The Beulah offense wasn’t its usual self against St. Mary's in last Saturday’s Class AA football semifinal game.
The Miners came into the day averaging 462 total yards and 36.1 points per game, but managed only 143 markers and one offensive touchdown against the No. 1-ranked and two-time defending state champion Saints.
Fortunately for the Miners, it was business as usual for their defense.
Beulah scored a defensive touchdown and held the Saints to 137 total yards in its 13-7 victory, which vaulted the Miners (10-1) into the Class AA state championship game for the first time since 2005.
Beulah, which entered the contest having surrendered only 10.8 points per game, didn’t allow St. Mary's to dent the scoreboard until midway through the fourth quarter. The lone Saints touchdown tied the game at 7, but a game-winning scoring drive followed. In the final 3:56, the Miners ended one St. Mary’s possession with an interception, and another with a four-and-out.
Middle linebacker Hayden Norton said the Miners knew St. Mary’s would be difficult to score on, so the pressure was on the Beulah defense to put its best foot forward against a team that had tallied 392 points in its previous 10 games.
“We expected a game like that. St. Mary’s is a good defensive team and we knew points would be hard to come by, so we had to make it tough for them to score, too,” Norton said. “Both defenses played great, but we made a few more plays than they did. When the offense or defense is having a bad day, the other has to step up. Our defense has been pretty solid all year. We were confident we could get it done.”
The Miners, who defeated St. Mary’s 20-13 in their regular-season meeting on Sept. 11, expected defense to be one of their strengths in 2015. They returned nine defensive starters from 2014, including Norton, who led the team in tackles with 82. This season, the 5-foot-11, 172-pound senior has 92 stops (58 solo), including 12 for a loss. He had a team-high seven tackles against St. Mary’s.
Beulah coach Jim Dooley said Norton is a coach’s dream at middle linebacker.
“Hayden’s been a starter for three years and I don’t have to coach him up much. He totally understands what he needs to do,” said Dooley, who is 33-10 in four seasons at Beulah. “He’s smart and he’s tough. He’s a player who has total disregard for his body. He flies around and throws himself into every play. He plays fast, but not careless. You hardly see him missing or overplaying anything.”
Norton said there is only one way to play the game of football.
“It’s go hard or go home. That’s how I look at it,” he said. “Everybody on our team feels that way. That’s why we’re having such a good year. Football is a tough, physical game, and to be successful at it, you have to outhit and outhustle the other guys. There’s no letting up, not until the game is over."
The Miners have been stingy when it comes to giving up points, yardage and first downs. Another key to their success is forcing turnovers. Beulah opponents have turned the ball over 33 times - 23 via interceptions. Brandon Elton has a team-high five interceptions, and Reece Hoherz has four. Elton and Hoherz accounted for all four St. Mary’s turnovers. Elton had an interception, and returned a fumble 42 yards for the game’s first touchdown. Hoherz had two interceptions.
“We stress the importance of turnovers every day. They’re game-changers,” Norton said. “We got four big ones against St. Mary’s, and one of them got us on the scoreboard. That was the difference in the game."
Beulah also has 22 quarterback sacks, with Josh Remmick leading the way with nine.
The Beulah defense will be tested one more time Friday when it faces a high-powered Fargo Shanley offense in the Class AA title game at the Fargodome. Shanley, also 10-1 and winner of its last 10 games, is averaging 35.6 points per game. The Deacons racked up 86 points in their two postseason victories.
“At the start of the year, Shanley was more run-oriented. Now they’re more balanced, which obviously makes things more difficult for us,” Dooley said. “On defense, they’re typical Shanley. They hustle, they tackle well and they don’t give up big plays. They remind us a lot of St. Mary’s.”
Matt Burd leads the Deacons with 1,775 yards rushing and 23 touchdowns on 255 carries. Quarterback Brevin Lancaster has completed 66 of 119 passes for 1,162 yards and 15 scores. His favorite target is Devin Klieman, who has 28 receptions for 413 yards.
Norton said the offense can give the defense a break by controlling the ball and the clock. The Miners are more than capable, averaging 300-plus yards per game on the ground. Sophomore Mikey Morris leads the team in rushing with 1,275 yards on 177 carries. Cory Alt has 590 yards, Casey Walcker 467, and Matt Krizan 355.
Walcker, a senior quarterback, has also thrown the ball effectively. He is 71-for-128 for 1,401 yards and 19 touchdowns.
Norton said the Beulah offense is ready to get back to work after a sub-par performance against St. Mary's.
“The offense had a rough go of it on Saturday and they’re anxious to get back on the field and move the ball like they know they can,” he said. “They’ve been getting it done all year.”
Norton said advancing to the state championship game was a goal he and his classmates set when they started high school football.
“Four years of hard work paid off. Now there's one goal left,” he said. “For a senior, you can’t ask for a better place to finish your high school career. This is the last shot for us seniors and we're definitely going to give it everything we have.”