by Ryan Chrisiansen
FARGO, N.D. – The Fargo Invaders semi-professional football team will take their 2-1 winning record in Northern Elite Football League play to Sea Foam Stadium at Concordia University, St. Paul, on Saturday, June 5, to play the St. Paul Pioneers. The Pioneers, at 3-0, currently share the top spot in league standings with the Minneapolis Warriors.
The Invaders will use the Memorial Day Weekend bye week to rest and recuperate.
The Pioneers have played five games, including two non-league contests. They play a high percentage passing game and have one fleet running back with a 10.1 yards-per-carry average on 16 carries. Meanwhile, the Invaders exhibited good defensive play in their 36-0 shutout of the Twin Cities Sabercats at Jim Gotta Stadium at Moorhead High School in Moorhead, Minnesota, this past Saturday, but the Pioneers will be a bigger challenge.
“We need to carry over the mindset that we had in our game against the Sabercats,” said Invaders head coach Zach Stich. “Simply put, we need to play our game. We had one of the best team performances this season and I can only see it getting better as we gain more momentum. I have a great respect for the Pioneers organization and we will be looking to add a few defensive wrinkles in the upcoming weeks.”
It took a while for the Invaders to find their offensive identity against the Sabercats. In earlier games, the team alternated between quarterbacks Dev Alger (#4) and Jamus Neal III (#3), but this past week Neal III took the driver’s seat. With 7 runs for 99 yards against the twin cities kitties, Neal III had the most rushing attempts and yards in the game. He was sacked only once, and his completion percentage was down slightly, but overall he turned in a great performance, with 10 completions for 142 yards and 2 touchdowns, with 1 interception.
“When we were looking at our first three games, the one thing that stood out to us was Jamus’s mobility,” said Stich. “In semi-pro football, when the quarterback is on the move, it tends to open up even more opportunities downfield. Jamus’s second touchdown run was planned after an in-game adjustment. We haven’t had a quarterback like this in recent years, and I can say that there may be more of an opportunity to see him use his legs as well as his arm.”
One of the highlights of the game against the Sabercats was a lateral to Alger, who played wide receiver in this game instead of quarterback, when Alger completed a 32-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Nate Soto (#19) late in the third quarter. Alger also contributed 4 catches for 47 yards as a receiver. Stich said he sees Alger being a big contributor moving forward. “Dev is a competitor,” Stich said, “and when we approached him about playing receiver, he had a team-first mentality. His performance this weekend is exactly why I asked him to play receiver, and I hope that we see even better stat lines in the upcoming games.”
Soto tallied 2 touchdowns on 3 catches for 79 yards in the game. Wide receiver Jon Baune (#85) continued his contributions with 4 catches for 39 yards, while wide receiver Rodney Stewart (#9) caught 1 pass for 15 yards.
In the ground game, Shane Sigler pushed his way to 4.4 yards per carry on 7 attempts against the Sabercats. He was one of six Invaders in the game to carry the ball and—excluding Neal III’s rushing attempts—the Invaders enjoyed 71 yards on the ground, which contributed to the team’s success through the air.
“We know that in order to get our guys like Nate Soto, Jon Baune, Constant Jackson, and others open, we have to establish a reasonable ground game,” said Stich. “We have a trio of running backs that can give us enough yards per carry, which makes it easier to dial up a big play through the air. I think we will see more from our running backs in upcoming contests as our offensive line begins to establish itself.”
Against the Sabercats, running back Brandon Jones (#23) continued to have the most carries, with 8 attempts for 20 yards, while alternate quarterback William Tudmon (#14), running back Tim Devaney (#28), and fullback Clyde Bryant (#39) each had one carry.
Near the end of the game, Tudmon and alternate quarterback Jeffrey Newburey (#13) took a few snaps.
When the Invaders offense scores 36 points, it’s easy to focus on offense, but the game was also a shutout, which means the Invaders defense really earned their stripes. Stich said Invaders defensive line coach Matt Leman deserves a big shout-out for keeping things fresh. Stich said, “Matt did an excellent job and did a few things differently that got me excited.” Leman was thrust into play-calling duties while defensive coordinator Joe Barfknecht welcomed his third child into the Barfknecht family.
Stich said it’s really difficult to pick out any particular player for their defensive performance this past Saturday. Jamus Neal, Jr., Derek Alexander, Josh Gatlin, Cornelius Wahlo, Jourdon Perkins, Greg Clark, Gregg Stemn, Dominic Goseyun, Vince Holmes, Quinn Redmond, Germaine Armstrong, Antwaun Philips, Travis “TWill” Williams, Nate Ellingson, Garrick Mckinney, Lonell Powers, Dallas Hayes and Ibukun Awosika all got their time to shine in the game. “Also, I should give a big shout-out to Clyde Bryant for working defensive tackle on a few snaps as well,” Stich said.