After hitting a field goal with five seconds remaining in the game and defeating Fargo South, Grand Forks Red River goes into its midseason matchup against Fargo North on Friday night with two victories in its first four games. It is still early, but the Roughriders have shown signs of competitiveness since switching to Class A in the Eastern Dakota Conference this season.
Thus far, Red River has depended on its rushing attack and a methodical offense. Attempting to outlast the opposing defense, its victory against the Bruins shows the Riders are capable of letting their offense act as a quality defense.
“It was said by Jon Lizotte back in 2011, ‘Our best defense is when our offense is on the field.’ At the time I don’t know if I really agreed with that but as I’ve gotten older and wiser I’ve thought about that and that is a really good assessment of any football team and it is working for us right now," said Red River coach Vyrn Muir. “If we can stay on the field longer on offense than we have to for our defense then that’s good for our team.”
The style fits the personnel as well. Senior back Garrin Sattler and junior Logan Okstad have carried the Red River stat line with Sattler picking up 369 yards and two touchdowns this season, pacing him with the best in the conference.
“We’ve had a 100-yard rusher three games in a row and we haven’t had that in quite some time. So that’s exciting that we’re able to do that and also complete 50% of our passes last week, which is the first time in at least a year that we were able to do that,” Muir said.
With a strong run game and a defense only giving up 65 points this year, the Roughriders are coming close to breaking even in score differential (-4) which is a major positive considering where the program has been the past few years.
After the realignment, there was hope of more competitive games. With its 2-2 record, Red River is hoping the confidence from these early contests is a sign of what is to come.
“We’ve felt for the first time, probably since I’ve been at Red River, that we can be competitive in every single game we play whereas in years past we’ve gotten one of the Bismarcks, or Minot or somebody on the schedule that is always going to be a big challenge,” Muir said. “It’s been a little more refreshing for our kids. Winning helps with everything, but we don’t have that bad taste in our mouths like we’ve had in the past.”
First stands a tall task in Fargo North. The Spartans just last week made easy work of Grand Forks Central, taking a 50-0 victory that was over in the first quarter.
They have shown the capability this year of balancing their offense and have really limited opposing points on the scoreboard against inferior teams. This could make the Red River clock-burning mantra a risky one.
“For us to have a chance against a team like North, a veteran team and has a lot of confidence right now, we have to perform at a high level. We’re going to have guys getting the opportunity to play due to some illness, but they’re going to have to go out and perform at a high level for us,” Muir said.
However, when evaluating this year’s squad game by game, Muir has seen they can win games when the effort level is adequate.
“Of the first four games that we’ve had I’ve only felt like there is one game that we played at a high level for the entire game and that was against Central. We’ve come close to that, like our Devils Lake game and against South,” said Muir. “I think our kids are starting to understand that we have to perform at a certain level within ourselves and after that, it comes down to whether the other teams’ guys are better than us. As long as we have prepared as best as we could, the scoreboard will work itself out.”
In other Greater Grand Forks games Friday, Central will host Devils Lake
The Roughriders will be in Fargo for their game against the Spartans Friday. Kick-off is scheduled for 6 p.m. Back at Cushman Field, Grand Forks Central will face Devils Lake at 7 p.m., East Grand Forks Senior High travels to Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton and Polk County West will play at Bagley.