The Legacy Sabers spoiled a housewarming party on Friday night.
Mandan opened its brand new football field at the Starion Sports Complex, but couldn’t christen it with a victory as the Sabers outlasted the Braves 16-10 in a Class AAA West Region game played before an estimated 3,000 fans.
Senior quarterback Jason Hoekstra completed 12 of 22 passes for 273 yards and two touchdowns for the Sabers, who improved to 2-1 in region play and 4-2 overall. Legacy bounced back after suffering a 36-0 defeat at the hands of Minot last Friday night.
“We were pretty anxious to get back on the field and get back on track after last week,” Hoekstra said. “We knew we were going to be playing another good team tonight, and that they were going to be excited about playing on their new field. We knew we had to play hard on every play. When you play hard, good things can happen.”
Meanwhile, it was yet another tough loss for the Braves, whose four losses have all been by six points or less.
“It’s tough to lose these types of games, but once again, the effort was there ... we just came up short,” said Mandan coach Todd Sheldon, whose team fell to 1-3 in the region and 2-4 overall. “The defense played well, but offensively we didn’t execute when we needed to."
Mandan threatened first, setting up shop on the Legacy 33 late in the first quarter after Austin Frey’s 60-yard punt return. However, Evan Arenz missed a 35-yard field goal attempt eight plays later and Legacy took over on the Mandan 20. From there, the Sabers marched 80 yards to the end zone, scoring on a 38-yard pass from Hoekstra to Devin Beck with 11:05 remaining in the second quarter. Austin Wolf’s extra point made it 7-0.
Mandan got on the board with 2:59 left in the second on Arenz’s 32-yard field goal, and it stayed 7-3 until Hoekstra found Wolf for a 12-yard score with 16 seconds remaining. The TD throw came one play after the Sabers recovered a Mandan fumble, and two plays after Legacy turned the ball over on the Braves' 9. That chain of events turned out to be the difference in the game.
"In games like this, when you get an opportunity you have to take advantage," Hoekstra said. "We made a mistake, but we got another chance and made the most of it. We didn't know it then, but that was the deciding touchdown."
It was a defensive struggle in the second half before Legacy broke through with a 36-yard field goal by Wolf with 11:38 left in the fourth quarter. The kick was set up by a 71-yard Hoekstra-to-Matt Kraft pass that put the Sabers on the Mandan 6.
The Braves answered just 3:14 later when Dane Carlson -- who relieved injured starting quarterback Kaden Krause midway through the third quarter -- found Elijah Klein for a 48-yard TD. Arenz’s extra point pulled the home team within six.
After the ensuing kickoff, Legacy drove 54 yards to the Legacy 11, but Wolf missed a 28-yard field goal attempt with 3:56 left. The Braves then went from their own 20 to the Legacy 42 in three plays, but turned the ball over on downs with 2:23 remaining after netting a minus-9 yards on their next series of downs. Legacy used six plays to run out the remaining time.
Kraft finished with 68 yards on 15 carries, but the Sabers netted 68 yards on 36 running plays. Hoekstra was thrown for a loss nine times.
"They have a good defense. They put a lot of pressure on you," Hoekstra said. "Fortunately we were able to make some big plays with our passing game."
Jackson Zittleman carried 15 times for 65 yards for the Braves, who totaled 129 yards on the ground and 157 through the air.