Fresh out of quarantine, Fertile-Beltrami rolls NCE/U-H, 32-6
FERTILE — The Fertile-Beltrami football team didn't get to enjoy its season-opening win for long.
The day after the Falcons beat Badger/Greenbush-Middle River 28-6 on Oct. 9, a Gator player tested positive for COVID-19. Coach Brian Nelson and his staff quickly went to the film, trying to identify who had come in close contact with the Gator. They identified four players — all linemen — who went into quarantine immediately.
With those four players out, Fertile-Beltrami's game at Blackduck on Oct. 16 had to be cancelled. Its Homecoming game against Norman County East/Ulen-Hitterdal, originally scheduled for Friday, was pushed back to Saturday to accommodate the two-week quarantine.
Those 14 days passed without incident, and the four linemen rejoined the team at 12:30 p.m. — just 2.5 hours before kickoff against the Titans. They had just enough time for a walk-through practice and to pick up on a couple new plays and defensive fronts.
Then the game started — and the Falcons looked nothing like a team that hadn't been fully together in two weeks.
Everett Balstad racked up 186 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns, Brandon Van Den Einde ran for 115 yards and a score of his own, and Fertile-Beltrami's defense held previously unbeaten NCE/U-H to just 51 yards of offense in a 32-6 win Saturday at Fertile Field.
"We played pretty well, considering what's been an interesting two weeks," Nelson said. "... It's a unique situation this year, and a lot of teams are gonna go through it. I don't think we're the only ones."
Ironically enough, it was the Falcons' linemen who were perhaps most key to their victory.
Fertile-Beltrami's coaches created a distance-practicing setup for the four players during their quarantine. They were given a workout to do each day and were sent regular film and scouting reports to go over while conditioning on their own. Still, there's no substitute for being out on the field as a unit.
The Falcons (2-0), though, had no problems moving a Titan defensive front that Nelson described as "solid" and physical. They set the tone with a 63-yard march to the end zone on their opening drive — 59 of those yards, including Van Den Einde's 5-yard score, coming on the ground.
Van Den Einde and Balstad alternated carries and ran through solid holes all afternoon long. While the longest run either broke off was 19 yards, neither had a negative play from scrimmage.
"They're really good at the point of attack, and if that's not there, they cut back pretty hard," Nelson said of his running backs. "They're pretty good blocking for each other, too."
Even as Fertile-Beltrami went five yards at a time, time after time, it missed a big-play dimension. Balstad scored on an 8-yard run nine minutes before halftime, but the Falcons were stuck in neutral for much of the second quarter.
Then on 3rd-and-5 from the 50-yard line with 1:58 left in the second quarter, the many little chisels made by Van Den Einde and Balstad finally led to the NCE/U-H defense's collapse. Balstad ran a wheel route out of the backfield, and Rylin Petry hit him in stride. The Titan in coverage fell down, leaving Balstad with no resistance as he sprinted to the house for a 24-0 lead.
"That broke the game open," Nelson said. "It was a tight ballgame. They were starting to slow us down. Getting that pass was huge for us and gave us a lot of momentum going into halftime."
Fertile-Beltrami drove again to begin the second half, but Balstad fumbled at the NCE/U-H 28. Zechariah Juarez scooped up the loose ball and dashed 72 yards in the opposite direction for the Titans' lone score.
NCE/U-H (2-1) couldn't hold onto any momentum, though. The Falcons went 58 yards in 10 plays, scoring with 34 seconds left in the third quarter on a quarterback sneak by Petry.
"That fumble gave them some life," Nelson said. "But we were able to settle down offensively."
Fertile-Beltrami came out on top in every key statistical facet. It gained seven times as many yardage as the Titans and six times as many first downs. It ran 66 plays to NCE/U-H's 36. It converted 62 percent of its third downs, while the Titans went 0-for-9. It had two interceptions, including a fourth-quarter pick in the end zone by Levi Qualley that served as the final nail in the coffin.
Still, Nelson thinks his team could stand to clean a few things up passing-wise, and maintaining blocks on offense. For as dominant as the Falcons were Saturday, their next game — at defending Section 6 9-man champion Win-E-Mac this Friday — should be a much greater challenge.
That is, if the game actually goes on as scheduled. Which, after the last two weeks' ordeal, Nelson isn't taking for granted.
"We told the kids to play every game like it's your last," he said. "This season, you don't know, it might be."
UP NEXT: Friday, Oct. 30 brings a rematch of last year's Section 6 9-man championship between Fertile-Beltrami and Win-E-Mac, in Erskine. The Patriots beat the Falcons, 30-18, last year at the FargoDome by scoring two touchdowns in the final six minutes.
"This is basically a totally new team that we have this year," Nelson said. "We graduated nine seniors and most of those played both ways. ... For them? They're loaded. They do a lot of different things offensively, they do a couple different things defensively, they fly to the ball and they've got some very good athletes."
Win-E-Mac (2-1) began its season with dominating victories over Northern Freeze and Nevis, but fell 33-12 to defending state champions Mountain Lake Area — the same team that ended the Patriots' season in the state tournament semifinals last year — in a neutral-site game in Morris Saturday.
NCE/U-H is home Friday against Park Christian (1-1).
7:41 first quarter (Fertile-Beltrami): Brandon Van Den Einde 4-yard run (Levi Qualley run)
9:33 second quarter (Fertile-Beltrami): Everett Balstad 8-yard run (Everett Balstad run)
1:58 second quarter (Fertile-Beltrami): Everett Balstad 50-yard pass from Rylin Petry (Austin Bjerk pass from Brandon Van Den Einde)
5:09 third quarter (NCE/U-H): Zechariah Juarez 72-yard fumble return (pass failed)
0:34 third quarter (Fertile-Beltrami): Rylin Petry 3-yard run (Brandon Van Den Einde run)
- Fertile-Beltrami: Rylin Petry 6-10, 91 yards, 1 touchdown
- NCE/U-H: Connor Nelson 4-10-2, 10 yards, Aidan Flaten 1-2, 7 yards
- Fertile-Beltrami: Everett Balstad 18-119-1, Brandon Van Den Einde 24-115-1, Levi Qualley 4-16, Derek Sorenson 6-10, Rylin Petry 2-6-1, Tucker Bolstad 1-1, Team 1-(-1)
- NCE/U-H: Dawson Bjerke 3-10, Zechariah Juarez 5-8, Morgan Stueness 4-6, Drew Jacobson 1-5, Aidan Flaten 1-3, Connor Nelson 6-3, Cole Bentley 3-0, Team 1-(-1)
- Fertile-Beltrami: Everett Balstad 4-77-1, Austin Bjerk 1-9, Brandon Van Den Einde 1-5
- NCE/U-H: Cole Bentley 1-9, Zechariah Juarez 1-7, Morgan Stueness 2-3, Dawson Bjerke 1-(-2)
- Fertile-Beltrami: Levi Qualley 1 INT, Tyler Stuhaug 1 INT
- NCE/U-H: Zechariah Juarez 1 FR
- Total yardage: Fertile-Beltrami 357, NCE/U-H 51
- First downs: Fertile-Beltrami 18, NCE/U-H 3
- Third-down conversions: Fertile-Beltrami 8-13, NCE/U-H 0-9
- Fourth-down conversions: Fertile-Beltrami 1-1, NCE/U-H 1-1
- Punting: Fertile-Beltrami 4-107, NCE/U-H 7-227
- Penalties: Fertile-Beltrami 3-15, NCE/U-H 2-22
- Turnovers: Fertile-Beltrami 1 fumble lost, NCE/U-H 2 interceptions
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