Ethan Boll has a big debut, and Coach Butt sees some other bright spots to build on.

The Crookston Pirate football team Thursday evening opened its 2019 campaign against perhaps its biggest rival, the East Grand Forks Green Wave, and came up short 27-19. But Head Coach Scott Butt said he saw some bright spots that the team can build on going forward.

The most encouraging sign and maybe the biggest surprise had to be the debut of tailback Ethan Boll, who didn’t even start the game in the Crookston backfield. The freshman turned 25 carries into 193 yards. “Ethan played a really good game and he ran really hard and did a good job of following his blockers,” Butt said. He credited the offensive line for opening up lanes for Boll, who’s biggest run of the night was a 67-yard scamper in the third quarter, and he capped off the drive with a two-yard touchdown run that brought the Pirates to within one at 20-19. (They were not able to convert the extra point, which would have tied the game.)

The Pirates, with 216 yards on the ground in the game, almost doubled the Green Wave’s rushing yardage, but it was through the air that East Side did most of its damage. Quarteback Sam Votava accounted for four touchdowns in the contest, three through the air, and his favorite target was  Nathan Willet, who caught four passes for 87 yards, two of them for scores. Willet, who stands 6’6”, was simply too much to deal with at times, Butt said. 

“They made a couple of big plays to (Willet),” Butt said. “We were in good position; we just had the play go their way.” At times, Willet was covered by Pirate defensive backs who were around a foot shorter than him.

Senior Leyton Salentine, at quarterback for the Pirates, completed 5 of 9 passes for 46 yards. His favorite target was fellow senior Joe Doda, who hauled in three passes for 32 yards.

Butt said he thought Salentine made a lot of good decisions at quarterback, and that Doda did some good things on both sides of the ball. The head coach also mentioned the strong play by sophomore Jacob Hesby on defense. “He was aggressive and made plays,” Butt said, adding that the Pirate defense was strong against the run, and even though they gave up some big plays in the passing game, they were solid in pass defense, too.

“We had a lot of kids step up and play well,” Butt said.

Moving forward, Butt said the offensive line needs to work on its blitz pickups, and that the defensive line needs to put the clamps down when they’re closing in on the quarterback. “I think we need to get better at tackling,” he said. “We had the quarterback slip out a couple times when it looked like we were going to sack him.”

The 0-1 Pirates will travel to Pillager, also 0-1, on Friday, Sept. 6 at 7 p.m.

“We will come back next week in practice and continue to work and get better,” Butt said.