Bill Nelson was in a position last Saturday in which no high school football coach would be envious.
Grappling with what could be considered as mild COVID-19 symptoms at his home, Nelson was going back and forth between a radio broadcast and an internet live stream of his Jamestown High School Blue Jays battling at Mandan with Class AAA football playoff seeding on the line. Playing without both its head coach and an injured starting quarterback in senior Ty Monson, Jamestown lost 38-7.
"Your hands are so completely tied," Nelson said. "You can't cheer anybody on; you can't pat anyone on the back; you can't give anyone a rah-rah. You can see such a small portion of the game and the feel of how things are going.
"It was really, really difficult but you've gotta find the positives out of it."
Positive No. 1: Jamestown will be playing in just its seventh Class AAA quarterfinal playoff game since 1994 on Friday at West Fargo Sheyenne. The Eastern Dakota Conference champion Mustangs are ranked No. 2 in the state and are unbeaten at 7-0, but after losing three in a row the Blue Jays (4-3) are still kicking thanks to an impressive 4-0 start -- it's first such start in 20 years.
Positive No. 2: Nelson appears as if he's gonna be OK.
Nelson said after a few days of feeling off he was administered a rapid COVID-19 test last Wednesday (Oct. 21) when noticing he'd lost his sense of smell, the same day Jamestown was supposed to finish the regular season against Mandan. The test came back positive, the game was moved to Saturday, and after the team self-monitored and the school district investigated close contacts, the game went on as planned with Nelson at home.
The coach said he hasn't had a fever and can be allowed to coach Friday's game if he is symptom-free Thursday, which Nelson said will be at least 10 days removed from first showing symptoms of the virus.
"I've been pretty blessed," Nelson said. "Every situation is different. My symptoms haven't been nearly as crazy as some of the others are, but it's not to say that it can't change from day-to-day. There's a much bigger picture to things and football's a small part of it."
Nelson said he's fielded what's felt like thousands of calls from both folks wishing him well and from assistant coaches and players in the thick of playoff football. He said JHS assistant coaches Phil Kroeber, Shawn Frank, Tom Maus, Marty Hochhalter, Tyler Schrenk, Matt Stockert, Ryan Williams and Jared Schwanz have made a rough situation navigable.
"You've got good guys and good coaches who are going to handle things ... and I'm taking care of what I can take care of (from home)," Nelson said. "I sent them all a couple messages (Monday) and we'll continue on as the week goes. If all goes well, Thursday's my last day of quarantine and Friday I'll get to be back in school and back on the sideline, which I'm hoping and praying for."
In other positive news, Nelson said it's possible Monson will be back under center for the Jays after suffering a hip injury in Jamestown's Oct. 15 loss hosting Bismarck High, and added junior receiver/cornerback Adam Kallenbach could be back after missing time with a broken collarbone.
Monson has passed for 1,243 yards and 12 touchdowns in six games in an offense that could be bolstered by Kallenbach's return. Kallenbach has three carries and six receptions for 113 total yards to go along with nine solo tackles in limited time.
"It obviously adds a lot, but you talk about the next-man-up mentality," Nelson said. "Everybody has to step up and do their job, but we're hoping that we're back and full-steam on Friday and we'll lace them up and give it our best shot."
The Mustangs have averaged 37.7 points per game this season while allowing a meager 11.7 points on average to the opposition. Senior running back Barika Kpeenu has carried the ball 113 times for 919 yards and 11 scores, while junior quarterback Grant Warkenthien has passed for 632 yards and 12 scores.
Warkenthien tossed four touchdown passes in last week's 46-7 victory over Grand Forks Central. Friday's game in West Fargo is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m.
"They've got a lot of athletes," Nelson said. "It just goes back to us having to put four full quarters together and let the chips fall where they may."
The Blue Jays allowed six sacks of sophomore backup quarterback Payton Hochhalter last week at Mandan and were only able to scratch out 97 total yards of offense, according to stats kept by The Bismarck Tribune.
But Nelson isn't about to dwell on last week, which included his own living room and fuzzy reception.
"It's one of those things where we get to play again," Nelson said. "We're one of eight teams left. We had the opportunity to better our seeding, we didn't do that but we're still playing."
Jamestown is attempting to snap a streak of 0-6 in the Class AAA quarterfinals dating back 26 years.
"You're facing a very good West Fargo Sheyenne team and it's like how it's been over the past three games. Our window of error is very, very small," Nelson said. "I still believe we've got a pretty darn good football team, but we've just gotta use a little momentum and when you start making positive plays, build on them."
Mandan 38, Jamestown 7
Jamestown 0 0 0 7 -- 7
Mandan 10 14 7 7 -- 38
Mandan: James Barnhardt 1 yard run (Sarah Burgum kick), 10:31.
Mandan: Burgum 25 field goal, 5:44.
Mandan: Aaron Grubb 32 pass from Jayce Lowman (Burgum kick), 8:29.
Mandan: Lowman 8 run (Burgum kick), :11.
Mandan: Treys Tietz 4 pass from Lowman (Burgum kick), 1:56.
Mandan: Lowman 4 run (Burgum kick), 11:55.
Jamestown: Brode Hillstrom 36 pass from Payton Hochhalter (Reece Kleinknecht), 1:42.
Rushing: Jamestown -- Paris Ndikum 4-14, Jakob Schempp 3-5, Jacob Hilgemann 1-5, Payton Hochhalter 6-(-26). Mandan -- James Barnhardt 89-17, Dakota Sweeney 8-16, Garret Schaefbauer 6-14, Ben Kleinknecht 5-15, Jayce Lowman 4-25, Dylan Cline 3-2, Brenden Palmer 1-5.
Passing: Jamestown -- Hochhalter 8-18 99 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT. Mandan -- Lowman 14-21 173 yards, 2 TD.
Receiving: Jamestown -- Brode Hillstrom 1-36, Zackry Boeshans 1-24, Preston Kroeber 2-16, Hilgemann 2-12, Keith Levin 1-6, Schempp 1-5.
Interceptions: Mandan -- Tyler Thilmony.
Records: Mandan 4-3 West Region, 4-3 overall; Jamestown 3-3 West Region, 4-3 overall.