Playoff pushThe New Rockford-Sheyenne 9-man football team got what it wanted this weekend, but it’s like a kid on Christmas Day.
By: Michael Savaloja, The Jamestown Sun
The New Rockford-Sheyenne 9-man football team got what it wanted this weekend, but it’s like a kid on Christmas Day.
Will the toy look as good in the living room as it did on the shelf?
The No. 2-ranked Rockets (8-0) will find out at 1 p.m. on Saturday in New Rockford, when they host LaMoure-Litchville-Marion (7-2) in the opening round of the state 9-man playoffs.
“It’s going to be a battle. From what we’ve seen on tape they are a very solid team with a lot of athletes and playmakers at different positions,” Rockets coach Elliott Belquist said. “We’re going to have to play a good game to hang with them. It should be fun.”
It’ll mark the first home playoff game the Rockets have earned in eight years, and that’s certainly a sight for sore eyes for the home team. The Rockets have been ousted in the first round of the playoffs by a No. 1 seed on the road in each of the past three seasons after qualifying as a No. 4 seed.
The kicker there is in all three of those loses the Rockets fell to the eventual state champion, most recently to Napoleon-Gackle-Streeter in Napoleon last fall.
But that was then, and the shoe has finally dropped for New Rockford-Sheyenne.
The team compiled a record of 14-14 under Belquist the previous three seasons, with its best mark of 6-4 coming a year ago. Coming into the season Belquist said he saw his team finishing the regular season in Region 2 as high as third or fourth, or as low as sixth or seventh, but the team ran the table to snatch the Region 2 crown with a perfect 8-0 campaign.
“I never really looked into the season saying we could do this. You always think you can, but you know there are going to be tough teams along the way,” Belquist said, who is 22-14 as Rockets head coach. “Cavalier and Lakota (Adams-Edmore), we knew those games were going to be the toughest of the year, and we knew they could go either way. It just came down to a few little things that each and every football game comes down to.”
The Rockets defeated Lakota-Adams-Edmore 38-32 in double overtime on Sept. 7 in Lakota, and took down Cavalier 48-42 in overtime the very next week in New Rockford.
“I never looked ahead and saw us being 8-0,” Belquist said. “But I thought we probably could. We have the players and got some luck along the way.”
The coach is hoping that the big game experience they acquired by facing the likes of the Raiders and the Tornadoes has prepared them for the Loboes this weekend.
LaMoure-L-M’s season has really been a tale of two seasons. After finishing last year at 7-3 and also falling in the first round of the state playoffs to North Border, the Loboes’ 2012 campaign got off to a shaky start.
The team eked out an 8-6 victory against Strasburg-Zeeland, which finished near the bottom of the Region 1 standings at 1-7, and then the team fell in back-to-back games at Napoleon (34-20) and at home against South Border (28-20).
But since that time the Loboes have been as hot as any team in the state. The Loboes have rifled off six straight victories to finish fourth in the region standings at 7-2.
One of those victories was a 26-14 home win over a stout Wyndmere-Lidgerwood squad (8-1), which finished atop the Region 1 standings with its only loss coming at the hands of the Loboes. The Warbirds took down Napoleon-G-S 30-6 and South Border 30-14.
“I think it was a lot of factors that played into it. To start it was kind of a comfort thing, to figure out what was conducive to our abilities and the players we had,” LaMoure-L-M coach Andy DelaBarre said. “It took a little bit of trial and error the first couple of games. The big turning point in the season was getting Logan Shockman back.”
Shockman, a senior lineman whose presence is felt on the field, missed the first five games of the season due to an ACL injury. He returned in Week 6 to help the Loboes take down Hankinson 28-0.
“Logan’s a dynamic player and brings a lot to the table, whether he’s on the defensive line or the offensive line,” DelaBarre said. “It’s between that and just growing together as a team. Last year’s team had a lot of seniors that were big contributors, and our seniors at the middle of the year started to figure out that they could do things. I have to give a lot of credit to our senior class for taking that leadership role and pushing on our team to play its best.”
Belquist and the Rockets may not know exactly the ins and outs of the opponent they’re facing this weekend, but they do know the brand of football the Loboes will be bringing with them.
“This year (the Loboes) probably should have been the No. 1 seed, but we’re throwing the seed thing aside. We’re just looking at them as a great team,” Belquist said. “We just have to prepare and find where we think we can attack them and how we’re going to stop them, just like they were the best team in the state.
“That’s the approach we’re taking this week. No. 1 seed, No. 4 seed, it doesn’t matter. Anyone can beat anyone.”
The Rockets have had plenty of offensive fireworks this season, scoring an average of 49.8 points per night while allowing an average of just 20.3 points to opponents. Junior Ethan Haley has been a jack of all trades this season, rushing for 1,094 yards and 14 touchdowns on 90 carries, while also hauling in nine passes for 216 yards and score.
But he’s also the main man under center, passing for 377 yards, nine TDs and an interception on 21 of 29 pass attempts.
Senior running back Alex Perleberg has carried the ball 108 times for 892 yards and 17 scores, while senior Chance LaBrie has hauled in 14 catches for 245 yards and 6 scores. But the Rockets also have senior Josh Edmonson who has rushed for 382 yards and 9 TDs on 43 carries, while also catching 7 passes for 114 yards and 2 scores.
Edmonson is also a leader on defense, where the all-state performer has 81 total tackles.
“Looking at their team as a whole, they are well-coached for one, and they have quite a few athletes that bring threats on both offense and defense,” DelaBarre said. “They have players you have to be aware of when they’re on the field, whether they have the ball or not.
“We need to stay technically sound and stick to our responsibilities,” DelaBarre added. “Both teams have to take care of the football, keep getting first downs and when the time to make a play is there, our kids will have to take their role and make the big play when their number is called.”
The Rockets will be looking to contain LaMoure junior all-state running back Brady Thielges and sophomore running back Anthony Olson, who both are scoring threats. The Loboes also have a formidable option at quarterback in the likes of senior Jared Meiklejohn.
“Thielges is a good runner. We’re going to have to wrap up, gang tackle and contain him,” Belquist said. “They’ve got some nice skill guys and a couple of big guys up front.
“Offensively we need to find what works. I told the kids the other day that I don’t care who gets the touches … whatever we find that works we have to utilize,” Belquist continued. “Nobody can be selfish here. We have to play with what works and what they give us.”
But maybe hosting a playoff game for once is what the Rockets need to finally get over the hump.
“It feels good not to jump on the bus and drive two or three hours,” Belquist said. “We’ve got a good fan base … and they like to get into it. It’s nice to give them something back.”
Sun sports writer Michael Savaloja can be reached at (701) 952-8461 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org