Three tips: what Devils Lake football must do to beat Bismarck St. Mary's
DEVILS LAKE – The regular season has officially concluded, and you know what that means – the Devils Lake Firebirds (4-5) are once again playing postseason football for the fifth time in as many years. The Firebirds will officially begin their 2021 NDHSAA 11A Football State Playoff run with a date against the top-seeded Bismarck St. Mary’s Saints (8-1) on Oct. 29.
It has been a tale of two seasons for the Firebirds. After starting the season 4-1, Devils Lake faltered against the Jamestown Blue Jays on Oct. 23, 13-7, to conclude their regular season as losers of each of their last four games. So, what must the eighth-seeded Firebirds do to usurp the reigning Class AA Football State Champions on the road? Let’s see, shall we?
1. Lean on the veterans
The Saints have a lot of experience to work with. Their starting lineup on the offensive side features 10 seniors and one junior. Defensively, their lineup consists of nine seniors and two juniors. So, what will the Firebirds do to counter this? Why, lean on their veterans, of course. Even with senior running back Hayden Hofstad on the pine with an injury, the Firebirds still have upper-level players with experience they can go to. Whether it be Benjamin Heilman, Caleb Schneider or Keauno Newton, the Firebirds will look to keep a level head and play with the fire necessary to make an upset possible.
“That is the culture that I really want to get going with, where we are physical and emotional,” Todd Lambrecht said after his team’s 13-7 loss to Jamestown on Oct. 22. “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.”
2. Start rotating players early
Time to be blunt - the Firebirds have not had their way against the Saints. Dating back to the 2017-18 season (including postseason), the Firebirds have gone 0-6 against the Saints. Four of those six games ended in a shutout against the Firebirds. During their most recent matchup (Oct. 31, 2020, during the Class AA Football Playoffs), the Saints hammered the Firebirds, 46-7. When glancing over all six games, the Saints have averaged 37 points per game and have allowed only four points on the defensive side.
Offensively and defensively speaking, Bismarck St. Mary’s has illustrated balance. Over their nine games played this year, they have averaged 33 points per game and have allowed only 11 to the opposing offense. The Saints did the bulk of their damage early and often – 90 of their 297 total points scored came during the first quarter. Should the Firebirds wish to keep the Saints in check, they will need to stay fresh and prepare for matchup changes at a moment’s notice.
3. Keep their stars on the sideline
Stardom is not a foreign concept to the Saints. Senior quarterback Nick Schumacher not only compiled 15 passing touchdowns but additionally added five rushing touchdowns to his highlight reel too. Schumacher is one of four players to have at least three rushing touchdowns to their name (senior running back Isaac Felchle leads the way with eight). The Brit Senftner, Landon Gerving and Nathan Fedorchak receiving trio, meanwhile, each averaged more than 16 yards per reception.
The Firebirds will need to go with a two-pronged approach. Offensively speaking, the Firebirds will need to prolong drives to keep the clock on their side. Defensively, they will need to spice it up and find a way to get the opposing offense off the field. This might warrant a little risk-taking – A blitz or timely forced fumble might be the difference between keeping their stars at bay or in the end zone.
Bismarck St. Mary’s is the first-overall seed for a reason. As such, the Firebirds will have to navigate through a ton of traffic should they wish to stay in the hunt as the game slows down. While the Firebirds will stay within striking distance, look for the Saints to hit a pair of loud home runs that will give them enough cushion to slow the Firebirds down during the stretch.
Prediction: 35-13 Bismarck St. Mary’s