Three tips: what Nelson County must do to beat Bottineau

John B. Crane
Devils Lake Journal

LAKOTA – The Nelson County Chargers (9-0) did more than just beat the St. John Woodchucks on Oct. 23. While it was the team’s first playoff win since the football merger between Lakota and Dakota Prairie, it also proved one thing in particular: the Chargers mean business. Whether it be the clutch playmaking on offense or the timely stops on defense, the Chargers are proving themselves to be a postseason force that will be here for the long haul. 

Should the Chargers wish to cement their place among the 9B NDHSAA Football State Playoff elite, they must go through another undefeated power in the Bottineau Braves (9-0). And so, the Chargers will take to the road to face off against the 9B – Region 4 victor on Oct. 30 at 2:30 p.m. CT. 

The question is simple – what must the Chargers do to remain competitive against the higher-seeded program? Let’s give it a look. 

1. When in doubt, go with the screen

Nelson County’s unsung hero this season has arguably been the offensive line. How so? Simple – the collective unit has not only opened up the rushing holes but has also been critical to establishing pass-catching screens to their fellow running backs, tight ends and wide receivers. Nelson County fans saw as much Saturday afternoon when senior quarterback/defensive back Cade Stein found senior running back/linebacker Isaak Anthony in the flat for a 31-yard passing touchdown. Anthony would not have found a clear path to the end zone without the timely blocking from the line. 

Yes, senior running back/linebacker Garrett Haakenson can pound through opposing defenses via the rush. And yes, Stein has shown the ability to scramble for positive yardages. Opening up the edges for the passing game will give the Chargers that much more of an advantage in spreading out Bottineau’s defensive front. 

2. Stack the box 

There is a risk in putting every single chip into one basket. Nelson County’s emphasis on getting to the quarterback (or even stuffing the running back) might leave their secondary vulnerable to a bad matchup. Even still, the Chargers must play to their strength, and their strength right now comes in the form of their defensive linemen. Their defensive line includes senior tight end/defensive end Garrett Syverson, who clinched the Charger victory against the Woodchucks via three critical tackles late in the fourth quarter. 

“He (Syverson) came out aggressive,” Nelson County head coach Beau 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.”

Sometimes, it is about playing the hot hand. In Nelson County’s case, it is about positioning Syverson and the rest of the defensive line in a way that emphasizes pressure. 

3. Keep an ace up the sleeve 

Nelson County briefly dabbled with a trick play or two during their game against the Woodchucks, and while it did not amount to much, it established a precedent. The precedent, you might ask? Despite their strength on the offensive side, the Chargers are willing to keep it creative if that is what it takes to keep the ball away from the Braves. 

Bottineau not only shut out three straight opponents from Sep. 3 – Sep. 17 (North Star, Benson County and TGU), but additionally allowed opposing offenses to score 15 points or more only once this season (the Braves beat Dunseith, 62-15, on Oct. 1). Fake punts, reverses, and every other trick play under the sun might inevitably be Nelson County’s trump card toward finding the end zone.  

Final thoughts: 

Both teams come from humble backgrounds. Bottineau went 0-9 and 2-6 during the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons, respectively. Nelson County, meanwhile, went 3-5 and 1-6 over the same period. Both teams have built the character and culture to field a competitive team and a championship-caliber one, too. 

If you are a fan of a significant strength going up against another significant strength, then this is the game for you. Nelson County’s high-octane offense will go up against Bottineau’s suffocating defensive front, and it will be glorious. 

This match will quickly become a battle between two opposing trenches. How each team manages the clock will also be a storyline to keep an eye on. Even still, there is a saying among football casuals and die-hards alike – defense wins championships. Although this game looks to be a coin flip, look for the Chargers to make one more electric play to pull away from the Braves. 

Prediction: 26-24 Nelson County