Cards hold off Dakota to advance to semi-finals

Forreston to play at Lena-Winslow on Saturday at 2 p.m.

Make it trip number three in four years to the football playoffs semifinals for Forreston.

With a hard-fought 22-20 win over Dakota on Nov. 10, the Cardinals earned a rematch of last year’s semifinal opponent, Lena-Winslow.

Early on, Forreston learned that it was a different Dakota team than the one they beat 40-20 earlier in the year.

“We knew Dakota would come out on fire,” Forreston coach Kyle Zick said.

So did the Cardinals, in an opening 12-play, 66-yard drive, which saw Evan Kelsey hit pay dirt for a 3-yard score. Four plays before, it was Kelsey getting three yards on a fourth-and-2 to keep the drive alive.

Ethan Mulder added what later proved to be an important 2-point conversion. Kelsey would add the second conversion.

The difference between this game and last, when Forreston had a 20-0 lead, was that Dakota came right back down and scored. Nearly identical to Forreston, it was an 11-play, 65-yard drive.

QB Josh Clark, found Evan Riggle for a 6-yard scoring pass and it was a game on at 8-7.
Dakota’s defense forced a 3-and-out and moved into Forreston’s red zone. Needing a big play, it was Cailean Davids coming up with it.

He disrupted the Dakota backfield enough to cause a fumble that ended the scoring threat.

“It was belly option and (Clark) tried to pitch at the last second,” Davids said.

Taking over at the 30-yard line, the Cardinals methodically moved down field after Bailey Cullor got them going with a 20-yard run that faked out the Indians.

However, the drive stalled after 13 plays when Garett Badertscher was stacked up for no gain on fourth down.

Forreston did get the ball back at midfield with 4:41 left in the second quarter. With Dakota selling out against the run, Cullor made them pay with a 42-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Davids for a 16-7 lead.

After a Badertscher interception on a Dom Christensen tipped pass, Forreston got the ball back with less than two minutes left in the half.

Not content to take the 2-possession lead into the locker room, it was Cullor and Kelsey hooking up on a 45-yard bomb that got the Cardinals within range for a couple shots at the end zone.

Forreston didn’t score but had momentum on their side coming out at half on the chilly night on the home field.

Both teams traded punts before Davids nearly went 80-yards with another fumble. Before he could scoop it up and go, the ball slipped out of his hands and he settled for falling on it instead, as the Cardinal coaching staff collectively let out a groan over what could have been.

“Forcing turnovers was a key,” Zick said. “They got us in option schemes and gave us trouble when we stopped playing assignments.”

Forreston would make Dakota pay, though. Taking over at the 17-yard line, it was Christensen scoring a touchdown six plays later.

Right after Cullor made it 3-for-4 on Cardinal fourth down conversions, the junior running back broke two tackles at he line of scrimmage and outran the secondary for a 55-yard touchdown.

“He’s got he strength of Steve and speed of AJ,” Zick said.

Attempting to make it what would likely be an insurmountable 24-7 lead with time running out in the third quarter, Forreston extra-point run failed.

Still, the Indians were in trouble, especially after Derreck Vince had consecutive sacks on Clark to create a third-and-25. Clark did get 20 of those yards back on a pass.

On fourth down, it was Clark throwing his fourth straight completion of the half for a 14-yard touchdown and 22-14 score.

“Our coverage was on top. That was a well-thrown ball and catch,” Zick said.

With 5:28 left in the game, Dakota got the ball back after a punt. Taking over at the 44-yard line, it Clark masterly leading the Indians down field.

With fans from both sides loudly cheering and only 1:36 remaining, it was another fourth-down situation for Dakota.

Clark called the same play that Dakota scores on before and it resulted in another touchdown, this time an 11-yarder to Carter Drake. That made it 22-20.

Again, Forreston had it covered, but it was a perfectly timed pattern between the two Indian standouts.

With Clark having the hot hand of eight straight completions in the second half, the Indians tried a pass for the conversion. On a fade route to the corner, Drake caught the ball, but was out of bounds.

“That was (Jacob) Swanson on coverage,” Zick said.

Forreston recovered the onside kick and survived a second close game in a row over an NUIC foe.

“Those were two great games,” Zick said.

Forreston and Dakota were nearly equal in total yardage with about 350 each.

The biggest test of all comes this week in the form of Lena-Winslow, who crushed Aurora Christian 57-14.