Wells County one win from Grand ForksThe Wells County 9-man football team continued to impress with its 27-8 victory over St. John during the state quarterfinals in Fessenden last Saturday. Playing their final season before being dissolved into a co-op with Harvey, the Bears are now just one win away from a bus ride to Grand Forks to compete in the state title game, which would be a storybook ending to the current team’s legacy that dates back to 1987.
By: Michael Savaloja, The Jamestown Sun
The Wells County 9-man football team continued to impress with its 27-8 victory over St. John during the state quarterfinals in Fessenden last Saturday.
Playing their final season before being dissolved into a co-op with Harvey, the Bears are now just one win away from a bus ride to Grand Forks to compete in the state title game, which would be a storybook ending to the current team’s legacy that dates back to 1987.
The Bears (9-1) have never advanced to the state semifinals, where they now find themselves after last week’s victory, and they will face Mott-Regent (9-1), the 2007 state champions, in Fessenden this Saturday at 2 p.m.
“No. 1, we’re going to have to defend well and not let them get to the perimeter. They have two backs that are extremely fast,” coach Jon Bertsch said. “Their tight ends are also talented and they have a good flanker, so our pass defense is going to have to stay sharp.”
Defense was key in the Bears’ quarterfinal victory over St. John. Wells County led 20-0 in the fourth quarter, before allowing a St. John touchdown in the final frame.
“Defensively we played really well. My assistant coach Warren Strand handles the defense and I have to give him a lot of credit,” Bertsch said. “We changed some things up against their option and the kids really bought into it. They were really assignment sharp.”
The Bears and the Wildfire have put up almost identical numbers in points scored and points allowed this season. The Bears have scored at a clip of 42.7 points per game, allowing 13.7 points to the opposition, while the Wildfire have scored 44.5 points per contest and are allowing just 15.4 points to opposing teams.
Offensively, the Bears are averaging 326.5 yards of total offense in 2010, while the Wildfire are averaging 326.6. But the big difference is in the way the two teams have accumulated those numbers.
The Wildfire have averaged 159.2 passing yards per game, to just 35.6 yards through the air by the Bears. Wells County relies mostly on its running game, churning out 290.9 yards per contest.
Carrying a bulk of that load for Wells County has been senior running back Travis Flick, who suffered a torn ACL in the Bears’ 28-26 playoff win over Divide County two weeks ago. Flick, who wore a knee brace and scored Wells County’s first touchdown against St. John last week, has rung up 1,908 rushing yards and 34 touchdowns on 178 carries this season.
Flick, and his averages of 190.8 yards per game and 10.72 yards per carry, is planning on suiting up again against Mott-Regent.
“He’s going to play on Saturday. He played about 12 plays against St. John,” Bertsch said. “He’s got a brace and he’s planning on having surgery when the season is over. He can really move straight forward, and if we can break him out he’s still tough to catch.”
A guy who’s definitely tough to catch for Mott-Regent is senior running back Ethan Keller. Keller came into the season with 2,250 career rushing yards and 29 touchdowns, and has totaled an additional 1,219 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns this season.
The Wildfire’s junior quarterback McCahen Schweitzer has completed 97 of 151 pass attempts for 1,392 yards and 19 scores, hooking up most frequently with junior receiver Chad Mosbrucker and tight end Tanner Vesledahl. Mosbrucker has hauled in 39 catches for 571 yards and nine scores in 2010, while Vesledahl has 20 catches for 443 yards and eight touchdowns.
But the Bears do have a few things going for them.
No. 1: Wells County retained home-field advantage this week — as the Wildfire are the No. 2 seed out of Region 6 and the Bears are the Region 4 champs.
No. 2: The team the Bears just defeated, St. John, defeated the only team to take down the Wildfire this season (Richardton-Taylor-Hebron, the Region 6 champs) 36-30 in the second round of the playoffs.
No. 3: The Bears have dominated opponents all season long at the line of scrimmage.
“That’s going to be huge. Our guys up front,” Bertsch said. “Our defensive ends have a big assignment this week. They have to cap the ends and make sure they turn it up. We can’t let them get to the perimeter. That’s going to be huge for us.”
It doesn’t show up in the boxscore, but the play of senior linemen Michael Kiefat, Zach Johnson, Alex Vanness, Chris Hoff and Kyle Hart have made the difference for the Bears all season.
“Offensively, we’ll have to control the line of scrimmage up front,” Bertsch said. “They are fairly quick. Hopefully, we can get out and lay a body on them and create some running lanes for our guys, too.”
What the 13-year head coach (84-42) has done with the final team to wear the Bears’ colors this season is nothing short of heroic. With just 15 kids suited to play this week, Bertsch could normally be found lining up at quarterback with assistant coach Strand assuming running back duties on the scout team offense during practices because the team doesn’t have enough players to practice 9-on-9.
But the team’s small size has resulted into a tightly-knit bond between the athletes.
“I’ve coached a lot of teams and one of the things about these kids is that they are a pretty united bunch,” Bertsch said. “When you talk about a team, they are a team, on and off the field. It’s really been a fun bunch to work with.”
One more win, and the Bears will have a chance at closing out their school’s legacy at the top of the hill.
“We’d like to play one more week. We’d like to finish it off indoors and if we do, wonderful,” Bertsch said. “This is our last year, it’s a year to remember and we’re excited about it. If it ends Saturday and we can look back and say we did the best we could on that particular day, we can walk away.”