FARGO -- Surreal.
That's the only way to describe the atmosphere Thursday at the Fargodome. The No. 1 ranked Verndale Pirates overcame the loss of their coach, found guidance in its three assistant coaches and continued to dominate the opponent.
The Pirates defeated the Isle Huskies 30-0 for their 24th straight victory. The Pirate defense picked up its second shutout of the season.
"It was important to get that confidence," said Verndale assistant coach Tim Seaton. "The last few games, we've really been playing a lot better. But we went through a little time there where we didn't really play good defense. We weren't hitting real good. We weren't tackling very well. We gave up a lot of points. We're starting to play real good team defense and everyone is starting to do their job."
Isaac Johnson and the Verndale secondary avoided the big play. Isle was held to 45 yards passing the entire game.
"This was really big," said Johnson. "We were showing other teams that we can play defense. We didn't give up any big plays or long passes or long runs or anything. Their total yardage was fairly low. We just shut them down. It was our best defensive game of the year."
Andy Bramer recorded an interception after Tyler Fisher tipped a pass. Johnson also had a pick.
Verndale player Isaac Johnson watched as an ambulance transported head coach Mike Mahlen off of the field in Thursday's game. (Dispatch Photos by Nels Norquist)
Many sports stories are about how players step up. Thursday Verndale assistant coaches Seaton, Jeff Moore and Matt Jones stepped up.
"I didn't have any worry about our coaches," said head coach Mike Mahlen. "We're all on the same page. We work together during the week to get the game plan together. I wasn't worried about them. I was just hoping the kids wouldn't let down."
The players didn't. Once Mahlen left, the hitting cranked up a notch and the Pirates went to work.
"We got other coaches who know what they needed to do," said senior Brent Mattson. "We just stuck together and played for Mahlen and we just did it. That was big.
"This was fun. I didn't know he was coming back so soon. He came in the door and we clapped. It was just great to see him again. That whole game I was just thinking (about) how he was doing."
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