Class warfare: Move from Class 2A to 3A doesn't seem to impact Devils Lake in Friday's win
Fargo - Everything has been turned around for the Devils Lake High School football team. Up is down, left is right. For the last few years, the Firebirds were one of the top Class 2A teams in North Dakota, advancing to three of the last four stat...
Fargo - Everything has been turned around for the Devils Lake High School football team.
Up is down, left is right. For the last few years, the Firebirds were one of the top Class 2A teams in North Dakota, advancing to three of the last four state title games.
However, Devils Lake was moved this year to Class 3A.
No one was sure what to expect.
"It's tough to go from the big dog to the little dog in the course of a year," Devils Lake head coach Jay Schneider said. "We are a team that had the most kids on the sideline, the most depth. Now, it's exactly the opposite. It is what it is."
It hasn't been that bad.
The Firebirds showed Friday they are players in the Eastern Dakota Conference with a 29-6 road victory against Fargo North at Spartan Stadium.
Senior running back Austin Nelson ran for 181 yards and two touchdowns and added a 14-yard receiving touchdown to spark Devils Lake to a win in their conference opener.
A physical offensive line plowed over the Spartans, and Nelson ripped through with determination.
The defense was opportunistic, picking off a pair of Kameron Giffey passes en route to helping North crash down to earth following last week's big win against rival Fargo South.
It was just as it has been the last few years for Devils Lake, almost as if nothing had changed.
Of course, a few injuries could massively derail the Firebirds' effort this season.
But this move couldn't have come at a better time.
The EDC is as ripe as it's ever been for a new champion.
Typical frontrunners West Fargo and Fargo South each entered Friday night 0-3.
North (2-2) was 1-0 in the league after the win against the Bruins, but now must regroup following Friday's loss.
Grand Forks Red River and Fargo Davies, in just its second year of varsity football, were the other remaining EDC unbeatens entering Friday.
"I was excited," Nelson said. "No one expected us to do anything good at all, nobody was giving us a chance. I just wanted to come out and show everyone that we can play Firebirds football. And we did that today."
Devils Lake's biggest obstacle this season will be the enrollment gap.
It goes from being on the top end of Class 2A to the low end of Class 3A.
That means depth, which had been an asset for the last few years, is now depleted.
Keeping players healthy is a primary goal. Nelson, who came up limping when the Firebirds were attempting to close out the game in the final quarter, was held out of the final few plays of the team's final scoring drive.
Devils Lake opened the season with a 49-8 victory against Jamestown. But big losses to state title contenders Mandan and Bismarck followed.
The Firebirds were defeated by a combined score of 88-7.
It had Schneider wondering if the team was losing its edge.
"We've basically been telling them all along that Triple-A football is just a different level of football," Schneider said. "It's more physical, faster, harder hitting. The last two weeks have been a shock to the system. The last two years we haven't had our second loss until November. Now, we had our second loss in mid-September."
Devils Lake (2-2, 1-0 EDC) spoiled a dominant game by North running back Peter Saintal. Saintal ran 29 times for 251 yards. He scored on an 80-yard run in the first quarter.
This night belonged to Devils Lake.
They may not be the big dogs anymore. But they've still got some bite.
"They are just a bigger, stronger, more physical team than we are," Spartans coach Kelly Kalina said. "You can't beat a team that can run the football and doesn't give you the ball back. They have themselves a great program. They've established a great program. Winning makes a big difference for you. They've got a lot of talent over there."
Devils Lake 8 7 7 7-29
North 6 0 0 0- 6
DL-Nelson 7 run (Burckhard from Mertens)
FN-Saintal 80 run (run failed)
DL-Nelson 1 run (Lardner kick)
DL-Nelson 14 pass from Mertens (Lardner kick)
DL-Schall 4 run (Lardner kick)
RUSHING: DL, Nelson 29-181, Morken 11-33, Mertens 6-19, Hodges 4-20, Schall 4-16. FN, Saintal 29-251, Giffey 4-7.
PASSING: DL, Mertens 2-2-0 28. FN, Giffey 5-12-2 36.
RECEIVING: DL, Hodges 1-14, Nelson 1-14. FN, Connelly 2-7, Schnabel 3-29.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Heath Hotzler at (701) 241-5562.
Hotzler's blogs can be found at www.areavoices.com