Ellendale emerges as Region 1 threatThe Ellendale Cardinals were on the outside looking in during most of the 2009 North Dakota high school 9-man football season. As Napoleon-Gackle-Streeter, South Border and Kidder County locked horns in what proved to be an exciting three-horse race for the Region 1 title, Ellendale faded into the background.
By: Michael Savaloja, The Jamestown Sun
The Ellendale Cardinals were on the outside looking in during most of the 2009 North Dakota high school 9-man football season.
As Napoleon-Gackle-Streeter, South Border and Kidder County locked horns in what proved to be an exciting three-horse race for the Region 1 title, Ellendale faded into the background.
But with a new season comes new surprises, and Ellendale’s 38-32 victory over South Border to open Region 1 play for both teams last Friday night in Ellendale was quite the eye-opener.
“Our boys played well,” Ellendale coach Rick Hack said. “We bent, but we didn’t break type of thing.”
Bending and not breaking had to have been a huge relief for Ellendale’s coach of 21 years, after watching the Cards allow a staggering 41.2 points per game to opposing offenses in 10 games played last year. The Cardinals finished the ’09 season in the first round of the state playoffs and an overall mark of 3-7, and had lost to all three of the region’s top teams being outscored 139-26 in those games.
The South Border Mustangs pounded the Cardinals 44-0 in the third game of the Cardinals’ season last year, but a 20-16 victory at the end of the regular season by Napoleon-G-S (7-2) over the Mustangs (8-3) handed the Imperials their fifth straight regional title.
The Mustangs, Imperials and the Kidder County Pirates (7-3) were assumed by most to take control of the top three spots of the region again this season, but Ellendale’s big win over the Mustangs last week certainly brings those predictions into question.
South Border boasts 11 returning starters, six on the offensive side of the football, and dominated the Richland Colts 58-18 to open the season back on Aug. 28. Ellendale, too, has brought back some offensive firepower, but losses to Sargent Central (24-22) and Leola-Frederick, S.D. (64-14) to start the year pointed to Ellendale possibly suffering through another mediocre football season.
That may have all changed for the Cards last Friday night.
“We go into every season thinking we are going to do some pretty good things,” Hack said. “Our goals are to get into the playoffs and make some noise in the playoffs. That’s a given any year to us.
“Our goals are pretty simple. We want to try our best every Friday night at let the chips fall where they may. If we do our job we should be very competitive this year.”
Impressive for the Cards against the Mustangs — surprisingly, in 9-man football — was the passing game. Senior quarterback Donovon Flaherty not only ran for a 47-yard first quarter touchdown, but he tossed for a total of four touchdown passes accounting for 107 yards during the game.
Flaherty’s main target was all-region senior receiver Tanner White. White, who’s evolved into a solid all-around athlete for Ellendale after helping lead the Cardinal basketball team (14-9) to last year’s Region 3 boys’ basketball tournament as a point guard, hauled in three of Flaherty’s four TD passes.
The biggest one was the last one, when Flaherty found White’s number for a 44-yard pitch and catch that went to the house with 7:01 to play in the fourth, breaking up a 32-32 tie and giving the Cards the win.
Ellendale led by as many as 16 points in the ball game — twice — but South Border simply wouldn’t roll over. Another stat of note for the Cards in the game was converting four of five two-point conversion attempts.
“We were able to take advantage of some throwing situations. Tanner and Donovan are two seniors that bring a lot of experience for us and it definitely helped,” Hack said. “But it all starts on the offensive line. They gave us some time to throw the ball. Things clicked for us and we took advantage of it.”
But just because Ellendale found success through the air against the Mustangs, doesn’t mean this year’s offense will turn one dimensional as the season rolls one.
“We’re probably no different than any other team. We want to try to find a nice balance every Friday night,” Hack said. “You have to adjust. Last Friday we had to pass a little bit, next Friday we might have to try and run a little more. We have to try to stay as balanced as we possibly can.”
Also reeling in a touchdown grab from Flaherty against the Mustangs was senior receiver Kris Lauder, whose 52-yard scoring strike in the second quarter propelled the Cardinals to a 24-8 lead at the half.
“We respect South Border. Coach (Jason) Klusmann has done some very good things there,” Hack said. “Not many guys gave us a chance, except the guys on the team, but we’ve kind of put it behind us now and our focus is on Hankinson.”
The Hankinson-Fairmount-Campbell-Tintah Pirates, the 2009 state 9-man football champions, will be in Ellendale to face the Cardinals tonight. The Region 2 Pirates have won a game and lost a game so far this year, falling to Wyndmere-Lidgerwood by a wide margin of 47-6 last weekend.
The Pirates lost a host of seniors off of last year’s state championship team, but Hack said the Cardinals (1-2, 1-0 Region 1) will still need to be on top of their game to earn a victory this evening.
“They are still the defending champs until someone beats them. We still need to be prepared to play four quarters of football against them,” Hack said. “Coach (Jason) Monilaws over in Hankinson is going to have his team prepared for us over there, I’m sure. We’ll need to play as hard as we can, control the things we can control, block and tackle.”
Sun sports writer Michael Savaloja can be reached at (701) 952-8461 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org