Firebirds eliminated from postseason with 37-13 loss to Saints
BISMARCK - The Devils Lake Firebirds needed to make a statement early if they wished to usurp the top-seeded Bismarck St. Mary’s Saints Friday evening. Anything otherwise would see the Firebirds’ postseason aspirations extinguished with the snap of a finger.
A hefty challenge, indeed. But a challenge the Firebirds were more than eager to take on.
While the Firebirds ignited a fire of momentum through the opening portion of the contest, the Saints extinguished it with a 37-13 win at Our Lady of Victory Stadium on Oct. 30.
The Firebirds (4-6) are officially eliminated from the 2021 NDHSAA 11A Football State Playoffs with the loss. Dating back to the 2017-18 season, the Firebirds are 1-5 in postseason play and have lost each of their last five playoff matches. Dating back to the 2020-21 season (where they went 3-0 and won the Class AA Football Championship), the Saints (9-1) have now won four consecutive postseason matches.
An emotional Devils Lake post-game huddle was filled with a slew of hugs, many handshakes and countless tears for the concluded 2021-22 season.
In a season of adversity, Devils Lake head coach Todd Lambrecht summed it up perfectly.
“Just the toughness and stepping it up and knowing that life is not easy,” Lambrecht said after the game. “Football is a great experience in that aspect of the highs and lows. You can have extreme highs like we were on, and you can have some things happen, and then we got low...your attitude and effort determines so much, and that is what we were trying to instill, and our guys were getting it figured out. It is camaraderie, and these guys gelled so well together. We had so many people step in, and everybody accepted the roles and picked it up.”
The game was not even two plays old before the Firebirds made the first impact play of the game. With coverage on Nathan Fedorchak, junior wide receiver/defensive back Aiden Bryce Volk broke up the play via a punch and recovery to quickly sap away St. Mary’s first offensive drive of the game.
The defensive showing did not end there. With the Firebirds down 21-7 with less than four minutes to go in the first half, tight end/linebacker Samuel Enget (who put the Firebirds on the board via a jet sweep during the first quarter) picked off a Schumacher dump pass at midfield.
Less than a pair of plays later, senior quarterback/linebacker Benjamin Heilman found senior wide receiver/defensive back Caleb Schneider to trim the deficit to eight.
With an aggressive defense, the Firebirds were able to stay within Bismarck St. Mary's reach.
“They found a few weaknesses that we had, and our guys were not quite in the best of positions,” Lambrecht said. “We missed a few tackles, but our defense was in it, and they did their job for the most part except for a few here and there. It started the year as one of our strengths, and it ended off the year as one of our strengths.”
Even still, the Saints had a trick or two up their sleeve. Their primary trump card came in senior tailback/linebacker Isaac Felchle, who utilized a pair of 50+ yard runs to go along with two rushing touchdowns during the first half.
An additional rushing touchdown during the second half for Felchle, combined with a Nick Schumacher quarterback keeper, helped net the necessary double-digit cushion for the Saints as the game winded down.
Although the Firebirds mitigated the late-game damage with a fourth-down stop deep in their territory, the damage was already done. With the loss, the Firebirds finished the season as losers of each of their last five games.
Lambrecht, however, recognized the positives in playing a road game against a reigning state champion.
“We can go anywhere and play anybody,” Lambrecht said. “That is how we should be, and that is how we should feel, that we can beat anybody in the state...St. Mary’s is a solid team, and I feel like we are, too. To come down here and play like we did…it is one of those things. Just the moxie, heart and toughness that we are going with. That was awesome to see.”
While the Firebirds ran out of offensive and defensive steam, the team’s collective character productively kept the fight going. As the program continues to strive toward the future, newer players will vie to step up.
Another hefty challenge, sure. But one the Firebirds will tackle nonetheless.
“It is big,” Lambrecht said. “They come in with the same attitude and effort next year, and they know what our expectations are and what we need, and that is what they need to bring into next year. We have a new batch of sophomores coming in, and there are good players in there, good linemen. These seniors are going to be dearly missed. They are. They are the heart and soul of what we can accomplish this year, but we also have some young guys that stepped up. We are going to count on them a lot to keep going with what we have with our culture and with what we are doing with our program.”
The Saints will continue their postseason run with a home semifinal matchup against Dickinson on Nov. 5 at 7:00 p.m. CT.