BY AARON PATTERSON
Almost one full year has passed — 364 days to be exact — since the Bismarck-Henning Blue Devils were on the verge of making history.
All they had to do was prevent the Marshall Lions from going 59 yards in 17 seconds, and they would not only secure their first 10-win season in school history, but also advance to the state quarterfinals, something no other Bismarck-Henning football team had done.
It didn’t happen.
As much as the Blue Devils would sometimes like to forget the disheartening loss, they have been reminded of the day constantly throughout the 2012 season. But for good reason.
Game-by-game, goal-by-goal, the Blue Devils have remained focused, reaching milestones that at times seemed improbable, but in reality, they were just seconds from achieving last year.
Following an undefeated regular season, Bismarck-Henning earned its record-setting 10th win against Georgetown-Ridge Farm/Chrisman in last week’s Class 2A opening-round playoff game. Today at 2 p.m., a win over the DuQuoin Indians (8-2) would give the Blue Devils that elusive second-round playoff win, and notch their third team milestone this season.
“We keep bringing it up, but we were on the verge of this last year,” Bismarck-Henning coach Mark Dodd said. “This is a big progression of the program. If you kind of look back and see where we’ve gone in the last six seasons, we’re a little better, a little better, and I think the last two seasons are, I guess, our reward for all of the hard work. We really hope to take that next step.”
But taking that next step won’t come without a challenge. In fact, the Indians are expected to give the Blue Devils (10-0) perhaps their biggest challenge of the season.
DuQuoin has played a schedule consisting of five Class 3A schools, one 4A program, and suffered its first loss of the season in the opener to Highland (5A). The Indians lost 7-6 the following week to Harrisburg (9-1), but have since been on an eight-game winning streak.
“We’re going to have to play our best game,” Dodd said. “That’s just the truth of the matter. They’re going to be big and fast, and they’ve played a lot of bigger schools, so a lot of people think that’s a pretty big advantage.
“Their two running backs in the backfield are very quick. They’ve got two really good receivers, and their line is comparable to ours. We’re probably a little bigger than them, but not drastically. We’re really going to have to be sound in everything that we do.”
And that includes limiting penalties, taking care of the football, and forcing turnovers. The Blue Devils have forced a total of 22 turnovers this season, and have found success in limiting the offense of the opposing teams. Bismarck-Henning is giving up an average of only 2.8 points per game. The Blue Devils still know they will have their hands full.
“This is going to be one of the best teams we’ve played all year,” said Bismarck-Henning senior defensive end Austin Reinken, who has a team-high eight sacks this season. “They’ve got the size to match up with us, they’ve got the speed to match up with us, and as a matter of fact, they run the same offense as us.
“A lot of people are saying we are the underdog and we’re not better than this team. We’ve just got to show them — that’s the way we were last year when Pinckneyville came to us. We’re the underdog, they’re bigger, they’re supposed to beat us. We came out and played hard, and that’s what we need to do again.”