End of the line

Lakers fall short of Dakota Bowl title

Al Christianson/Special to the MDN Des Lacs-Burlington's Josh Knutson catches a pass during Friday's Class 11A Dakota Bowl at the Fargodome.

FARGO — This wasn’t the ending Des Lacs-Burlington had in mind.

The Lakers had a chance to win their first state title in 23 years Friday, but couldn’t close the deal, falling to Ellendale-Edgeley-Kulm 42-20 in the Class 11A Dakota Bowl at the Fargodome.

“I’m absolutely proud of the kids,” DLB coach James Johnson said. “They overcame a lot of adversity throughout the season and they never gave up. That group of guys right there are a very special bunch. I had to say goodbye to my seniors as their football coach. We’ll still have a student-teacher relationship and beyond school. There’s some guys there that are very close to my heart and I think they’re going to be a successful group of young men.”

On offense, turnovers and the ground game plagued DLB. The Lakers lost two fumbles and threw one interception while being held to negative yardage on the ground until midway through the fourth quarter. DLB finished with 17 rushing yards and was outgained 439-377.

“We said at the beginning of the week we had to establish a run game,” Lakers quarterback Dylan Schestler said. “But it wasn’t happening. Something was going on within the line and we couldn’t figure it out. It just kind of got away there.”

The passing attack displayed flashes of brilliance, though, as Schestler completed 22 of 42 passes for 365 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. He was also the team’s leading rusher with six carries for 14 yards and one touchdown.

“We just watched film on them and worked on where some open areas would be and we just found them early,” Schestler said. “It meant a lot just making it down here. To have two good teams to have good skill players and good defenses, it was a good game. It kind of sucks we didn’t come out on top of it, but that’s how it works sometimes.”

Defensively, Ellendale running back Clayton Grueneich was a thorn in DLB’s side all day. The junior ran for 343 yards and five touchdowns.

“He didn’t come down with one guy,” Johnson said. “He’s very good at cutting back on us when we were out of position. He was as good as we’ve seen.”

The start of the game couldn’t have been any better for DLB. Schestler hooked up with wide receiver Josh Knutson for a big gain that brought the Lakers down to the Thunder 15 on the first drive of the game. Three plays later, DLB needed to convert a fourth-and-8.

The Lakers lined four wide receivers on the left side of the field, yet put Knutson in isolation on the right. Schestler took a two-step drop, then threw the ball to Knutson on a fade route. Knutson beat two EEK defenders and caught the ball in the right corner of the end zone for the Lakers’ first touchdown of the day.

“It was a tough loss, but it was a hell of a season,” Knutson said. “I had a great group of guys around me and I couldn’t ask for a season with anyone else.”

The Thunder answered on their next drive as Grueneich scored has first touchdown of the day from six yards out en route to taking a 7-6 lead.

EEK kept its momentum rolling on the next possession as Lane Hanson sacked Schestler and forced a fumble in the process, giving the Thunder the ball on the DLB 15. Following a 3-yard run from Cole Goehring, the Thunder had a 14-6 lead.

On the next drive, the Lakers caught a terrible break on a punt attempt deep in their own territory. After a bad snap, Schestler had to drop to a knee to catch the punt at his own three-yard line and DLB turned the ball over on downs as a result. Grueneich had his second touchdown of the day on the next play.

The Lakers didn’t back down as Schestler responded with two perfect deep passes on the next drive and capped it off with a 1-yard sneak to reduce the deficit to 21-12.

After a stop from the DLB defense, Schestler hooked up with Jacob Ruden for a 74-yard touchdown to inch closer, 21-20.

The Thunder completed an efficient two-minute drill that was capped off with Grueneich’s third touchdown of the day from three yards out to make it a 28-20 game at halftime.

At the half, the Thunder had 254 total yards compared to the Lakers’ 232, but DLB had -8 rushing yards.

Midway through the third quarter, DLB had another costly turnover as Dalton Schnabel recovered a fumble deep in DLB’s territory. The Thunder capitalized off the giveaway with Grueneich’s fourth rushing touchdown of the day, this one from five yards out.

DLB tried to get back in the game on the next drive, but Schestler was stopped short on fourth-and-1 on the Thunder 23-yard line.

Following a stop from the defense, the Lakers drove into enemy territory again, but their hopes of a comeback ended when Schestler couldn’t connect with Tanner Johnson in the end zone on another fourth down attempt.

The final nail in the coffin was delivered by Grueneich’s fifth and final touchdown of the day, a 73-yard scamper on the next play.

Ryan Bachmeier caught eight passes for 153 yards, while Ruden had three catches for 69 yards and Knutson had four catches for 66 yards. Colton Miller led DLB defensively with 10.5 tackles, including 2.5 for a loss and Nathan Peterson had eight tackles for the Thunder.

DLB ends its season at 9-3.

“Right now it really hurts,” Johnson said. “But I think they’ll get back to being themselves pretty soon here. They’ll understand the things they accomplished this year. For our guys next year, they need to understand they need to be committed if we’re going to make a run like we did this year.”

Garrick Hodge covers Minot State athletics, the Minot Minotauros and high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @Garrick_Hodge.