Experienced Titans ready for return to top of the section
The Norman County East/Ulen Hitterdal Titans are eager to get back to the state tournament under 2017 District 9 West coach of the year Dustin Flaten after suffering season-ending losses the past two seasons to section rivals Nevis.
“Team goals are set high; the last five years we’ve been in three section championships and it’s no different,” Flaten said. “They want a chance to go to state and show what we can do.”
Nevis edged the Titans 20-18 in a tight game at Fargodome in the Section 6, 9-man final last season and NCE/UH has not been to state since a semifinal finish in 2014.
Getting back over that playoff hump is in the eyes of the players as the season progresses.
“We definitely think so, all of the seniors think that,” starting senior quarterback Tate Maesse said. “A section championship is definitely what we’re reaching for and we all know we can do it too.”
The quest for state will come without one of the Titans’ key players on both sides of the line of scrimmage.
Senior Sunny Resnick will miss the season after surgery in mid-August to repair a torn ACL suffered in the American Legion baseball season. Resnick was a regular running back and the defensive leader on the 2017 squad. He was the leading tackler on defense and also recorded seven interceptions.
“All our camps this summer he was in on every tackle; it’s going to be a blow to miss him,” Flaten said.
Without the bruising Resnick in the backfield the Titans are adjusting and going with team speed as an antidote.
“Sunny was one of our best running backs last year,” said Maesse. “He’s a tough loss on offense and defense. With him out, we have more speed on the outside and are able to pass more than in past years.”
Senior Steffen Sather has moved to running back to replace Resnick from a receiving position and both Flaten and Maesse are high on his potential contributions.
“One guy who is going to open a lot of eyes is Steffen Sather,” Flaten said. Hopefully, he can be a nice complement to Noah Klemetson.”
Klemetson, along with fellow backfield mate Tate Hoseth, are two of the Titans’ returning all-district players from last season. Klemetson and departed senior Kyle Syverson provided NCE/UH with a solid one-two punch and now as the lead back Klemetson will look for this year’s mate in the always punishing run-first offense of Flaten’s.
Klemetson will also be making a defensive contribution at his usual spot of linebacker after giving Flaten some much-needed flexibility on the D-side last year.
“Hopefully, we’ll have him back at his natural position at linebacker,” said Flaten.
Klemetson led the team in tackles as a linebacker his sophomore season.
“Last year, we knew we needed help at the D-back position and he did a great job for us,” Flaten said. “Offensively, he’s going to get the bulk of the carries for us and when we go spread he’s going to be our first or second target there too.”
Sather is the fastest player on the team and the Titans want to get him into open territory in both running and passing situations.
“He has hands like nobody I’ve ever seen,” Maesse said. “He’s very athletic.”
Knee injuries are nothing new to Maesse who played with one last season and is wearing a brace this year.
“It feels better; I feel like it’s safer to run on,” said Maesse.
Maesse has the luxury of two tall receivers on the end of the line in six-foot-seven senior Kale McCollum and six-foot-five Hunter Cromptom.
“McCollum’s struggled until this year with hands and we’ve always wanted to play him at tight end. We put him down at guard for a while but he’s shown he can catch the ball,” Flaten said.
Maesse is excited about both options in the passing game.
“Crompton is tall, fast wide receiver who can catch too,” he said. “It’ll be fun to have some targets to throw to.”
However, Maesse and opponents of the Titans know what to expect first from NCE/UH and that’s a punishing run game.
“Flaten has that mentality that we’re going to do this and do it crisp and clean every play,” said Maesse. “If that doesn’t work, we’ll switch it up. That’s just how we roll.”
McCollum, a three-year defensive starter, will continue to be a defensive stopper in contain defense.
“He spreads the field, contains and sets the edge at the D-end spot,” said Flaten.
He’ll be joined by Riley Resnick, a six-foot-three, 245-pound junior on the line.
“He’s a beast and tough to handle,” Flaten said. “He gets his motor going, contains his gap and can chase things down.”
One change this season is the loss of the rivalry with Waubun after the Bombers joined with Mahnomen and moved to Class 1A. Replacing Waubun will be Park Christian, a team that did not field a varsity last season due to low roster numbers and fear for the safety of the players.
The Falcons played two varsity games in 2016 before head coach Lawton Burgstahler pushed to forfeit the remainder of the season and move to a junior varsity schedule, according to a report by Chris Murphy of the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead.
“Obviously, with Waubun going with Mahnomen it waters down our section a little bit,” said Flaten. “This year we have an opportunity and we need to take advantage of it. We’ve been knocking on that door; we’ve been there. I think it’s time for these guys to say we’re going to bust through that door. We need to keep playing better.”
The Titans were 9-2 last season with one of those losses coming to Waubun. With the Bombers gone and Nevis having a lot of positions to fill after last year’s trip to state, the Titans are the favorites in the six-team section.
“The team that scares me is Win-E-Mac,” Flaten said. “They started coming around last year and I think they’ve got some guys back. I think they can be up there.”
For the seniors on the team with big dreams this year, the grind is still in its early stages and the task at hand is more the basics than thoughts of the playoffs.
“It’s just improving every day and working hard, getting these younger guys some experience on the field,” Maesse said.
The Titans open the season Thursday, Aug. 30 against the Ponies of Warren-Alvarado-Oslo in Warren.