Cards look to bounce back from tough yearAn overall record of 4-6 doesn’t exactly look pretty on paper. That was the mark the Carrington Cardinals ended up with after transitioning from the East Region to the West in North Dakota Class AA 11-man high school football last season.
By: Michael Savaloja, The Jamestown Sun
An overall record of 4-6 doesn’t exactly look pretty on paper.
That was the mark the Carrington Cardinals ended up with after transitioning from the East Region to the West in North Dakota Class AA 11-man high school football last season.
But looks can be deceiving.
In the team’s five regular season losses from a year ago — to the likes of Fargo Oak Grove, Valley City, Dickinson Trinity, Minot Ryan and Devils Lake — the Cardinals fell by an average of just 7.2 points per contest.
One less turnover here, a few extra yards there, and all of a sudden last year’s mark of 4-6 could have easily been transformed into 7-3 or 8-2. A mark that then catches the eye of football followers and opponents alike.
“We were awful close all year long last year defensively,” Carrington head coach Marty Hochhalter said, “but on offense we couldn’t seem to find a way to get the ball into the endzone.”
Case in point. Carrington held Devils Lake, who advanced all the way to last year’s state AA championship game and finished the season with a mark of 10-2, to just six points in the team’s final regular-season game of the year. The Cardinals lost on their home turf 6-0.
Carrington did make the playoffs, but bowed out early to eventual state champion Fargo Shanley 32-6 in the opening round. It took a failed PAT attempt in overtime by Devils Lake, however, for the Deacons to be crowned state champs by the final of 31-30.
The Cardinals allowed just 12.3 points per game to opponents during the regular season, while averaging just 16.7 points per game offensively. A 59-6 win over Turtle Mountain skews those numbers.
But the point is, with a total of 10 seniors and 20 letterwinners returning back to the gridiron for the Cards this season, there shouldn’t be a single team in Class AA football overlooking Carrington this fall.
“We’re battle tested this year,” Hochhalter said, “and hopefully the experience of those games will help us keep games close and we’ll be able to get those extra yards and first downs that can make the difference.”
Carrington passed its first test of the season last Friday night in Fargo. The Cardinals outplayed the East Region Fargo Oak Grove-Park Christian Grovers — a team they lost to last season 7-0 — in every facet of the game, dominating the Grovers 38-0.
Carrington racked up 286 yards of offense on the ground, while limiting Oak Grove to just 71 yards of total offense and forcing a pair of turnovers.
“That’s what we were hoping for, to get off to a good start,” Hochhalter said. “We said right away it was important in that first series to have the defense get a three-and-out. That’s what the defense did, and once things got going it snowballed in our favor.”
Senior running back Jordan Mittleider had a big-time game for the Cards, collecting 200 of the team’s 286 rushing yards on 12 carries and scoring three touchdowns. The Cards led 26-0 at the half.
“The big part of it is our experience in the backfield, and also our linebacker corp,” Hochhalter said. “On both sides of the ball we have key returners back.”
Back to lead the team defensively is first-team all-state senior linebacker Kyle Bahm. Bahm posted 107 tackles and five sacks last season.
“Kyle is a definite plus. He gets in the right position and understands the game really well,” Hochhalter said. “That’s why we feel comfortable on defense. Everyone rallies around a guy like that.”
All-region senior lineman Chase Monson (220 pounds) is also back, who will help lead a solid line in springing Mittleider, and senior running back Jordan Skytland, to more yards throughout the season, rest assured.
Skytland rushed for 33 yards and a touchdown against the Grovers.
“Our game-plan going in was we wanted to run the ball, and once we got up and got the momentum rolling we stayed with what worked,” Hochhalter said.
Senior quarterback Brandon Gussiaas started under center last Friday for Carrington, but was only asked to throw three passes. One of those passes was a 12-yard touchdown strike to junior Scott Engelhorn.
“We feel pretty fortunate (at quarterback). We’ve got some depth there,” Hochhalter said. “We went in with Brandon getting the start and we plan to keep evaluating from there. Brandon drove us down the field on our first drive and we scored. That’s what we asked of him.”
Next up for Carrington is Valley City, a team the Cardinals fell to by just 12 points a year ago. The Hi-Liner’s (0-1) will be traveling to Carrington on Friday.
“We want to keep momentum on our side. Valley City will be a tough test for us,” Hochhalter said. “Hopefully we’ll be ready for that type of game.”
The 17-year coaching veteran said the Cardinals won’t be planning to stray too far away from what has kept them in games dating back to last season.
“We hang our hat on our defense. We want to get our defense out on the field right away, maybe get a three-and-out and hopefully our offense will follow,” Hochhalter said. “We’ve got to control the ball and get our running game going from the get-go. Last year, key turnovers hurt us.
“That was last year. If we take care of the football and control the turnover battle, good things will happen.”
Sun sports writer Michael Savaloja can be reached at (701) 952-8461 or by email at email@example.com