Devils Lake's season ends in Class AA quarterfinals to No. 1 Bismarck St. Mary's
In being the final team into the NDHSAA Class AA State Playoffs, the Firebirds were going to face a challenge that they had seen twice before this season: Bismarck St. Mary's.
The Firebirds met the since in weeks one and four, with the first game being played at Joe Roller Field and the second in Bismarck. Both games saw Devils Lake outscored by a combined score of 92-0. Saturday's matchup up saw the goose egg finally crack for the Firebirds, but a similar result to the team's prior finishes against Saints.
It was an uphill battle for Devils Lake (3-7, 2-3 AA East) for all four quarters, facing 50 mph plus wind gusts and No. 1 Bismarck St. Mary's (9-0, 4-0 AA West), eventually leading to the end of the Firebirds season in a 46-7 loss to the Saints.
"It's disappointing, not on the kids, but how we finished out," Firebirds head coach Todd Lambrecht said. "We've got a bunch of young kids here learning and getting better. You just hate to see it end this way, but in playoffs, someone is going to move on and someone isn't. It is what it is."
The Saints jumped on the Firebirds early as they racked up 40 points by halftime, headed by three touchdowns from Saints tailback Cullen Curl. St. Mary's scored on every drive of the first half except for one as Devils Lake would force a fumble and recover at its own 41-yard line in the late first quarter.
In facing the Saints for the third time this season, Devils Lake was aware of what they were going to face and the style of play St. Mary's brings to the field. Lambrecht said facing the Saints multiple times this year has benefitted the team.
"We learn to become more physical and just play faster," Lambrecht said. "Saint Mary's has had a tradition of making it deep in the playoffs. Our older guys have a sense of what it takes to get it done, but our younger guys need to feel that. If you can take something away from this game it's that aspect."
Despite Curl finding the end zone for the fourth time on the day for the Saints, Devils Lake was beginning to make drives into St. Mary's territory, opposite to the first half where they struggled to get out of its own end of the field.
The Firebirds' first scoring chance would fall short at the Saint Mary's 6-yard line on fourth and one, however, they would capitalize on a short drive from senior running back Zach Lange on fourth and 1 for their first score of the game. It was the first touchdown Devils Lake has scored against the Saints in 2018.
"It was good to have a touchdown there," Lambrecht said. "When things aren't quite going your way, it's good to get those points on the board. Guys work hard and they're rewarded for it."
After the touchdown, the Firebirds got another break as the extra point attempt from sophomore offensive lineman Joseph Heiser, going against a consistent wind speed of 33 mph, curved inside the uprights to tack on one more point to Devils Lake's score. In having a kicking unit that hasn't had too much work this season, Lambrecht said it was good to see Heiser convert.
"It was awesome to see," Lambrecht said. "The wind was blowing hard, so you don't know where the ball is going to go. They've been struggling at the end of the year and we finally had someone step up and say this position is mine and I'm going to work hard at it. Against Wahpeton, we came out and scored some points, and those extra points are huge, especially in one-point wins."
In the finish, Devils Lake ends its season at 3-7 under its first season as Lambrecht as head coach. The Firebirds picked up wins over Watford City (18-0), Valley City (6-0), and Wahpeton (27-26). This is the third straight season Devils Lake has been eliminated in the quarterfinals as they lost to Buelah last season and Jamestown in 2018.
For Lambrecht in his first season, he said that he is proud that the seniors were able to step up and follow their set goals, and proud of the team for coming out amid a pandemic.
"I'm grateful for the guys coming out with everything going on and the seniors stepping up to meet their goals," Lambrecht said. "They had quite a lot of goals and they grabbed that and ran with it. It's great to have seniors to do that and underclassmen to learn from it."
The Firebirds will be graduating five seniors: offensive lineman Daniel Felix, offensive lineman James Tice, offensive lineman Tyrese Leaf, tight end Brayden Gerhardt, and Lange. In working to establish a strong defensive presence, the losses on the offensive line will be holes the younger core will need to step into.
In preparing for next season, Lambrecht said he's looking to get more players rostered and into the weight room, something that was heavily restricted this season due to the pandemic. The Firebirds carried a heavy younger core this season and will return that group next year now with a year of experience under their belts.
"My thing is that I want to create competition within ourselves," Lambrecht said. "If we can be our most physical adversary, our most physical players, and that extremely competitive team within our own ranks, we can play against anybody. We need more guys stepping up, so we have some competition for some roles. This young group coming up has some experience and now we need more guys stepping in to bring that competition and team comradery, for each other and against each other.
Saturday Lake Region scores
No. 1 Saint Mary's Central - 46
Devils Lake - 7
6:03 7-0 SMC: Cullen Curl TD (SMC), PTA GOOD
3:49 14-0 SMC: Cullen Curl TD (SMC), PTA GOOD
1:51 21-0 SMC: Jackson Roerick TD (SMC), PTA GOOD
10:57 27-0 SMC: Matthew Nathe TD (SMC), PTA NO GOOD
5:01 34-0 SMC: Cullen Curl TD (SMC), PTA GOOD
2:34 40-0 SMC: Isaac Vandal TD (SMC), PTA NO GOOD
11:06 46-0 SMC: Cullen Curl TD (SMC), PTA NO GOOD
2:04 46-7 SMC: Zach Lange TD (DL), PTA GOOD
No. 4 Langdon/Edmore/Munich - 3 (25-8, 25-21, 25-9)
Benson County - 0
RV North Star - 3 (25-19, 25-13, 25-16)
Harvey/Wells - 0