WIMBLEDON — The Valley City High School football team knew entering the season that their biggest strength would be their defense.
It's the side of the team that retained the most experience from last season, and Friday night, it was a side that coach Scott Roehrich avoided over-coaching.
"I let the kids just play," he said. "I never stunted (them) very much tonight, I just lined them up and let them play football, let them do the things they're coached, and when you've got a veteran crew, sometimes you can do that.
It was a strategy that paid off as the Hi-Liners beat Griggs/Barnes County 14-7 in the homecoming game for Barnes County North.
The Valley City (2-1, 1-1 Class AA Eastern Division) defense limited the Titans (0-4, 0-2 AA East) to 112 total yards, including 44 rushing, an effort that Roehrich gave to the players.
"All the credit goes to them," he said.
It was the fourth straight loss for Griggs/Barnes, who has lost all four by narrow margins.
"It got away from us again," second-year GBC coach Davy Zinke said. "You've got to give hats off to Valley, they took time off the clock and we held them, we held strong."
Though the Hi-Liners bested the Titans in nearly every statistical category, the game ultimately came down to a few key drives.
For Valley City, it was the first possession in each half.
Valley City started with the ball at the GBC 41-yard line after the Titans had a four-down possession hurt by three penalties.
After losing a yard on first down, Shane Undem got the ball up to the 36 on second down, which set Dustin Lindgren up for a 36-yard sprint down the left side of the field for a touchdown with 7:48 left in the quarter. A failed two-point conversion left Valley with a 6-0 lead.
When GBC got the ball at Valley City's 42 after the kickoff, they immediately started answering back.
The drive started with an offsides penalty. After a two-yard rush that gave them second and 13 on the Valley City 46, the Titans got a break.
On second down, quarterback Tim Erker hit Jacoby Kramlich with a 40 yard pass on the left side of the field, which set the Titans up at the Valley City seven.
Derek Fletcher then ran in it three players later on a three-yard take up the middle.
After a penalty that moved the ball back to 8-yard line for the point after try, Brad Clemens nailed the kick, which gave GBC a 7-6 lead with 4:48 left in the first quarter.
The teams went back and forth with possession the rest of the half, including three straight drives for the Hi-Liners that ended with a turnover on downs but it wasn't until the second half that Valley City scored again.
On the opening drive of the second half, the Hi-Liners used the balanced rushing attack of Anthony Olstad, Shane Undem and Brandon Breckheimer to move the ball up the field.
The series included an eight-yard pass on third-and-11 from the GBC 27. The pass from Austin Svenningsen to Olstad tipped off the fingers off GBC's Fletcher and was combined with a roughing the passer penalty to get the ball to the nine-yard line.
A run by Undem got the ball to the two and Olstad moved it to the one before Jack Jensen ran it into the end zone on the far left side of the field. Svenningssn then completed a pass to Tayler Lentz for the two-point conversion.
The drive killed nearly eight minutes of the quarter.
Neither offense scored the rest of the game.
Valley City attempted to make a late drive but lost a fumble with 2:20 left.
Though GBC tied to make a late scoring drive, Valley City's pass defense kept the deep throws from connecting.
"You never like to turn the ball over, especially when you've got a chance to finish the game off, but our kids hung in there," Roehrich said. "I'm very happy with the way our kids responded to it too."
Valley City finished the game with 262 total rushing yards, including 104 from Olstad and 62 from Undem. Svenningsen had 43 pass yards on 4 completions. Lentz led the Hi-Liners with 35 yards on 3 receptions.
GBC had 68 passing yards, all from Erker, who went 4-16 in completions. Fletcher, a tight end, led GBC with 21 rushing yards after starting running back Hunter Engel was injured.
Zinke was pleased with his team's performance.
"We've got too many injuries again, too many mistakes —just downfalls — but we make all those mistakes and look at the score of the game. 14-7," he said. "How close do you want to get?"
He said though his team has had some rough luck lately, he's confident the Titans will catch break.
"Sometime down the road, something is going to have to work, but the main thing is that those kids didn't stop," Zinke said.