Jilek pushed into starting RB role for Titans
Nathaniel Jilek's first carry against Beulah last Friday was fumbled but recovered by a teammate. Shortly after, a Dickinson Trinity coach shouted from the sideline for Jilek to keep two hands on the football.
For the rest of the evening, Jilek covered the points — uninterested in stiff arming defenders — and ran for 140 yards and a touchdown in Trinity's 21-0 victory.
"I was really nervous early," Jilek said. "After you make one mistake, you don't want to make another one. So that was my primary thing to focus on, not fumble that ball, so I made sure I had two hands on it every time I went through the line."
It was an important learning opportunity for the freshman running back playing in place of injured junior Kaden Kuntz, who suffered an MCL injury in the second half against Killdeer on Sept. 29.
The win against Beulah gave the Titans (5-1, 5-1 Region 4) the top spot in their region, and they can earn the top seed outright with a victory tonight against Garrison-Max (1-6, 0-6). Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. CT in Garrison. Trinity enters the contest ranked No. 5 in Class A.
Titans head coach John Odermann said that "barring a miracle," Kuntz was lost for the season. So with the Class A playoffs beginning next week, the team has to get Jilek up to speed.
"My goal is to be more mentally prepared and read defenses better," Jilek said.
Another strong showing against the Troopers would be a promising sign for the Titans as they prepare to enter the postseason.
"We're going to have to get into the game and see what it's going to take to win the game, but I think Nathaniel is a big part of that game plan," Odermann said. "We have to be able to run the ball. They have a five-man front, and we haven't seen a lot of those this year. ... We want to work on being successful against it. That's an interesting challenge for our offensive line to man up and block a guy. We want to run the ball, but we're going to take what they give us. They'll run a Cover 3 over the top, and I think we can throw on a Cover 3."
Still, tonight against the Troopers or later in the playoffs, Trinity will have to replace the production, or at least the threat, of Kuntz. Making Jilek comfortable in the backfield will go a long way toward that goal.
"It's important we give him another week of confidence," senior lineman Logan Karsky said. "If we're making our blocks, he should have another good week."
Trinity has allowed just two points in the last five games, meaning it has not allowed a touchdown since the opener against Bowman County. The Titans hope they can continue this dominant stretch through the Garrison-Max game so that they do not limp into the playoffs.
"You don't want to get caught up in a big win (against Beulah) and have that be the highlight of your season," Karsky said. "We've got a good road left and we have to keep pursuing to where we want to be."