Fertile-Beltrami beats Warren-Alvarado-Oslo behind Balstad's big night
FERTILE — Everett Balstad darted outside, his eyes locked on the end zone, and thrust the ball in the direction of the pylon.
After a 13-yard gain, Balstad was pushed out-of-bounds just inside the 1-yard line. No matter, as Rylin Petry burrowed in on a quarterback sneak to put Fertile-Beltrami up 6-0 midway through the second quarter.
Balstad was caught off-guard, though, when the Falcons stayed on the field to go for two. He thought he had scored on his earlier run and Petry's touchdown was actually the 2-point conversion — "You mean I didn't score?" he yelled to the sideline in confusion.
If Balstad thought he would only get one shot to find the end zone Thursday, he needn't have worried. The junior scored two touchdowns in the second half to put the stamp on a 22-carry, 168-yard tour de force, which helped power Fertile-Beltrami past Warren-Alvarado-Oslo, 20-7, in the first meeting between old rivals since 2012.
"We hang our hats on the running game, and that's carried us quite a bit this season," said Falcons coach Brian Nelson. "We got a couple good running backs, and at any time they can break, not necessarily a 70-yard run, but they can break a 20-yard run."
These teams weren't originally scheduled to play each other this week — Fertile-Beltrami (3-1) was supposed to host Laporte Friday, while W-A-O (1-3) was slated to take on Northern Freeze in Newfolden. But with Laporte and Northern Freeze's school districts each in some form of distance learning, the Falcons and Ponies needed to find new opponents and last Sunday, found each other.
Fertile-Beltrami and W-A-O were longtime Section 8A foes before the Ponies dropped down to 9-man football in 2013, which the Falcons did six years later. Remnants of the old rivalry were on display Thursday — Balstad said he thought the Ponies "were playing a little dirty," and the first quarter was especially chippy, neither team able to find much of a rhythm.
Fertile-Beltrami gained just 14 yards and a single first down across its first three drives. After a 50-12 loss at Win-E-Mac last Friday, it wasn't quite the start the Falcons were hoping for.
"We were pretty mad (after last week)," Balstad said. "We wanted to come out and hopefully destroy them."
They would have to settle for wearing them down instead. Starting at its own 25, Fertile-Beltrami went 75 yards, all on the ground, to punch in the game's first score with 7:24 before halftime.
"They know we're a running team, and they put a lot of guys in the box," Nelson said. "We just told the kids, gotta hold our blocks longer. ... We just kept hammering at them."
An interception by the Ponies' Blaise Potucek on the second-to-last play of the half, with Fertile-Beltrami knocking on the doorstep once more, didn't do much to stop that. The Falcons got the ball to start the third quarter, and marched down to the 35 before W-A-O committed two personal fouls in a row for illegal hits.
After the second penalty, which placed Fertile-Beltrami at the Ponies' 10, Balstad wasn't even touched as he ran past a shaken W-A-O defense to extend the lead to 14-0.
"We struggled right away but just kept fighting," said Balstad, who credited the Falcons' blockers for his success on the ground.
Meanwhile, the Falcons' defense held firm. Senior linebacker Brandon Van Den Einde — who had 6.5 tackles and two for a loss — and company forced four straight 3-and-outs from the second quarter to the fourth, allowing Balstad to put Fertile-Beltrami up 20-0 by scoring on a counter play with 11:29 to play.
With his punting, Petry also played a huge role in keeping W-A-O off the board. He had a 54-yard punt with the wind at his back in the second, downing the Ponies at their own 2, and drilled a third-quarter punt to the 3-yard-line — just two occasions on which he backed them up enough to make the defense's job easy.
"They've been playing that way most of the year, just stellar defense," Nelson said. "... Brandon Van Den Einde, he's the leader of our defense. We had some rookie linebackers in there tonight, he was getting them in all the right places."
Gavin Gullikson, though, didn't let W-A-O go down without a fight. On the Ponies' final drive, the junior quarterback took his team 89 yards in five minutes — rushing for 51 and throwing for 34 more — and his 8-yard scramble with three seconds left in the game ended the Falcons' shutout bid.
"Pretty ugly win," Nelson said afterwards, and it wasn't hard to see what he meant. Fertile-Beltrami didn't win with flash or by breaking off big play after big play — it won with consistent doses of hard-hitting defense, clutch special teams and of course, Balstad.
But maybe that's just who the Falcons are at this point. After all, they don't seem to mind it.
"They get what their strengths are," Nelson said. "I know they wanna do some more passing and things like that. Obviously, we need to work on our pass blocking, maybe some of our route running as well. But they're willing to do what it takes. ... I'm just proud of the way they've stuck it out this far into the season."
UP NEXT: Fertile-Beltrami finishes its regular season with a trip to Moorhead to take on Park Christian (1-2) on Thursday, Nov. 12. W-A-O will host Goodridge-Grygla (2-0) next Thursday in its own regular-season finale.
7:24 second quarter (Fertile-Beltrami): Rylin Petry 1-yard run (run failed)
9:49 third quarter (Fertile-Beltrami): Everett Balstad 10-yard run (Brandon Van Den Einde run)
11:29 fourth quarter (Fertile-Beltrami): Everett Balstad 11-yard run (pass failed)
0:03 fourth quarter (Warren-Alvarado-Oslo): Gavin Gullikson 8-yard run (Garrett Mehrkens kick)
- Fertile-Beltrami: Rylin Petry 4-10-2, 53 yards
- Warren-Alvarado-Oslo: Gavin Gullikson 5-11-2, 72 yards, Thomas Jones 0-2-0, 0 yards
- Fertile-Beltrami: Everett Balstad 22-168-2, Brandon Van Den Einde 13-43, Rylin Petry 3-13-1, Levi Qualley 2-7, Derek Sorenson 1-1, Team 1-(-4)
- Warren-Alvarado-Oslo: Gavin Gullikson 17-76-1, Conner Mercil 16-34, Blaise Potucek 5-1
- Fertile-Beltrami: Ryan Van Den Einde 2-24, Austin Bjerk 1-20, Levi Qualley 1-9
- Warren-Alvarado-Oslo: Thomas Jones 1-30, Tyson Mortimer 2-22, Jackson Woinarowicz 2-20
- Fertile-Beltrami: Brandon Van Den Einde 6.5 tackles (2 TFL), Austin Bjerk 6 (0.5 TFL), Tucker Bolstad 5.5 (1 TFL), Derek Sorenson 4.5, Levi Qualley 3, Tysen Stuhaug 2.5 (1 TFL), Everett Balstad 1.5 (1 INT), Rylin Petry 1.5 (1 INT), Micah Herbel 2, Caiden Swenby 1, Tyler Henderson 1, Ethan Finseth 0.5, Nick Hedlund 0.5, Ryan Van Den Einde 1 FR
- Warren-Alvarado-Oslo: Conner Mercil 6.5 tackles (1 TFL), Garrett Mehrkens 4 (1 TFL), Kirby Kilen 3, Jackson Woinarowicz 2 (1 TFL), Thomas Jones 1.5, Tyson Mortimer 1.5, Blaise Potucek 1 (2 INT)
- Total yardage: Fertile-Beltrami 281, Warren-Alvarado-Oslo 183
- First downs: Fertile-Beltrami 17, Warren-Alvarado-Oslo 9
- Third-down conversions: Fertile-Beltrami 3-10, Warren-Alvarado-Oslo 5-12
- Fourth-down conversions: Fertile-Beltrami 2-2, Warren-Alvarado-Oslo 0-2
- Punting: Fertile-Beltrami 5-162, Warren-Alvarado-Oslo 5-149
- Penalties: Fertile-Beltrami 2-25, Warren-Alvarado-Oslo 4-38
- Turnovers: Fertile-Beltrami 2 interceptions, Warren-Alvarado-Oslo 2 interceptions, 1 fumble lost
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