The Kelliher-Northome Mustangs football team got off to a rocky start, losing to the Isle Huskies, 31-0 in K-N's home opener.
"I thought we played very physical. We controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball for much of the game," said Mustang head coach Derrick Gross.
"Late in the first half, when the score was still just 0-6, I felt we were wearing them down. They made big plays when they needed to and we did not; that was the difference. We moved the ball throughout the game, but killed ourselves with mistakes: two delay of game penalties, a number of fumbles and an interception were all drive killers. Isle just might be the best team on our regular season schedule," he said.
Joey Schuh, who ran the ball well for the Mustangs, was one of the offensive leaders.
Defensive leaders for the Mustangs were Schuh, who was responsible for a number of tackles and several big hits as well as Lance Pink, who played through injury and had a nice game defensively, according to Coach Gross.
"Although our offensive line is big we need to work on getting of on the snap quickly. Our big guys need to be quicker to the point of attack," said Gross.
Other areas he felt his team needed to work on were open field tackling, ball security and the passing game will be points of emphasis he plans on highlighting during practice this coming week.
Gross said he was very happy with Schuh's play during the Isle game.
"Joey's play was a pleasant surprise. He has really stepped it up this year. As a junior he was inconsistent. He came to play ball in his senior season," said Gross. "He ran the ball exceptionally hard and had at least one ESPN highlight type hit from his free safety positron. Joey made a similar hit in our pre-season scrimmage against Bigfork that really sparked the team. We've been playing more physical ever since."
Gross felt his team moved the ball well most of the night but said the team shot themselves in the foot far too many times.
"Our line did a nice job and our backs ran hard," he said. "But mishandled snaps, dropped pitches, fumbles and missed blocking assignments hurt our running game. Our line needs to be quicker. Our lack of a significant passing threat also allowed Isle to stack the line of scrimmage against our running game," he added.
As to his overall satisfaction with his team, Gross said he was very pleased with his young players.
"With only three seniors and just a few juniors with significant varsity experience we are on a steep learning curve. I was very pleased with our young guys. Migizi Wagner, a freshman, started at guard. Mark Geerdes and Isaiah Rahier, both sophomores, also started; Isaiah at quarterback and Mark on both sides of the ball at wingback and safety," he said.
K-N had a number of other freshmen saw significant playing time such as Justin Baumgartner, who, according to Gross, did a great job kicking the ball as both kicker and punter. Baumgartner also saw time at fullback and linebacker.
Eli Rahier had a number of carries at fullback. Dyland Villeran played at outside linebacker and tight end. Cody Rankin and Conor Gross also saw action at key points in the game. Junior Fullback Travis Olafson had several nice runs. Junior linebackers Christian Jourdan and Brandon Schmid played well off the bench, according to Gross and junior defensive tackles Zack Spangrud and Cyril Weidenborner both had good games defensively, noted Gross.
Passing proved to be difficult for the Mustangs.
"We had no passing game to speak of. We just never established enough of a rhythm to get it going. We like to run roll outs and screens, but mistakes kept putting us in situations that did not lend themselves to such play calls," said Gross.
Defensively, Gross said his team did well.
"Take away five big plays Isle made and we played excellent defense. We will be working on open field tacking," he said.
The Mustangs will be headed to Cromwell Sept. 9 to take on the Cardinals.
"I expect the same kind of physical play that we got from our boys last week against Cromwell" said Gross. "I believe the key is to focus on the Cromwell team we will be plying and not the Cromwell teams we have played the past several years. They really beat us up badly in the past and they are the reigning state champions."
Gross feels that this year's Cromwell team is down quite a bit from that level but they are still the defending champs and the coaches and players in Cromwell know how to win football games.
"Our boys are excited to play them again. We feel good about how we played last week but are ready to get a win," he said.
Game time in Cromwell will be at 7 p.m.