The Kelliher-Northome Mustangs football team had a long ride home from Floodwood Sept. 30 after falling to the Polar Bears, 14-8.
The first quarter proved uneventful with Floodwood posting 12 points in the second and third quarters, adding another two in the fourth. The Mustangs came back in the fourth with eight points of their own but time ran out for K-N.
"Floodwood is a very good football team," said Mustang Head Coach Derrick Gross. "We were in a position to win the game despite about a dozen penalties, four lost fumbles and three bad punts (one blocked, one bad snap, one punter run). We played just as well as we did at Homecoming but the mistakes we got away with against Hill City we did not against Floodwood," he said.
Gross also said that his team found out against the Polar Bears that his team belonged in the fight, but that they just may be their own worst enemies.
"If we are going to stay in the fight we have clean things up," he said.
Mistakes, inexperience and mental errors bring down the best of teams. Gross said that in the Mustangs three losses, their opponent took advantage of that and they lost.
"If we are going to be a factor down the stretch, we have to start seeing a change this week," said Gross.
"We have the potential to be a really good team, if we can clean things up and play more physical at a few key positions. We are overall a young and inexperienced group. What happened at Floodwood is part of the learning curve" he said..
The Mustangs played well enough on defense to hole the Polar Bears to two scores but Gross said his team allowed them to control the ball for too long.
"We stopped ourselves with penalties and fumbles," he said. "Floodwood was more physical than we were at several key positions and key points in the game."
Gross said they knew Floodwood was going to come at them with defensively and prepared for it all week.
"We adjusted our blocking scheme on several plays to pick up their linebackers," he said. "For the most part it worked, but again the turnovers and penalties killed us."
Defensively for the Mustangs, Lance Pink had 18 tackles, Joe Schuh had 14 and Caleb Schneider had nine.
Offensively, K-N was able to gain yards on the ground but were unable to make first downs consistently. Again, mainly due to turnovers, penalties and missed assignments.
Leader rushers for the Mustangs were Schuh with 24 carries for 84 yards and Travis Olafson with 10 carries for 40 yards.
Floodwood's pressure made it difficult to drop back and hold any kind of pocket pressure to pass out of, said Gross.
"We did complete a couple throws down the field," he said. "On rollouts our quarterbacks had a hard time getting their feet set to make a good throw. In hindsight, we may have been able to take some more shots down the field."
Mustang quarterback Nathan Anderson was 2-for-10 for 68 yards. Both receptions were caught by Jeff Roosdett.
In preparation for the upcoming game against the Northland Remer Eagles, Gross said his team will be spending a lot of time on the mental part of the game as well as being assignment sound while maintaining focus and discipline.
"First we have to clean up the penalties," he said. "We must take better care of the football. All nine guys have to execute their job."
"Remer is struggling but if we make the same mistakes and number of mistakes we did last week, anybody can beat us," said Gross. "Friday's game should be an opportunity to get everybody a quality amount of playing time but our first priority is to see our first and second groups step and execute with out the mental errors."
The Mustang players tend to keep a close eye on the other games each week as well as the standings and rankings.
"We do not talk much about those things as group though," said Gross. "We have specific things we work on each week that we feel we need to improve to become a better football team. That doesn't change based on the opponent's record."
Coach Gross feels the Mustangs should be the better team this week than in previous weeks.
"Remer is way down in numbers and they graduated about 15 seniors off last years team. Other coaches have said they are only dressing about 14 boys for games. That is a tough situation -- one that we have been in before.
"The key again will be cleaning things up form last week. No game is a sure thing, especially when you don't play up to your abilities. A team like Remer can be dangerous if you let them hang around, gain confidence and start to believe they can beat you," he said.
The K-N coaches have been pretty hard on the players week, holding them accountable for their play in Floodwood and making sure they know that if they want to finish the season strong and have a shot in the playoffs, they have to step it up.
"The next few weeks will be very important not only for this season but for the program continuing to grow long term," said Gross. "Last week we proved that we can play with anybody on our schedule or in our section. If we play the way we played in Floodwood, minus the penalties, turnovers and mistakes, we will be a very hard team to beat the rest of the way."
Gross is very proud of his players and wants them to know it.
"We have come so far from where we were over the last three seasons (where Remer is now). At the same time though, I believe this group has more potential than they realize. We will continue to push our players to reach that potential. We are proud of the improvements we have accomplished, but certainly don't want to be satisfied until we reach our potential," he said.
The Floodwood game was a tough game for the Mustangs against a very good team. Their lack of experience with being competitive against a team like that, the sense of urgency from their four seniors, overall inexperience and the pressure style of defense they played, combined to create a situation ripe for mental errors.
"We have as many as five ninth and 10th graders in key rolls and several juniors who have little experience," said Gross.
"We travel to Remer for our sixth game this week. Over the next few weeks, we need stop playing like a young, inexperienced group," he explained. "We have five games under our belts for most of our kids now. Our freshman class is a great group and they are starting to push some the upperclassmen at some positions. This will make us a better team. It will add to our depth. The upper classmen need to step up and respond."
Gross explained that the improvements they need to make at this point need to start from the top down. The message he is bringing the team this week needs to be firm and clear. The direction they need to go needs to be clear.
"We need to coach the improvements we need to see on the field. The players need to respond with more focus, fewer mental errors and physical execution of the things we coach," he said.