MCVILLE – Although it was only the first game for both teams, the Nelson County Chargers (1-0, 0-0) and New Rockford-Sheyenne Rockets (0-1, 0-0) had much to prove during their season-opening contest.
The “Friday Night Lights” indeed established a vibrant tone. Each team wanted to make it count and start 2022 off on solid footing. What football team wouldn’t?
However, the most significant proving point for each team Friday evening revolved around player personnel. In particular, what players would take over the reins from others that have since graduated. And while not every question was answered in this category, some key tidbits raised an eyebrow or two. Or, in Zachary Gibson’s case, four, as Nelson County’s junior running back/wide receiver nabbed four touchdowns and an interception in Nelson County’s 36-22 home victory over the Rockets on Aug. 19 in McVille.
But let’s not get into game specifics here when we can delve into them more below. Here are three takeaways from the pair’s opening matchup:
1. Nelson County’s offense = still formidable
Any heir apparent(s) to the point-scoring throne for the Chargers have their collective plates full. After the Cade Stein-Garrett Haakenson QB/RB duo graduated from the high school ranks (the pair combined for 20 passing and 12 rushing touchdowns last year, respectively), it was now up to the new junior tandem in Jaxon Baumgarn and Gibson to step up
And step up, the duo did. After the Rockets blanked the Chargers through the first quarter, 8-0, the latter outscored the former in the second quarter, 22-0, and never looked back after the fact. Gibson finished the game with four touchdowns (three receiving, one rushing), while Baumgarn finished with four also (three passing, one rushing).
“Well, I was hurt last year,” Gibson said after the game. “I had big shoes to fill. Garrett [Haakenson] what an all-state player. [I] love that guy, and I had big shoes to fill, and I think I filled that tonight.”
“Different guys stepping up in different roles in different positions and making plays,” Nelson County head coach Beau Snyder said after the game. “It wasn’t pretty in everything we did tonight, but I think we came together as one unit and found a way to make it happen. A lot of guys did a lot of different things for us out there. Zach [Gibson] had a heck of a game, and we just have to keep moving forward and building off of this.”
Whether from a 76-yard dime or a 15-yard run up the middle, Nelson County had it working just en on the offensive end. And if the first game is any indicator of what is to come, Nelson County business will still boom, even without Stein and Haakenson.
“Big players have to make big plays, and I am one of those big players,” Gibson said.
2. Defense: shopping at the GAP…albeit sparingly
Through the early going, each team closed down the short-gain plays, only to allow a 20+ yardage play in a late-down situation. Such was the theme from start to finish.
However, Nelson County helped clog up the rushing and passing lanes a bit more over the final stretch. Gibson capped off the night with a game-icing interception off New Rockford-Sheyenne quarterback Bennett Meier.
“Defensively, there were times where we filled our gaps, and we were in the right spot, and then there were other times where we were out of position,” Snyder said. “So, just getting our scheme down a little bit better, making sure everybody understands where they’re supposed to be, who they got [and] what gaps they have to cover.”
3. It’s early
Now, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. It’s only late August. Only one contest has been played. But in the case of the Rockets, the result was an early indicator of what needs to be emphasized moving forward.
“We’re a young team,” New Rockford-Sheyenne head coach Elliott Belquist said after the game. “We’re not going to use that a lot this year. We’re not going to use that as an excuse, but we need our young guys…we need to find those leaders out there, and right now, we’re lacking that leadership role. It’s just going to take some time, I think, with some of these sophomores and, shoot, even freshmen to step up and be a leader. Juniors need to step up and be a leader.”
The Chargers, meanwhile, hold a similar mindset.
After all, this mindset helped them net an undefeated regular season campaign last year. Growing pains might arise, but the message remains the same.
“One game at a time,” Snyder said.
John Crane is a sports/general assignment reporter for the Devils Lake Journal. Feel free to contact John via work phone (701-922-1372), cell phone (701-230-4339), email ([email protected]) or Twitter (@johncranesports) with any story ideas.