The Mandan Braves made enough plays on offense Friday against Fargo Davis to still be unbeaten in Class AAA football. They could have used a few defensive plays.
Davies quarterback Reid Hartness led an unstoppable ground game that churned out 288 yards in a 36-26 road win in Mandan.
“We know we have some dogs up front and we planned well for it and planned to run the ball a lot,” said Hartness, who ran for 116 yards, four touchdowns and two extra points on 21 carries. “The counter worked well. Our O-line did a heck of a job.”
The Eagles (1-1) ran the ball 50 times and averaged nearly six yards per carry. They were at their best in the fourth quarter after a long Mandan drive ended short of the end zone with Davies clinging to a 22-20 lead.
Hartness capped a 12-play, 59-yard drive that ate up six minutes of clock with a 15-yard scoring run. After Mandan responded with a Garret Schaefbauer 85-yard kickoff return to make it 28-26, Hartness marched the Eagles 59 yards again, this time in six plays for the clinching score.
“We really struggled with what they were doing offensively,” Mandan coach Todd Sheldon said.
Mandan trailed just 22-14 at half despite a series of mistakes that led to Davies points and took points off the board for the Braves. Hartness and a pair of Mandan turnovers were equally important to Davies taking a 14-0 lead with 5:02 left in the first quarter.
An Eli Mach interception of a Dane Carlson pass and subsequent 43-yard return set the Eagles up on the Mandan 12. Two plays later Hartness scored on a 1-yard run with 8:47 left in the first quarter and the PAT failed leaving Davies up 6-0.
Three plays after that score, Blake Arenz coughed up the ball and Ty Weber caught in the air before returning it to near midfield. Hartness then broke free for a 32-yard run down to the Mandan 9, from where Ethan Entze scored on the next play and Hartness added the PAT run for a 14-0 lead with 5:02 left in the first quarter.
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“I don’t want to pit the offense and offense against one another, but the offense gave up those turnovers and that’s a big momentum switch,” Sheldon said. “They scored off those turnovers. … During the course of the week, we struggled mentally to get focused and that’s the coach’s fault.
Hartness overshadowed a three-touchdown performance by Braves’ receiver Elijah Klein, who had scoring catches of 4, 11 and 4 yards -- not the long plays he’s accustomed to but it accounted for all the Mandan TDs.
Carlson was 11-for-19 for 137 yards. Running back Austin Frey carried 16 times for 103 yards.
Mandan reached the end zone for the first time late in the first quarter but a touchdown pass to Aaron Riopelle was called back by holding.
The Braves finally got on the board with 6:06 left in the half by marching 71 yards in six plays. Klein caught a 4-yard bootleg pass by Carlson in the back corner of the end zone and Carlson ran in the PAT to make it 14-8.
Both teams scored again in the last 1:45 of the half. Davies got a 3-yard Hartness run and an Entze PAT run with 1:45 left. The Braves then went 61 yards in four plays -- with some help from the Eagles’ fourth personal foul of the game. Davies had six 15-yard penalties to end with 100 yards on eight penalties and two more offsetting.
With 36 seconds left in the half, Carlson escaped a sack twice and found the 6-foot-7 Klein in the back of the end zone for a score that made it 22-14 at half.
Klein hauled in his third TD pass, another 4-yarder early in the third quarter to pull the Braves within 22-20.
The Eagles responded with a lengthy drive for a score, followed by Shafbauer’s kick return by Mandan. But the Braves got no closer than 28-26 and the Eagles put it away on Hartness’ final run and his PAT.