'We didn't handle adversity at all' - three takeaways from North Star's 28-6 loss (Sept. 2)

John B. Crane
Devils Lake Journal

CANDO – The (#5) North Star Bearcats had a chance to flip the script Friday afternoon. 

Nelson County football players point to the moon following their 28-6 road win over North Star on Sep. 2.

Heading into their homecoming game against the Nelson County Chargers, the Bearcats were not only a spotless 2-0 but additionally held state recognition in the polls – the Bearcats ranked fifth within the North Dakota Associated Press Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association (NDAPSSA) heading into Sep. 2. 

But the Chargers weren’t going to go away quietly. Expecting anything less would be ignoring history. And despite being unranked (despite receiving votes), the Chargers were also 2-0. 

And so, both teams decided to go head-to-head with differing doses of momentum. The Bearcats were coming off a 48-0 shutout against TGU (Aug. 26). The Chargers, meanwhile, were still basking from a 30-26 road comeback victory against Four Winds (Aug. 26). 

All things being equal, it was Nelson County (3-0, 0-0) that rose to the challenge during North Star’s (2-1, 0-0) homecoming bout as the former scored 20 unanswered points over the final 30 minutes of action to win, 28-6, over the latter. 

Here are three takeaways from the Sep. 2 contest: 

1. What is next for North Star? 

A 0-0 score through the first quarter was certainly a step in the right direction for the Bearcats. With Nelson County averaging 33 points per game (PPG), blank quarters would certainly not go unappreciated. 

But the tie game came with a caveat. And a big one. Dane Hagler, North Star’s starting quarterback, exited the game through the early portion of the first quarter after sustaining a hit. Hagler exited the game and did not return to the sidelines until the second half, with a sling wrapped around the junior’s left arm. 

“There isn’t an update,” North Star head coach Daniel Grande said after the game. “I have not had a chance to talk to anybody. I think he went to the hospital to get checked out. But that’s all I know for right now.” 

And so, it was up to Dane’s younger brother, Hunter (a wide receiver and linebacker), to take over signal-calling duties. While Hunter certainly proved his worth to the best of his ability (more on him below), the Bearcats collectively did not rise to the challenge. 

“We didn’t handle adversity at all,” Grande said. “Some of our guys stepped up to it. Some of our guys were not ready to step up to it, and some of them ran away from adversity. We had a guy get hurt. One of our key players, Dane [Hagler], went out early, and it deflated our sails…I thought [we] responded decently well, but we never regained our balance from there. It was kind of downhill from there.” 

North Star running back Garrett Westlind (black) rushes through a Nelson County tackler on Sep. 2.

Although running back Garrett Westlind helped pull the Bearcats within two points of the Chargers after finding the edge for the 10 yards, no more momentum on the offensive side would transpire. The Chargers gained more yards of total offense (310), tallied more plays (56) and averaged more yards per play (5.5) than North Star (138, 32 and 4.3, respectively). North Star only converted one third down during the game (1/6). 

Being ranked in the polls was undoubtedly a nice touch, but all eyes are now set on Dane’s injury and, perhaps more importantly, on how the Bearcats respond to the injury and defeat in future games. The winning taste has been stewed together. Now, it is time to find it again. 

2. Hunter Hagler – what will his role become? 

Hunter finished the game with 96 passing yards on eight completions (8-13). Given the context, Hunter did what he could against a Nelson County defensive front led by Collin Zacha and Ross Thompson, among others. Then, there was the secondary. After all, Nelson County iced the game via a Zachary Gibson interception against Hunter with less than two minutes to go. 

North Star's Hunter Hagler makes a read before making a passing attempt against Nelson County on Sep. 2. Hunter took over quarterback duties after his older brother, Dane, left the game with an injury.

Grande was still happy to see what Hunter showed on the field. 

“Hunter [Hagler], I think, did a solid job,” Grande said. “He’s a freshman, and sometimes, he did freshman things, and that’s to be expected, but I think he handled himself with composure. I think he took command of the huddle when he went in there. We’ll iron some things out, and we’ll see what we got going forward.” 

Hunter could see more snaps from the quarterback position depending on the severity of Dane’s injury. Should this remain the case, building off the performance might mean the difference between North Star excelling, treading water or sinking in the standings. Only time will tell. 

3. Power football = Nelson County’s bread-and-butter 

Any old-school football enthusiast – or high school football fan, for that matter – likely has a love-hate relationship with the I formation. If there are enough blocks and holes, it is tough for anything to beat it. Anything less? Well, success might be limited. 

Business indeed boomed on the offensive front for the Chargers Friday evening, and with the same formation, no less. Spearheaded by Gibson, the Chargers netted three of their four touchdowns via the ground game. 

“Power football, get your blocks and make sure the hole is there,” Nelson County running back/wide receiver Hunter Charles said after the game. “If the hole is not there, it doesn’t work, but if we get our blocks in, it works very well, as you can see.” 

A power strategy around the running game, including that of the I formation, does not succeed without teamwork. Of course, the Chargers know a thing or two about that. 

“Team effort,” Nelson County head coach Beau Snyder said after the game. “All of those guys getting touches and getting in the end zone, it’s a huge team effort. We talked about coming into this game that we were [going to] run power football, and that’s what we did. We executed well, and everybody did their part in a huge team win.”

John Crane is a sports/general assignment reporter for the Devils Lake Journal. Feel free to contact John via work phone (701-922-1372), cell phone (701-230-4339), email (jcrane@gannett.com), Instagram (johnbcranesports) or Twitter (@johncranesports) with any story ideas.