Echoing through the August air at Frank Vertin Field, somebody yelled from the Wahpeton crowd, “Red River doesn’t want it.”
They may have been on to something. Despite being the deeper and more physically built squad, Grand Forks Red River wanted nothing to do with a feisty Huskies team that manhandled them, 30-8, Friday, Aug. 27, at Frank Vertin Field in Wahpeton.
“We were a little bit nervous about their size, sure, but I knew our scheme was going to work if our guys could follow assignments,” Wahpeton Head Coach Wade Gilbertson said. “I knew we could move the ball a little bit. They were much bigger and stronger than us. It’s not always easy to win when that’s the case. Defensively, we were wondering if they’d just be able to lean on us, pick us up and move us.”
Wahpeton didn’t budge. The Huskies defense forced five turnovers — three interceptions, two fumbles — and deployed a relentless quarterback pursuit throughout the game. Wahpeton’s offense did not commit a turnover.
“That’s the best defensive game I’ve seen us play over the past three years. We were all over the place and swarming the ball. When everybody does their job, we’re able to survive the big plays,” Gilbertson said.
Wahpeton kept pounding for 20 first downs, and employed a smash-mouth rushing game with 39 carries, refusing to be discouraged by a meager 2.5 yards per attempt. When Wahpeton took to the air, Blake Schafer picked Red River apart with 17 completions for 264 yards and five touchdowns — three of them to Caden Kappes.
Schafer was surgical with his ball location. He completed 63 percent of his passes and left his seven incompletions where only his receivers had a chance at the football.
“Blake has the freedom to throw it whenever he feels like it, even if we have a run called,” Gilbertson said. “He’s taken it upon himself to learn the game in his third year as a starter. He’s able to put that ball, many times, where it’s not going the other way. He puts the ball where only our guy can get it.”
When Kappes saw double-teams throughout the second half, Tori Uhlich and Beau Arenstein each snared touchdown grabs to extend the lead. Kappes high-pointed the ball over his defender on a fade in the end zone and also made a leaping grab on a 38-yard score to punctuate a huge night for the junior.
“We could realistically have six guys, including our quarterback, that we’re comfortable getting the ball to on offense,” Gilbertson said. “All of those guys know the options we have available in every play (we run).”
Nathan Worrel and Jackson Clooten were two of several defenders that had Red River running for its life in the passing department.
“Nathan played with a really high motor, I thought it was one of his best games he’s had for us. He’s in a bit of a new position defensively to use his athleticism at defensive end to his advantage,” Gilbertson said.
Jacob DeVries was the workhorse back for Wahpeton, showcasing a hard-nosed rushing style that eventually saw him break loose for a 20-plus yard chunk in the fourth quarter.
“We really like Jacob’s size at running back and we like how he runs the ball deliberately,” Gilbertson said. “As our running game goes our offense goes, because we have to be able to open up the passing game for Blake. There were a couple of plays where we blocked really well and I was excited to see our running game get going.”
Jacob Berndt corralled two interceptions for Wahpeton and Riley Schmit snagged the third.
“It was really nice to see the guys come out and respond the way they did. It's the first time in many years that we haven’t had a scrimmage ahead of our first game.,” Gilbertson said. “I didn’t know how we’d respond to game speed, but our guys were ready and they wanted to take out some aggression from three long weeks of practice.”
Wahpeton heads to Watford City, North Dakota, on Friday, Sept. 3. Kickoff is scheduled for 6 p.m.
“Watford will be an opportunity for us to find out more about ourselves,” Gilbertson said. “They will be vastly improved and they will be ready for their first home game, coming off a loss to a rival. They will have a bad taste in their mouth and they will want to come after us. I’m excited for that opportunity for our kids.”