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Thunderbirds ground and pound to victory in Ada

Parker Syverson splits a pair of Cougar defenders during a first-ever victory for the Mahnomen-Waubun co-op in the Thunderbirds' inaugural game as a program at Ada Friday, Aug. 24. Robert Williams / Tribune

Senior Parker Syverson and the Mahnomen-Waubun Thunderbirds kicked their first co-op season off in a big way downing last season’s Class A state semifinalists Ada/Borup-Norman County West 30-14 in Ada, Friday, Aug. 24.

“Everyone was looking forward to that first win and it’s nice to get that one out of the way and hope we can make it two in a row,” Syverson said.

Syverson put a late dagger in the Cougars scoring on a 94-yard run down the right sideline with two-minutes, 40-seconds remaining in the game to ice the win.

“In the fourth quarter, I caught my second wind,” he said. “It was tough just to get in the groove of things but once I caught my wind it felt good.”

Thunderbird quarterback Jon Starkey controlled the line of scrimmage with his offensive line and utilized a three-headed rushing attack led by Syverson and fellow seniors Jayden Heisler and Izaiah Asher.


“It was fun to rotate them and keep them fresh,” said head coach John Clark Jr. “The best part is you can take a kid like Syverson out and you don’t lose much, you lose a little, but not much and that’s huge for us. Starkey called a great game. He ran a great offense and it’s just fun to see him take control.”

Clark Jr. noted in the preseason that Starkey’s familiarity with the scheme is such that he is another coach on the field and the senior kept his huddle in composure as the Thunderbirds gained 338 total yards on the ground.

Both teams played to a 14-14 stalemate at the half. The Thunderbirds took over in a scoreless third quarter.

The Cougars botched Justin Littlewolf’s opening kickoff of the half allowing it to fall behind coverage, finally corralled by Verdis Barber, who got back to the 11-yard line. The Thunderbirds forced a punt eight-plays later, took the ball at their own 27 and kept it for the remainder of the quarter.


A personal foul flag pushed the Birds back to their own 14 and the march of 15 consecutive runs began from Starkey, Heisler and Syverson to Cougar territory as the horn sounded facing fourth down and seven at the 25.

On the opening play of the fourth quarter, Starkey found Syverson in the slot and Syverson made his way quickly to the pylon and a 22-14 lead.

“Our offensive line played very good in the second half,” said Clark Jr. “I think we only had two offensive possessions and we scored on both of them.”

Starkey converted on fourth and one at his own 23-yard line on the drive. The Thunderbirds were in four-down territory anywhere on the field.

“That’s Thunderbird football right there,” said Syverson. “Just drive it up the field one play at a time and let our defense rest.”

The Cougars answered driving from their own 40 to the Thunderbird two-yard line with a chance to tie and less than four minutes to play, but the drive stalled after a botched play pushed the ball back to the 16 and a fourth down fail.

“They kind of had us on our heels defensively and we just couldn’t make a play to get off the field,” Clark Jr. said. “They kind of did to us what we like to do to other teams - just find a way to move the chains and they kept doing it.”

Syverson’s romp put a quick end to the game two plays later.

“It’s a win-win because we won the game and played well for a good chunk, but we also had our moments where you're scratching your head wondering what we’re doing,” Clark Jr. said. “So, that’s a learning lesson to keep the kids hungry. First game against a very, very good team. To hang in there and get a win, pretty pleased.”

The Thunderbirds took the opening kick of the game and marched 60 yards leading to a two-yard Starkey score and a 6-0 lead. Syverson returned the opening kickoff 26 yards to the 40 to set up the drive. It was the only chance he would get to return as the Cougars elected to squib the remainder of the game.

The first Cougar drive ended in a Braiden Fetting fumble at the Thunderbird 20, but Colby Stevenson reversed fortune three plays later picking off a Starkey pass and scoring on a 30-yard return. He also made his point-after kick and the Cougars led 7-6.


Mahnomen-Waubun posted the third touchdown of the opening frame by battering away with Starkey, Asher, Heisler and another senior - Chandler Toczek to move 60 yards in seven plays and a four-yard touchdown run by Heisler. Starkey converted a run for a 14-7 lead.

Both teams stalled on second quarter drives before the Cougars used the remainder of the nine minutes left until halftime to run a 14-play, 66-yard drive to a tying score with 17 seconds remaining on a one-yard Barber run. Stevenson’s kick sent the teams to the break in a deadlock.

Syverson rushed 11 times for 141 yards and one rushing touchdown, along with the lone reception for the Thunderbirds - a 25-yard touchdown catch. Starkey rushed 20 times for 113 yards and a touchdown; Heisler was 10-55 and one TD.

Mahnomen-Waubun (1-0) hosts Class 2A Hawley (0-0) in a second straight big game against a tough opponent to start the year Thursday, Aug. 30 in Mahnomen.

M-W    14 0 0 16 - 30

A-B/W   7 7 0 0 - 14


First quarter

M - 7:55 Starkey 2 run (run failed)

A - 3:09 Colby Stevenson 30 interception return (Stevenson kick)

M - 0:56 Jayden Heisler 4 run (Jon Starkey run)

Second quarter

A - 0:17 Verdis Barber 1 run (Stevenson kick)

Fourth quarter

M - 11:47 Parker Syverson 25 pass from Starkey (Spalla pass from Starkey)

M - 2:40 Syverson 94 run(Chandler Toczek pass from Starkey)

Robert Williams

Sports Editor at the Detroit Lakes Tribune. Williams worked prior as the Sports Editor in Perham for the Focus, a Forum Communications newspaper, from 2010-14. 

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