Sustaining success

Despite roster turnover, North Prairie football racking up wins

Garrick Hodge/MDN North Prairie running back Gabe Leonard (23) runs through a tackle during a high school football game last season.

After losing several key seniors that helped the North Prairie football team go 21-2 the last two seasons, some community members had their doubts this year’s team could repeat their success this year.

Yet, that’s exactly what North Prairie has done this season. The Cougars are off to a 5-0 start and are ranked No. 5 in the most recent North Dakota nine-man football poll.

“We graduated a lot of good players last year and a lot of people said we weren’t going to be as good,” said Cougars head coach Pat Wilkes. “The kids wanted to prove they were going to be just as good as last year and they have so far.” With five wins under their belt, the Cougars have wrapped up a first round bye in the playoffs, a spot both the team and coach feel pretty good about.

A game that really stood out to Wilkes was at St. John on Aug. 25. The Cougars won 32-20 in what Wilkes said was a tough game. North Prairie won by 12 points, their least lopsided victory so far. The Cougars have been dominating nearly every opponent, accumulating a current average win margin of 25.2 points.

“We played (St. John) the second game of the year and they scored the first play of the game,” said coach Wilkes. “The kids kept fighting, kept grinding it out and gave them a real boost of confidence to win that game.”

The Cougars’ strength lies in a strong running game. Three players alone have rushed for a total of 1,499 yards in the first five games. Senior quarterback Austin Soukup leads the group with 55 rushes for 705 yards. That averages out to about 12 yards per rush, which is automatic first down music to the team’s ears. Soukup has also ran for 11 touchdowns.

Another stand-out player, Grant Munro, is a junior running back that has scored two touchdowns so far. Munro has rushed 37 times this year for 199, an average of about five yards per carry.

Senior running back Gabe Leonard has put in his fair share of work this season. Leonard has carried the ball 56 times for a total of 595 yards. That is about 10 yards per carry and he’s also scored seven touchdowns.

“We have some pretty good runners but it all starts upfront with our O-line,” Wilkes said. “They do a good job blocking and opening some good holes for the (running) backs.”

North Prairie has had three athletes this year rack up a total of 131 tackles so far over the first five games. Tucker Boucher, a senior linebacker, has 52 tackles to his name. Munro, also a linebacker for the Cougars, has 56 tackles so far. Rounding out this trio is Garrett Mongeon, sophomore lineman, with 23 tackles.

Another standout defensive performance is by Xavier Mitchell, a freshman strong safety for the team. Mitchell has racked up five interceptions so far for the Cougars.

“We try to be physical on both sides of the ball and that seems to really pay off,” Wilkes said about the performances of the offense and defense this season. “We have a really big test next Friday (against) Thompson which will really show us where we are at as a team.”

Thompson (4-1) ranks one spot ahead of North Prairie in the polls this week with a No. 4 ranking. This will be a true test, as both of these teams have championship aspirations, making this an exciting match up.

Before the heavyweight matchup, the Cougars are back in action at 7 p.m. Friday in a Region 4 matchup on the road against Dunseith.