Des Moines North hosted Des Moines Roosevelt on Friday, and it was more than just another game for the Polar Bears.
North’s resurgence this season has been one of the best stories to follow all year. The Polar Bears were 4-1 coming into Friday’s game, the first time North has won four games in a season since 2008.
And the last time North won five games? Forty-six years ago. That’s right. The Polar Bears haven’t had a five-win season since 1976.
And while North searched for that elusive fifth win and bragging rights among the DMPS programs, it was Roosevelt that struck first and held on for a 40-36 victory. Jayden Davison picked up the first touchdown of the game before North’s Gabe Gunn scored a touchdown and added a 2-point conversion to give the Polar Bears the lead.
Both teams went back and forth, and it was the Roughriders who went into halftime with a narrow 20-16 lead.
North opened the second half with a touchdown, which came off a huge catch-and-run by Aron Gonkaryon. Roosevelt briefly took back the lead before Gunn battled for a touchdown late in the third to give the lead back to the home team.
On Roosevelt's next possession, the Polar Bears made a couple of huge stops before allowing a first down after a Roughriders timeout. Dominic Wade and Roosevelt's pass game got the Roughriders back in scoring position with under 30 seconds left to play.
Roosevelt's Peter Phanthoudeth scored on that drive, leaving North with just nine seconds to score again. Without a strong pass game, the Polar Bears fell to Roosevelt, 40-36.
“It feels amazing,” Phanthoudeth said of scoring the game-winning touchdown. “All the guys, we have so many weapons. But they put the ball in my hands and I won the game.”
As for North, head coach Eric Addy saw a lot of learning opportunities in the loss.
“This team was unbelievable,” Addy said postgame. “None of these guys have ever been in a football game like that. None of those guys have ever played a game where it’s back and forth down to the wire.
“It’s not a positive that we lost but the lesson that we’ll learn from this will definitely be a positive. So, losing a game like that, it’s going to help us so much going forward because that’s a feeling that we don’t really want to have.”
Both teams came prepared for the run, but Roosevelt's passing came out on top
With a player like North’s Gonkaryon – who led the state in all-purpose yards ahead of Friday’s matchup – it should come as no surprise that Roosevelt’s defensive game plan seemed to revolve around shutting down the senior superstar.
For the most part, the Roughriders were successful. When Gonkaryon had the ball in his hands against Roosevelt, the defense was there to make a play.
But the Roughriders weren’t the only team that came prepared.
Both programs have run-first offenses. North has attempted only 23 passes, compared to running it 220 times. Roosevelt has a more balanced offense – 120 passes and 138 rushes.
When North was able to shut down Roosevelt’s run game, Roughriders quarterback Wade had plenty of options in the air. George Williams was a solid option for Roosevelt — putting the Roughriders in scoring position with 15 seconds remaining — and Phanthoudeth was an all-around fast player regardless of how he got the ball in his hands.
It was that last drive, during which Roosevelt put on a passing clinic of sorts, that sealed the victory for the Roughriders.
“I was kind of a little mad I didn’t get it in at point,” Williams said of his catch that put Roosevelt on the 2-yard line. “The last drive was crazy. We were getting everything we wanted and we were all getting out of bounds. It was just perfect, and our quarterback made all the right reads.”
Jumping the Gunn
Let’s circle back to Gonkaryon for a second.
He was still successful against Des Moines Roosevelt, there’s no denying that. If Gonkaryon wasn’t the one picking up the points, he was the player who put North in a position to score.
But it was Gabe Gunn, the supporting cast alongside Gonkaryon, who put on a show against the Roughriders. He scored the first touchdown of the game for North and battled for another before the end of the first half. He’s a powerful player who puts in the work without getting as much recognition as Gonkaryon.
It was impressive to see the way Gunn broke tackles or pulled the line with him when he needed to. Workhorse is the best way to describe his effort against Roosevelt, and North will need him to continue playing this way when teams catch on to Gonkaryon’s tricks.
“I’m not looking forward to not having Aron Gonkaryon on our team and this special group of seniors that we have,” Addy said. “I am optimistic for the future with guys that are leaders on and off the field and just great people, like a Gabe Gunn.”
North takes a hit on the line
The Polar Bears were already without offensive and defensive tackle Kevin Quayee at the start of Friday’s game, but North may have lost another key piece.
Iowa commit and defensive lineman David Caulker visited trainers on the sidelines at around the seven-minute mark of the second quarter and did not return to the game. While North’s offense and defense managed to play well without him, his absence was definitely felt.
Caulker has a knack for opening up lanes for his running backs, pushing the pile a few extra yards and stopping opponents in their tracks.
Des Moines Roosevelt 40, Des Moines North 36
Roosevelt: 7 13 8 12 -- 40
North: 8 8 14 6 -- 36
Receiving: North: Aron Gonkaryon 4-74-0
Passing: North: Jayden McGregory 6-91-0
Rushing: North: Gabe Gunn 25-117-4
Alyssa Hertel is the college sports recruiting reporter for the Des Moines Register. Contact Alyssa at email@example.com or on Twitter @AlyssaHertel.
This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Des Moines Roosevelt 40, North 36: DMPS matchup comes down to the wire