DEADWOOD—There were no flashy statistics compiled Friday night at Deadwood’s picturesque Ferguson Field, but in the end the Golddiggers had enough big plays, and stopped enough Pine Ridge big plays, to chalk up a convincing 45-14 victory.
The Thorpes had their chances, but even factoring in the bias of the yellow flags, which brought back several big plays, including a 100 plus-yard interception return by Jesse Jensen, Lead/Deadwood was still the better team, playing solid football, with only the standard smattering of flags and mistakes.
“I would say we are a solid team,” said Lead/Deadwood Head Coach Tom Tiezen. “We play well as a team, we don’t make many mistakes, and we can overcome adversity.”
The Diggers were coming off a 42-0 drubbing at the hands of Upton/Sundance, and Pine Ridge was coming off a crushing home defeat courtesy of crosstown rival, Red Cloud. It was perfect weather for football, cloudless blue sky, mild temperature, and on paper, Pine Ridge had more size and talent and experience than their host, but none of that would factor in the outcome.
The Thorpe defense held the Digger offense to five yards, and made the them punt to open the game. But Dawson Jahnke forced a fumble from Pine Ridge quarterback Jarren Crow, and Lead/ Deadwood had the ball first and goal. Fullback Dylan Janke bulled his way up the middle, PAT good, and it was 7-0, Lead/Deadwood, 9:32 remaining in the first quarter.
From then on, the Thorpes looked disorganized and confused. Five minutes later, Jordy Stulken scored from three yards out, and although Darrel Vitalis blocked the PAT for Pine Ridge, the Diggers now lead 13-0.
Back to the drawing board; the Thorpes could not move the football, and from their own 25-yardline they went for it on fourth down. Problem was, they needed 18 yards for a first down, and the result was a failed past to Jesse Jensen. As the night wore on, Jensen would be the one bright spot for the Thorpes. Having transferred over from Red Cloud, Jensen is a solid performer on offense or defense, and has deceptive speed if he gets an opportunity to score. He has a knack for being involved in critical plays.
After a drawn out drive, which included some sideline fireworks by Pine Ridge, as coaches were forced to confront players, Dylan Janke again plowed his way in from four yards out, and after the PAT snap was fumbled, the Diggers led 19-0.
After the ensuing kick-off, Pine Ridge started their drive from their own 19-yard line. The drive consisted of a completed pass from Crow to Stulken, but, unfortunately, Stulken plays for Lead/ Deadwood, and he took his interception back 19 yards for a touchdown, PAT no good, and the Diggers were now on top 25-0, 11:49 remaining in the half.
One of the problems any runner faces, however talented, is bad blocking. Given their size compared to the Digger offensive line, the Thorpes should have been able to open holes for the fleet, nimble-footed Vitalis, but for the most part, Vitalis had to hunt for an opening, that took too much time to find. On this drive, however, Vitalis got a great block, knifed through the crack, and juking past one downfield tackler, and then slipping past the other, he romped for 51 yards down to the Digger 29-yard line. Vitalis didn’t have any more long-gainers in this game, but given his obvious talent, and high energy focus, were he behind a line that would block for him, like the Digger line, or Red Cloud’s line, he would consistently churn out 150 yards a game on the ground. Two plays later, Vitalis would score from five yards out, Corey Brown would catch the pass for the twopoint conversion, and Pine Ridge was finally on the board, 25-8, with 7:29 left in the half.
With eight seconds remaining in the third quarter, Digger quarterback Max Johnson fumbled, defensive end Brown had nothing between him and the goal line but half an undefended football field, so he did not fall on the fumble. He attempted to scoop it up, failed, tried again, and finally got control and rumbled for pay dirt, having really good foot speed for a big guy. Unfortunately, the 140- lbs Stulken had better foot speed, and he caught Brown from behind, just shy of the goal line.
“I fell like this,” Brown told teammates on the sideline, extending his arm high to indicate how he met the turf, “and the ball just shot out that way.”
Stulken also recovered the fumble and was tackled after the third quarter expired.
“He loves football,” Tiezen said of Stulken. “He eats, breathes, sleeps football. So, he understands the game, he can see things that other players can’t. He’s a special player; we can move him to almost any position, and he knows just what to do. He’s one of those guys that doesn’t slow down in pads, he might actually speed up when you put pads on him. He’s a very well rounded player and I’d trust him anywhere on the field to do the right thing.”
He certainly did the right thing all night against the Thorpes. Willie Dubray took over at quarterback for Pine Ridge on the next possession, and for whatever reason, the Thorpes went for it on fourth and 22 from their own eight-yard line. They failed, which is why Johnson eventually scored on a short yardage quarterback keep. The Pat was again blocked, because the Thorpes proved they got a knack for that, and Lead/Deadwood led, 31-8.
Pine Ridge again could not move the football and went for it on fourth down and the Diggers took over on the Pine Ridge 25-yard line. Johnson eventually fired a pass into the end zone, which Jensen picked off, and cutting across field, he turned the corner on the Digger defense, pulling away for what seemed a certain touchdown. Unfortunately, the official ruled he could not advance the ball out of the end zone. The rules say the interception in the end zone can be advanced if the player is not downed in the end zone or at the goal line, resulting in a touchback, and Jensen was not, and Jensen was allowed to return the ball at top speed for over 100 yards.
“I wish they had told me that when I was halfway there,” Jensen said.
There would be two more scores in the game, Johnson scoring on a 41-yard quarterback keep for Lead/Deadwood, and Vitalis scoring on an eight-yard run. The final of 45-14 had to come as a surprise to Tiezen, given the talent of the team he beat.
“We knew hat we had to prevent big plays,” Tiezen said. “We got to watch some film against Red Cloud, and (Pine Ridge) can score quick and they make big plays and when they get momentum rolling, anything can happen. We knew we had to limit the big plays and not make mistakes.”
Pine Ridge is now 0-2, and has Bennett County at Pine Ridge next week. Lead/Deadwood is now 2-1, and hosts Little Wound next Friday, game kicking off at 6:00 p.m. Bring a coat. It gets cool at as the sun sets at Ferguson Field.
(James Giago Davies is an enrolled member of the Oglala Lakota tribe. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)