Thunder start season with a bang

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It’s hard to imagine a better start for the Fond du Lac Thunder football team. Unless you’re their coach, that is.

On the surface, the Thunder’s 28-0 whitewash of Minnesota State-Fergus Falls last Saturday at Superior’s Spartan Athletic Complex was great. However, with this team there will always be room for improvement.

“Defensively, our kids are fired up,” head coach Keith Turner said. “But we know we have things we need to work on.”

Defensive coordinator Terry Fawcett and his staff have gone over game video with the players and saw what coaches see: areas for improvement.

“We had some trouble in our zone coverages and let them get deep for a couple of big plays,” Turner said. “We played our man coverages well but we had some miscommunications. We’ll continue to get better. We don’t want to rest on shutting people out. We just want to get better.”

A second-quarter goal line stand, though, resulted in defense even Turner couldn’t fault. Damon Barnes (Baltimore, Md.) then blocked a Fergus Falls field goal to keep the visitors off the board and provide a huge lift for the Thunder.

“Damon made a great play,” Turner said. “He’s an offensive receiver but he used his ability to get in position to make a play, and then the players realize that ‘hey, the coaches really do know what they’re talking about.’”

Quarterback Kendarian Carter (Houston, Texas) found running back Te’Vaughn Hurse (Fort Wayne, Ind.) with a 56-yard scoring pass in the first quarter. For the day, Carter was 11 of 21 for 225 yards and a touchdown.

Running back Josh Bender (Ashland, Wis.) added two rushing touchdowns as part of his 11 carries for 35 yards. Hurse added 48 yards on 11 carries and Carter rushed 13 times for 37 yards and the other Thunder touchdown.

Donte Arnold (Woodstock, Ill.) and Kieran Bender (Ashland) posted second-half interceptions to preserve the shutout and set up an intriguing matchup on Saturday in Wahpeton, N.D.

There, the Thunder will meet the North Dakota State College of Science for the first time ever. Kickoff is scheduled for 2 p.m. and the home team will play with a chip on its shoulder.

“They (NDSCS) went to Rochester last week, made a lot of mistakes and lost 54-17,” Turner said. “They will be looking to improve a lot and we’ll look to keep improving.”

Defensively, though — despite the need for improvement — there was still plenty to smile about.

“We had multiple kids going to the ball on defense,” Turner said. “We preach ‘rally to the ball, rally to the ball,’ and we had four and five guys there and sometimes as many as eight on some plays. That was impressive.”

There’s also a need to iron out some bugs offensively.

“I would grade us at a C or C-plus because we did some things we wouldn’t ordinarily do like take intentional grounding penalties,” Turner said. “But we made a lot of good reads, ran the inside and outside zones well, and did a nice job controlling the clock and game situations.”

Turner also had praise for Bender.

“He and Te’Vaughn were both patient,” Turner said. “Josh just wore them down. People didn’t want to tackle him at the end of the game.”

The Thunder hope to continue their improvement in Wahpeton, and Turner sees the game as pivotal to measure progress.

“If we go there and keep our head in the game and win, I like our chances,” he said. “We have to go there and play solid, and give ourselves a chance to win. But if we go on a long road trip, and we have bus legs and we’re thinking about how long that trip was, we could get beat.”

“We have enough talent to play with anyone,” Turner said. “If we respond well, we can win the rest of our games. If we don’t, we’ll have to find a way to respond.”