BY AARON PATTERSON
There were few words available to express the emotion of the Bismarck-Henning Blue Devils, but the tears that poured throughout the locker room and the lasting embraces held tightly between teammates — more accurately noted as family — possibly said more to describe the heartache they experienced in Saturday’s 7-6 Class 2A second round playoff game loss to the DuQuoin Indians.
The scene following the heartbreaking loss was eerily similar to that of the one viewed at Bush Field in Marshall 364 days earlier when the Blue Devils fought through what also appeared to be a history-making win, only to watch their season end with a 20-15 loss on a Hail Mary as time expired..
“Just a missed opportunity for us,” Bismarck-Henning coach Mark Dodd said. “I just really feel bad for our kids. We say good-bye to a great group of seniors that really put everything they had into what we’re doing. So, I feel bad for them.
“That’s just two good football teams slugging it out. An extra point, a couple flags, either team could have won that game and the other team would have been deserving.”
Every game and every snap of the 2012 season was dedicated to going one step further than what was accomplished in 2011.
Bismarck-Henning was one regular season win shy of finishing undefeated last year. That loss was against the Salt Fork Storm. This year, they exacted revenge on their Vermilion Valley Conference rival, and ultimately went 9-0 for the first time since 1985. That led to the program’s first-ever VVC title.
Last season, the Blue Devils were one victory away from getting a program record 10 wins. This season, they made history by getting No. 10 in the first round of the playoffs against Georgetown-Ridge Farm/Chrisman.
But it was the next milestone that the Blue Devils (10-1) wanted so badly. No Bismarck-Henning football team had ever made it to the state quarterfinals. A win over DuQuoin (9-2) would have helped the Blue Devils add to their historic season with their third milestone of the season.
Through nearly 40 minutes of game time, the Blue Devils dominated play, time of possession, and most importantly kept the Indians out of the end zone. But a 67-yard drive, DuQuoin’s longest of the day, ended with a 33-yard pass from Indians quarterback Brenden Fred to Jonah Spencer on fourth down for DuQuoin’s only touchdown of the day. Just prior to the play, Fred had thrown three consecutive incomplete passes including one that was nearly intercepted. The extra point by Fred proved to be the scoring difference for the game.
To that point, Bismarck-Henning had appeared to have had all of the game’s momentum.
“The whole game,” Blue Devils senior defensive end Morgan Supergan said. “I just don’t know what happened. We just fell apart at the end.
“We did the best we could. We got coached the best we could, and I don’t know what else we could have done. We just couldn’t come out with the W.”
Bismarck-Henning dominated on the game’s opening drive going 66 yards on 11 plays to go up 6-0. Kevin Allen had 36 of the yards, including the final five-yard push into the end zone. A scoring opportunity for the Blue Devils at the end of the second quarter fell short, and the Indians appeared to have swiped all the momentum on the opening drive of the second half.
Beginning the drive on the Bismarck-Henning 49, DuQuoin drove 45 yards to the Blue Devils’ four, but turned the ball over on downs.
“We felt we should have stuck one in there,” DuQuoin coach Al Martin said. “They played great defense down on the goal line and they held us.”
Unfortunately for the Blue Devils, they couldn’t hold the Indians on their next possession.
After Bismarck-Henning drained nine minutes off the clock on a 63-yard drive, DuQuoin used only 2:30 to go 67 yards for what ultimately was the game-winning score.
The Blue Devils had one final opportunity with just over two minutes remaining in the contest. They converted three fourth downs on a 14-play drive that eventually ended with an interception at the Indians’ three-yard line with three seconds left.
Bismarck-Henning converted four of 14 third downs, and five of seven fourth downs in the game.
Allen rushed for 102 yards on 21 carries, and Patrick Ganley ran for 65 yards on 15 attempts.
Junior receiver Dustyn Ingram caught three passes for 32 yards.
Bismarck-Henning’s defense held DuQuoin to 199 yards of total offense, and for the first time this season, the Blue Devils were held to under 300 yards in a 257-yard effort.
“That was a good football team that we beat,” said Martin, who appeared emotional and in disbelief. “We feel very fortunate to come out of this on top, because we beat a good football team and they played with a lot of heart. Our kids played with a lot of heart. It was just a great game.
“Defense played great, their defense played great. It was a great football game. For anyone that watched that game, that was an outstanding game.”
Bismarck-Henning had drives of 45 or more yards on four of its six possessions, but was only able to put points on the board on its opening drive.
“I just feel like that’s one that we let get away,” Dodd said. “They’re a really good team, and they deserved to win, but I think that’s one we should have got.”
The Blue Devils will return Ganley, who rushed for over 1,400 yards, but graduate nine key members of their first team defensive unit that gave up an average of only 1.9 points per game. Those seniors include linemen Austin Reinken, Supergan, Zack Akins, Jacob Ohl, and Cole Acton, and defensive backs Luke Horton, Ty Hufford, Kevin Allen, and Anthony Helton.
“We’re just a family,” Supergan said, “and I love all of them.”