North Dakota State College of Science faced adversity in the form of a crucial injury in their opening game of the season on Saturday, Aug. 31. It wasn’t a player who went down, but Head Coach Eric Issendorf’s son, Gabe Issendorf.
“G-Money” as the players call him, was watching his Wildcats take on Fond du Lac Tribal & Community College. A collision near the sideline resulted in a pair of broken legs and he was carted off in an ambulance. G-Money has a close bond with the players and the team rallied for the 13-year-old, nabbing a 38-28 home victory.
“Gabe is very involved and likes to be around the guys as much as he possibly can. It provides him with some mentorship and just the feeling of belonging to something,” Coach Issendorf said. “It’s a credit to Gabe. Gabe’s a pretty personable kid and easy to get along with around here.”
One of the standout performers of the day was cornerback Nate Seward. Of the team’s six turnovers forced, Seward had half of them with a trio of interceptions.
“After one or two you’d think you wouldn’t throw his way, but the quarterback kept doing it and Nate kept taking advantage of it,” Coach Issendorf said. “He’s a special individual that works hard at what he does. He spent a lot of time in the offseason working to get bigger, faster, stronger and he watched film. You’re starting to see the benefits of that.”
The second-year starter was also a source of support for his head coach after G-Money’s injury.
“(Seward) was somebody who picked me up when Gabe went down and was pretty banged up. After having to put him in an ambulance and not being able to go with him, Nate was one of the first ones that came up to me and said, ‘We got you, coach. We’re getting this done for you and G-Money,’ and he did. He’s a pretty special kid,” Coach Issendorf said.
The injury occurred when the Wildcats were down 14-0 in the first half. Science’s first points came off a Trashawn McMillan scramble from 11 yards out. It was the first game at quarterback for the freshman Wildcat and he was splitting time with his fellow frosh, T.J. Owens.
“Trashawn did some really good things. He’s definitely a confident young man and he plays that way,” Coach Issendorf said. “I think each one does some good things that are different than the other. We pretty much anticipate using both of them through the course of the year unless one of them really separates themselves from the other.”
McMillan stayed hot in the second quarter and hooked up with Cordell Pimienta for a 45-yard score. Pimienta also made his impact felt on special teams, taking a punt for six to give his team the lead. Former NDSCS standout and North Dakota State Bison Darren Kelly played a part in getting Pimienta in a Wildcat uniform.
“Cordell was kind of a gift. Darren Kelly brought him to campus and to our office. We’re lucky to have (Pimienta),” Coach Issendorf said. “He’s really explosive and a playmaking type of young man. We’re lucky that he’s on our side for sure.”
The Thunder tied it up right before halftime and regained the lead late in the third quarter, but it was all NDSCS the rest of the way. The hosts outscored their foes 17-0 in the final quarter. Spencer Skeesick booted a 34-yard field goal and a pair of TDs in the final three minutes put it away. The first was a 38-yard strike from McMillan to KeyShawn Goins and Desean Phillips iced it with a seven-yard rushing score.
“I was just telling the kids that there’s an old saying, ‘Start fast, finish strong,’ and I believe in ‘Start fast, finish fast.’ We want to be fast from the time we start to the time we finish. When Gabe got hurt it was kind of a crossroads. Do we play to win or drift through the game and take it how it is?” Coach Issendorf said. “Not one kid pointed fingers or stopped playing. Everybody stayed confident and I’ve got to give a lot of credit to our coaches and our sophomores to be the leaders of the team and not flinch when we could have.”
Phillips went over the century-mark with 107 yards on 21 carries in his first game as a Cat. Phillips’ father is a former Wildcat football player who actually suited up with Coach Issendorf.
“Desean’s a special player. He can make bad things look good. He’s just that talented,” Coach Issendorf said. “We were trying to punch it in, punch it in and punch it in running down the middle and he decided to bounce it out and scored a touchdown. Sometimes it’s about guys making plays and he’s a playmaker. He’s going to be somebody that’s going to opens a lot of eyes around the country.”
Next up for NDSCS (1-0) is their first road game against Itasca Community College. Kickoff is set for 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 7. The Cats are hoping G-Money will be back with the team by week three.
“They’re well coached. Coach (Weldon) Braxton is a good football coach and a good recruiter. He puts together a good team every year and they were really solid last year. We’re going to have our hands full again,” Coach Issendorf said. “I appreciate all the support from everyone. A lot of calls, a lot of texts and messages of support have been outstanding and overwhelming.”