BY AARON PATTERSON
Though few things will completely take away the pain of losing last year’s second round playoff game against Marshall in heartbreaking fashion, the last-second loss sent a spark throughout the Bismarck-Henning football program that left the returning players determined to raise the bar and set new standards.
The spark reverberated a desire to accept nothing less than their best effort, and the result has so far been an historic season that saw one more accolade added to the list on Saturday.
After matching the 1984 and 1985 teams with an undefeated regular season, the Class 2A fourth-ranked Blue Devils moved ahead of their predecessors on Saturday with a 55-13 first round playoff win over Georgetown-Ridge Farm/Chrisman becoming the first football team in the school’s history to record 10 wins.
“That’s a milestone,” Bismarck-Henning coach Mark Dodd said. “In 51 years of football at this school, this is the first time a team from Bismarck-Henning has got that 10th win. Our kids are excited and our coaches are excited, and I think our whole community is excited.”
The Blue Devils (10-0) provided plenty of excitement for their fans and community by putting on a show with highlight-reel plays that lit up the scoreboard and led to personal milestones, as well.
Bismarck-Henning running back Kevin Allen (eight carries for 48 yards) passed 1,000 yards for the season joining teammate Patrick Ganley who reached the mark two weeks ago.
Ganley only touched the ball 12 times in Saturday’s contest, but put up video game numbers rushing for a Blue Devils single-game record 275 yards and five touchdowns. More impressive than the numbers alone might have been that Ganley did it all in the first half. His last carry in the game came with five minutes, 11 seconds remaining in the first half. Reed Collins had set the previous mark of 260 yards in 2009.
The rushing total also pushed Ganley to the top of the list ahead of Collins and Michael Packard for most rushing yards in a season.
“I know we ran that play a good few times last game and they couldn’t stop it, so we just did the same thing this game,” Ganley said. “It’s our big linemen taking care of everything. I just run behind them.”
Ganley fumbled on Bismarck-Henning’s opening possession, but on his very next carry, he sprinted 58 yards for a touchdown. On Bismarck-Henning’s next possession, he helped the Blue Devils go up 15-0 on a 32-yard run, and found the end zone three more times on runs of 38, 37, and 76 yards.
Allen gave Bismarck-Henning a 22-0 lead on a three-yard run in the second quarter following a sack and fumble recovery by Austin Reinken. The defense stepped up again when junior defensive back Dustyn Ingram picked off his third pass of the season and returned it 41 yards for a touchdown. Anthony Helton had already secured his team-leading fourth interception of the season on the third play of the game.
GRFC was held to 120 yards passing in the first half and -7 yards on 18 carries.
“We’ve relied on those kids all year,” Dodd said of the Blue Devils’ defense. “This is a fine group of kids who really understand the game. Their football IQ is very, very high. As long as we can block and tackle and play physical, I think this group has a good chance.”
GRFC coach Josh Cavanaugh and his staff had planned to break through Bismarck-Henning’s defense by attacking it through the air. Four different Buffaloes completed passes and accumulated 230 passing yards against a defense that had given up only 164 through the air during the regular season. However, 110 of the yards came in the second half against the Bismarck-Henning reserves.
“Defensively, they are very, very good,” Cavanaugh said. “Offensively, they were having their way. A lot of credit goes to them.
“We knew we had to come in and throw the ball against them. We had four or five dropped passes that we need to get better at. Our quarterbacks are 14 and 15 years old. We’re getting better. We played better this time than we did the first time (against Bismarck-Henning), regardless of the score.”
The Buffaloes (6-4) were playing without leading rusher Troy Rodriguez who was suspended for the game after being ejected in the regular season finale for an unsportsman-like conduct penalty.
Senior lineman Derek Shuman, who is second on the team in tackles and had a total of seven sacks during the season, was also out of the lineup after suffering a non-football-related injury.
Though the Buffaloes graduate six seniors, Cavanaugh is encouraged by the play of his young squad filled mostly of sophomores, three juniors, and three freshmen (Skyler Reed, Matt Penry, and Ethan Sliva) who all saw significant playing time.
“They are an important six (seniors), but the future is looking good for us,” Cavanaugh said. “To get back-to-back playoffs, and win the Coal Bucket, everybody’s got to understand that this is a young group of kids, and to see the success that we’ve had this year (is encouraging).”
While the Buffaloes look to next season, the Blue Devils will enjoy reaching yet another milestone before getting back to work with plans to continue making history. Next up is DuQuoin (8-2), which defeated Johnston City 47-12.
“It feels great,” Reinken said of setting the school’s win record. “To not be able to get it last year, it feels great. I’m excited for us. I’m just ready for the next round. We’ve got to move on. We made history. Our team is going to celebrate tonight, but once we get that next film, we’ve got to focus again.”