Despite holding a 15-0 lead heading into the second half, Grand Forks Central could not hold on, dropping its fourth contest of the year, 21-15 to Devils Lake on Friday night at Cushman Field..
Firebirds quarterback Ben Heilman was the catalyst in the comeback, rushing for 195 yards and two touchdowns while throwing for 100 yards and another score.
“The effort was lights out. We came out and challenged them at practice and went after them a little bit more, but they came out and fought so hard. You feel bad for them. Just a couple plays here or there that make a difference,” Central coach Bill Lorenz said.
After both teams stalled out on their first drives of the game, Central pushed back hard on the following possession. Dylan LaMont found Sam Strandell down the sideline for a 48-yard reception and then hit Strandell again in the back of the end zone on a jump ball.
The touchdown was Strandell’s first of the year, despite him coming up with plenty of drive-saving plays in previous games.
He made his presence known on the next drive when he returned the Firebirds' punt for 38 yards and set his team up in the red zone once again. In less than two minutes the Knights were in the end zone again, when LaMont snuck in his own carry for six yards and put Central up 15-0 following the two-point conversion.
The Central defense held up its end in the first half as well. Heilman racked up more than 100 yards rushing in the opening half, but almost everything through the air was shut down.
“We had some stops on third and long and some fourth-down stops. We forced them to throw a couple of 50-50 balls and we were able to not let them come down with it,” said Lorenz.
Heilman put Devils Lake on the scoreboard when he capped off a slow, methodical drive with a 26-yard scamper across the goal line. After missing the extra point, however, and both teams sharing short drives ending in interceptions, the Knights headed into the locker room with the nine-point lead.
Coming out for the second half, the Central run defense was put to the test right away. After the Knights fumbled at their 30-yard line on their first offensive possession, the Knights were able to stuff the Firebirds and get the turnover on downs.
Then penalty trouble came for Central on offense. Its ensuing drive featured a handful of holding and false start infractions that kept the Knights from building any momentum from the earlier red zone stop.
“That was the thing (in the second half), we got into the penalty bug and shot ourselves in the foot. When we’re looking at a third and long it’s tough for an offensive coordinator to dial-up a play there,” Lorenz said.
Devils Lake would not let this chance go to waste as Heilman started to string together some completions, mainly to Drew Hofstad. Once across midfield, Heilman and Hofstad connected four times for 46 yards, including a 26-yard touchdown pass that brought the Firebirds to within one.
Another holding call on its first play in response resulted in Central punting the ball back to Devils Lake to start the fourth quarter and the Firebird offense went right back to work.
This time it was the ground game resuming their steady stretch of runs going for 10 or more yards. Heilman guided his group across the field alongside Reese Brown acting as the second option. The duo marched down to the seven-yard line, where Heilman rushed in his second of the game and gave Devils Lake the lead 21-15.
“We knew that coming in that he’s a very good athlete. At times we did some good things, but he is so elusive. If the pass isn’t there and he breaks contain, he’s tough to bring down,” Lorenz said.
With 2:33 remaining in the game, Central stood at their own 30-yard line looking to potentially take the lead.
A 22-yard Simmers run put them past midfield, but the Knights couldn’t connect on the deep ball in order to get them in prime scoring position. A final LaMont incompletion with 52 seconds left would seal the come-from-behind win for Devils Lake.
“It wasn’t for lack of effort,” Lorenz said after the game. “I told them after the game our fight tonight was twice or three times as good as it was last week. So, we’ve got to build on that. We’ve got four more games left this year and we’ve got to build on that effort week in and week out.”
The loss drops Central to 1-4 on the year, with its only win coming against Wahpeton. Devils Lake moves to 4-1 and sits at the top half of the Class A East standings.
Grand Forks Central 15
Devils Lake 21
GFC - Dylan LaMont 8 pass to Sam Strandell (Ross Wilber kick)
GFC - LaMont 6 run (Cyncere Haskins run)
DL - Ben Heilman 26 run
DL: Ben Heilman 26 pass to Drew Hofstad (Heilman run)
DL: Heilman 7 run (Gage Meyer kick)
RUSHING -- GFC: Jack Simmers 12-94, Dylan LaMont 9-19-1; DL: Ben Heilman 21-195-2, Reese Brown 15-46, Sam Enget 4-1, Beau Brodina 1-2
PASSING -- GFC: Dylan LaMont 10-26-1-1 124 yards; DL: Ben Heilman 11-23-1-1 100 yards
RECEIVING -- GFC: Sam Strandell 7-95-1, Christian Litzinger 2-26, Tristian Raymond 1-3; DL: Drew Hofstad 6-93-1, Caleb Schneider 1-10, Aiden Bryce Volk 1-1