SIDELL — To say that the Bismarck-Henning Blue Devils have been tested this season might not do justice to the efforts they have produced on the field.
For the third week in a row, the Blue Devils faced a tough challenge, and each time they have come out on top.
In Week 3 of this season, it took a last-second field goal by Dalton Duncan to pull out a 17-15 win over the Milford/Cissna Park Bearcats.
Last week, a 21-13 win over the Westville Tigers was ultimately decided by a late interception by Dustyn Ingram.
And on Friday, a collective sigh of relief was exhaled on the Bismarck-Henning sideline, followed by an eruption of cheers when the game officials signaled that Braedon Lappin-Pratt had picked off Jacob Hughes’ pass with 13 seconds to go to secure a 28-25 win over the Salt Fork Storm
“Sometimes lessons are learned the hard way, and we’ve certainly had a few hard lessons,” Bismarck-Henning coach Mark Dodd said. “We’ve been in this situation three weeks in a row, and we’ve been able to pull it out. I’m just really, really proud of my kids.
“I think the biggest word to describe this group of kids right now would be character,” he added. “I’m very, very proud to say that. Win or lose, they played their hearts out. I just had a lot of fun, and I think they’re having fun.”
For the second year in a row, the Blue Devils have started the season a perfect 5-0. The win marked the second year in a row they have defeated the Salt Fork Storm (4-1 overall, 2-1 in the Vermilion Valley Conference) after a long spell of 12 consecutive losses to the Storm. It also extended the program’s regular-season winning streak to an impressive 18 games.
And as dominant, at times, as the Blue Devils (5-0, 3-0) might have seemed last season en route to their 10-win season, this streak is becoming even more special to them.
“It’s been hard every game, but our team, they don’t give up,” Bismarck-Henning senior running back Patrick Ganley said. “Even how young they are, they don’t care if we’re down, they don’t care if we’re up. They fight to the end, and I think we’ve shown that through the last three games.”
Ganley rushed for 130 yards on 22 carries and had three touchdowns on the ground. But perhaps his most crucial score came with one minute, 10 seconds to go when he caught a pass from sophomore quarterback Dylan Allen for 60 yards to put the Blue Devils up 28-25.
“Oddly enough, that was the same play we scored on them last year to give us a two-score lead,” Dodd said. “Dylan Allen, I’ve got to tell you, he’s a sophomore. He called probably half the plays at the line of scrimmage tonight for us. He just showed incredible poise. I’m just so proud of him.”
Allen checked out of numerous plays that helped running back Mo Abbed run for 153 yards, and kept drives alive in order to keep the ball out of the hands of Salt Fork quarterback Jacob Hughes who connected on 12 passes for 195 yards.
Salt Fork’s Cole Taylor ran for 72 yards and three touchdowns including a 54-yard pass from Hughes. Hughes also dropped a perfectly-placed pass into the hands of senior receiver Luke Maddox who made a highlight-reel, over-the-shoulder catch in stride as he ran into the end zone to put the Storm up 25-21 with 10:31 to go in the fourth quarter.
But Salt Fork simply couldn’t slow down the ground attack of the Blue Devils which accounted for 330 of the team’s 417 yards.
“We couldn’t make stops,” Salt Fork coach Brian Plotner said. “It’s been the story of our season all year. We’re just not very good defensively. Give them credit, they made the plays, and we’re just not a very good defense right now. That’s on me. We’ve got to find a way to get better. They made the plays when they had to, and that’s the difference in the game.”
One of the biggest plays for the Blue Devils came on special teams when the extra point attempt by Austin Ringis was blocked. On the Storm’s next two touchdowns, they attempted to make up the points on two-point conversions, but the tries fell short each time, leading to the three-point loss.
Salt Fork will next take on Hoopeston Area while Bismarck-Henning travels to Fithian to face Oakwood/Armstrong-Potomac. But first, the Blue Devils will enjoy another tough victory that has them on top of the Vermilion Valley Conference.
“That was just so much fun,” Dodd said. “That was a great football game. Two really good teams playing until the end. Salt Fork was great all night. I think we were pretty darn good, too. Oh boy. That was just a fun night.”