BY AARON PATTERSON firstname.lastname@example.org
---- — SIDELL —At the beginning of the season when the Salt Fork Storm were setting their goals for the 2013 campaign, at the top of the list, as usually is the case for a Brian Plotner-coached team, was to first make the playoffs. That goal was followed closely by winning in the playoffs. If they could simply make it to the playoffs, everything else during the regular season would take care of itself.
The Storm did more than qualify for the playoffs this season; they fell only one game short of finishing the regular season undefeated for what would have been the third time in Plotner’s 12 seasons as head coach.
The three-point loss in Week 5 to the Bismarck-Henning Blue Devils was disappointing, especially realizing they could have picked up nine wins, which was another goal Salt Fork had set.
But not all was lost. All the Storm had to do was win their first playoff game and for the third season in a row, they would have reached the mark. But that didn’t happen, either.
With multiple opportunities, and the misfortune of turning the ball over a total of six times, Salt Fork fell in the first round of the Class 1A playoffs on Saturday 23-19 to the Arthur-Lovington/Atwood-Hammond Knights.
“We were hoping today more than anything that it would have been three years in a row with nine wins,” Plotner said. “That would have been a really nice accomplishment for these guys (seniors) to get nine wins in three consecutive years. That was the primary goal to advance and get to that mark. They still had a good season.
“We lost to two really good teams that I think we were evenly matched with. They’ve had a lot of success here at Salt Fork. It’s a frustrating way. It was everything a playoff game should be.”
On Salt Fork’s first possession of the game, A-L/A-H’s Tyler Schuring picked off a Jacob Hughes pass in the end zone. That play not only kept the Storm from getting on the board, it set the tone for what would be a frustrating, turnover-filled day.
On Salt Fork’s next possession, it fumbled on the second play of the drive, and Schuring was once again there for the recovery.
The Storm (8-2) turned the ball over on three of their six first-half possessions, each time coughing it up in Knights territory.
“They made some good plays on the ball,” Salt Fork senior running back and linebacker Cole Taylor said. “It didn’t seem like we were lax with the ball, I just felt like it was the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Salt Fork finally found the end zone with one minute, 52 seconds to go in the second quarter when Hughes connected with Seth McLain for a 47-yard touchdown.
That scoring strike had seemed to shift the momentum back into Salt Fork’s favor. The Storm carried it over to the second half and scored on their first possession, a 61-yard drive capped by Taylor’s three-yard run.
The Knights (8-2) responded with a 64-yard run by Schuring to pull to within 12-10, but Salt Fork answered with another 64-yard drive to go up 19-12.
But that is when the misfortune returned. The Storm’s next two possessions ended in a fumble cause by a long snap, and an interception. A-L/A-H took advantage by scoring 13 unanswered points to secure the win.
Just as the game began with Schuring intercepting Hughes’ first pass attempt, Knights senior defensive back Cutris Plank sealed the win with another interception with 47 seconds to go at the A-L/A-H 31-yard line.
“These are tough ones,” Plotner said. “As a coach, I hate to say it, but you would rather get put down by 21 or 28 points and you know there’s no doubt — and I don’t think Dale (Schuring) or I had any delusions that it was not going to be anything like this. We thought it was going to be a very nip-and-tuck game, which it was. It’s difficult to be on the losing side of it.”
Taylor finished with a game-high 152 rushing yards, and unofficially 921 for the season. Despite the three interceptions, Hughes completed seven passes for 84 yards and unofficially finished the season with 993 passing yards.
This season marked the eighth time since 2004 that the Storm won at least eight games, and they were hoping to make it the fifth in that span with nine or more wins.
But the loss also marked the fourth time in the last five seasons an otherwise successful season ended in the first round of the playoffs.
“At the beginning of the season you always set your goals high,” Taylor said. “The first goal was to make the playoffs, then the next goal after that was to win in the playoffs. We just couldn’t do it.”
The Knights advance to the second round to take on top-ranked Maroa-Forsyth.