Mandan's plan was simple: Run hard, pile up the first downs, control the ball. Defensively, contain Williston's pass-centered attack.
So, the Braves ran the ball well, contained on defense and crushed Williston 36-7 Saturday afternoon at the Starion Sports Complex.
Playoff-bound Mandan pushed its record to 5-3, 4-2 in the West Region. Williston slid to 3-5, 1-5 in the West.
The host Braves gave Williston no chance to develop any momentum, taking a 22-7 first-quarter lead and retaining command the rest of the way.
"We wanted to jump on top of them right away so we could work on some things we needed to work on," said Braves tailback Austin Frey as a couple of drops of blood tried to escape his nose.
"I broke my nose on the first play of the game," he explained.
Mandan scored on its first four possessions, driving the ball twice and taking advantage of a short field on two occasions.
The Coyotes initiated their own demise by fumbling the ball away on the game's first play from the line of scrimmage. Quarterback Charlie Whitlock swung the ball out to wide receiver Kyle Miller, who fumbled.
Frey, playing strong safety, captured the loose ball on the Williston 25, and the Braves were in business. Six running plays later, quarterback Dane Carlson scored from four yards out. The two-point conversion failed and Mandan was up 6-0.
Williston gained just two yards in its second series, and punted.
Starting at its own 41, Mandan needed just six plays to make the score 14-0. Tailback Dawar Kermee scored standing up, darting 14 yards to score with 3:08 remaining in the first half. Carlson tossed to Blake Arenz for the two-point conversion.
The Coyotes made things temporarily interesting on their next possession, Miller dashing 79 yards down the left sideline on a jet sweep. Tyson Ray's conversion kick ended Williston's scoring for the day.
Mandan answered with just 1:07 remaining in the first period on a lightning one-play drive that followed a Mandan interception. Carlson found Arenz at the Williston 40, and the senior receiver took the ball the rest of the way for a 72-yard touchdown. Frey ran for the conversion to give the Braves a 15-point lead.
The Braves forced a punt as the first quarter ended, and Tyson Ray's kick veered out of bounds only 19 yards away. That set Mandan up at the Coyote 42 to start the second period.
An 18-yard keeper by Carlson and a roughing the passer penalty were the big plays as Mandan marched 42 yards to paydirt in five plays. Frey broke wide to the left on an eight-yard scoring run to give Mandan a 28-7 cushion. Dawson Holle's ick made it 29-7.
The final 34 minutes produced just one touchdown as the Mandan coaching staff flooded the field with reserves in the second half.
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Frey scored the final touchdown, closing out a nine-play 97-yard drive on Mandan's first series of the second half. Frey struck from 12 yards out with 7:48 to play in the third quarter.
Carlson attempted just one pass in that touchdown march, an incomplete toss to Arenz.
Frey said the Braves were intent on sending a message to open the second half.
"Coach gave it to us in the locker room (at halftime) for playing a little sluggish in the second quarter," Frey recalled. "So we wanted to run it right down their throats. ... We want to be the most physical team on the field every game."
Frey said Mandan's offensive interior five of Tytus Bachmeier, Danek Vega, Jaxon Duttenhefer, Cort Heinert and Kaiden Scott has drawn significant attention, and it's well deserved.
"Our offensive line is phenomenal. They came out right away and really made a statement," he noted.
The Braves ran the ball 48 times for 216 yards and 16 first downs. Frey, a speedy 150-pound dynamo, picked up 128 yards and scored twice on 12 carries. All told, 11 Mandan players carried he ball.
Williston rushed for 160 yards, 91 of them on a pair of sweeps by Miller.
The Coyotes went to the air 35 times for 114 yards, but they paid a price -- 19 incompletions and two interceptions.
Mandan coach Todd Sheldon knew the Coyotes would throw early and often. His solution was to keep them from breaking anything long.
"We wanted to rally up and make tackles. ... They didn't really do a heck of a lot (with the pass), probably one play of over 15 yards," he observed.
Bingo. Whitlock hooked up with Miller for a 41-yard pass-run early in the fourth quarter, long after the issue had been decided.
With a week to go in the regular season, the Braves own one of the state's AAA playoff berths, but Sheldon said where his team fits in is still up for grabs.
"I know we're guaranteed a No. 2 or 3 spot ... but some weird stuff can happen," he said.
Mandan finishes regular season play at Jamestown today. Williston closes out its season the same day, playing host to Minot.