Area games to watch: Firebirds' small backs putting up big numbers
On occasion this season, Jay Schneider has lost sight of his running backs from the sideline during a game. "When they get into traffic, amongst the trees on the line, they're hard to see," said Schneider, the Devils Lake High School football coach.
On occasion this season, Jay Schneider has lost sight of his running backs from the sideline during a game.
"When they get into traffic, amongst the trees on the line, they're hard to see," said Schneider, the Devils Lake High School football coach.
They may be small in stature, but 5-foot-8 senior running backs Kole Jenson and Sam Desai have packed a big punch for the unbeaten Firebirds. Devils Lake takes a 4-0 record to Dickinson Trinity on Friday in a matchup of two of the top teams in North Dakota's Class AA West Region.
"Once in awhile, we'll talk about how short we are," Jenson said. "But it really doesn't matter to us. You just run hard and stay low."
Jenson paces the Firebirds' ground game, rushing 77 times for 561 yards and eight touchdowns. Desai has gained 219 yards on 34 carries.Getting lost is easy running behind the "trees" -- Devils Lake's big interior offense line consisting of guards Tanner Paine (5-11, 226) and Lawrence Hegland (5-9, 226), tackles Connor Swiontek (6-0, 280) and Jacob Lagasse (6-0, 210) and center John Traynor (6-2, 263).
Jenson said being 5-8 can be an advantage running behind that group of big blockers. "The linemen are so big, I can just hide behind them on their blocks, find a hole and go. It might be harder for defenses to find us.
"We've always had a good running team. Our line likes blocking for us; we like running behind them."
While Jenson and Desai are similar in size, their running styles vary.
The 165-pound Desai plays fullback and is a power back. The 155-pound Jenson -- a qualifier for the state track meet in the 100 last spring -- is the speedster and big-play threat.
"Sam is more of a grinder type," Schneider said. "He runs like a fullback. He hits hard and tries to run people over. And he does an excellent job of blocking. Kole is more of a dasher, a scatback. He has good lateral movement and can make tacklers miss him. If he gets into the open field, he's tough to catch.
"They're shorter and lighter than the average running backs we've had here. But they play hard. They run hard. They're a big part of our game."
Trinity is 2-2, with the two setbacks by a combined total of just 15 points. The Titans have reached the 30-point mark in each of their last two games. Quarterback Ben Gordon is a throwing threat, while Mason Grimes leads a balanced running attack.
"It's a long trip and it's always a tough place to play," Schneider said. And Trinity is always a very good, well-coached program. They do a good job in their passing game."
In other area games to watch in the upcoming week:
- Mahnomen at Fosston, Friday: First place in Section 8A is on the line, as the lone remaining unbeatens - both at 3-0 - meet. The game matches two explosive option offenses, as both teams have scored 30 or more points in every game.
- Clearbrook-Gonvick at Goodridge-Grygla, Friday: Both teams are 3-0, but with different styles. Goodridge-Grygla has been a big-play offense, scoring 38 or more points in every game. Clearbrook-Gonvick's strength has been a defense that has allowed 27 points, and no more than 15 in a game.
- Hillsboro at Thompson, Tuesday: These teams enter the week as co-leaders in North Dakota District 3. The game also features two of the district's top players in Whitney Sponsler of the Tommies and Mikkaela Toenies of the Burros.
- Fosston at Win-E-Mac, Tuesday: The Greyhounds have one of Section 8A's top all-around players in Alyssa Schmidt. They'll try to slow down the big-hitting lineup of the Patriots.
- Grafton Invitational, Saturday: Some of the best teams in northeast North Dakota are in the 20-team field. Nine of those teams were region qualifiers a year ago, led by Park River/Fordville-Lankin (defending region 2 champion), Langdon (Region 4 runner-up), Rolla-Rock Lake (third, Region 4) and Hatton-Northwood (third, region 2), as well as perennial power Thompson.
DeVillers reports on sports. Reach him at (701) 780-1128; (800) 477-6572, ext. 128; or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org .