many a Nelson County fan on Saturday afternoon. How so? To start, sophomore wide receiver/defensive back Cashmyn Belgarde and junior running back/linebacker Tuff Longie punched in two touchdowns to open the third quarter. The momentum swing then put the Chargers in a precarious situation they have not been used to being in. 

They were playing from behind. 

The Nelson County Chargers celebrate after a scoring play.

Nevertheless, the Chargers were able to set aside St. John’s 16-point third quarter and utilize a timely offensive drive of their own to come out of the Lakota dust with the 28-22 win on Oct. 23. 

With their opening-round victory to begin their postseason campaign, the Chargers (9-0) remain undefeated on the season. After winning their opening-round matchup against the Four Winds Indians on Oct. 16, the Woodchucks (6-4) have been eliminated from the 2021 NDHSAA 9B Football State Playoffs. 

“Our message is the same it has been all year,” Nelson County head coach Beau Snyder said after the game. “When we are faced with adversity, or we are down, it is how we are going to respond. We talk about the next play. Everybody makes the next play. OK, something goes not go your way, the next play, what are you going to do, and how are you going to step up? Our kids stepped up. They did not get down when we were down, and they stepped up and made the next play. Great win.”

The Chargers came out of the gates in the most explosive way possible. Senior running back/linebacker Garrett Haakenson not only rumbled through St. John’s defensive front for a 20-yard carry on the first play of the game but rocketed into the end zone on the very next play for 65 yards. 

After Nelson County quarterback/defensive back Cade Stein tallied a one-yard touchdown run midway through the second quarter, it looked to be business as usual as the Chargers hoped to breeze to another easy victory. 

Not on St. John’s watch. 

After Isaak Anthony’s 31-yard screen pass touchdown made it 20-0 Nelson County, St. John quarterback/linebacker Zavier Parisien put the Woodchucks on the board via a 36-yard pass to junior running back/linebacker Brayton Baker. 

This, coupled with a pair of rushing touchdowns to open the third quarter, erased a 20-0 deficit and instead gave St. John a 22-20 lead with one quarter to go. 

It did not take long for Nelson County’s offense to find life once more. Although Stein punched in his second rushing touchdown of the game to put the Chargers up, 28-22, Haakenson made the touchdown possible. Haakenson picked up a 40+ yard reception during the play before the score. 

“If I need a big play, I know who to go to,” Snyder said. “He (Haakenson) is my big playmaker. He finds the end zone, and I knew we needed to score right now. We weren’t getting the job done on the ground, so I put him out wide and let’s throw to him. Made a great throw and a great catch. He is just a big playmaker, and we have other kids that are, too.”

One of Nelson County’s more prominent playmakers during the game did not come on the offensive side of the ball. Instead, it came from the defensive side as senior tight end/wide receiver/defensive end Garrett Syverson aggressively threw the opposing offense off-balance through the early part of the contest. 

Syverson then capped off his multi-tackle and multi-sack day by forcing Parisien into one last tackle for loss on a late-down play in the fourth quarter. With less than a minute to go in regulation, this sealed the victory in Nelson County’s favor. 

Senior tight end/wide receiver/defensive end Garrett Syverson (center) prepares to make a rush from the edge.

“He (Syverson) came out aggressive,” Snyder said. “He was on a mission this game, and that was probably the best I have seen him play all year. He was getting after it and being super aggressive. He had a defensive mentality to him today, and he saved us in a lot of situations.”

Although Snyder applauded his team’s winning performance, it was Syverson who made the statement. To Syverson, Nelson County’s victory came from a culmination of hard work, grit and the will to make a historic statement for the program. 

“We set a goal for ourselves to be undefeated this season,” Syverson said. “For the seniors, we wanted to go set history. And we made history today with our first playoff game with Lakota and Dakota Prairie. We are very proud of that.”

Nelson County will take to the road to play Bottineau on Oct. 30 at 2:30 p.m. CT.