BISMARCK — If one disheartening season-ending loss is tough to take, watching an otherwise successful season come to a close in similar fashion two years in a row has to be devastating.
There are no answers and no great reasons why the Bismarck-Henning Blue Devils deserved two consecutive disappointing outcomes. Two seasons ago, they were mere seconds away from advancing to the third round of the IHSA state playoffs when Marshall completed a last-second Hail Mary pass into the end zone for a 20-15 win.
In 2012, the Blue Devils’ fate wasn’t much better. Attempting to become the first-ever Bismarck-Henning team to advance past the second round, the Blue Devils watched an undefeated and record-setting season get its only blemish in a 7-6 home playoff loss to DuQuoin.
“It’s just really hard, tough lessons,” Bismarck-Henning head football coach Mark Dodd said. “There’s nothing really about this game or competitive sports that ever has to be fair. I felt like in both of those games, even though they were both pretty even, I felt like we were a better team. We failed. That’s not to discredit those teams. They were solid teams. A lot of that just really falls on me, too, making sure that we’re prepared for that next step.
“Last year was one of those odd years because we really had trouble. The season we played didn’t really prepare us for that type of battle. I sensed that, but we play who we play. Of course, this year, with losing as much talent as we had, we’re going to be in a dogfight every week.”
That might be the biggest hurdle for the Blue Devils to overcome. Bismarck-Henning enters the 2013 campaign with only four returning starters on offense, and three on defense from last year’s Vermilion Valley Conference championship squad.
Wilde Garowski along with tight end Braedon Lappin-Pratt are the only two returning members of the offensive line that blocked for the two-headed backfield of Kevin Allen (1,021 rushing yards) and Patrick Ganley (1,390). While Allen has graduated, Ganley will return for his senior season and be joined in the backfield by Mo Abbed and returning starter Dustyn Ingram.
Meanwhile, Ingram and Abbed will fill roles in the defensive backfield, along with Lappin-Pratt at linebacker as the only three returning defensive starters.
Despite the loss of players like Luke Horton, Allen, Zack Akins, Austin Reinken, Jacob Ohl, Cole Acton, and Morgan Supergan, the Blue Devils have confidence that this year’s roster will still be able to compete at a high level, and continue to build on the success the program has seen over the last two years.
“The guys we had playing behind them would start on most teams,” Dodd said. “Guys like Will Collins and Jarod Noel, Austin Reffett, they filled in and would have filled in fine if any one of those kids would have gotten hurt. And, they got some good, quality varsity minutes last year playing because we had a lot of leads. The cupboard isn’t bare. We have kids that can play.”
Those same players contributed to an offense that outscored its opponents 31.3-3.2 in 11 games, and a defensive unit that gave up only four touchdowns. The first touchdown scored against the Blue Devils’ defense didn’t come until Week 6 in a 48-7 win against the Oakwood/Armstrong-Potomac Comets.
“Reaching what we did last year has inspired us to want more,” Ingram said. “Having that devastating loss just makes us want to fight for more.
“You’ve got to have faith,” he added. “You’ve got to believe in our line and believe in each other that we can overcome it this year and be that first team to make it past that second round.”
The Blue Devils will begin the season on August 30 at home against Martinsville before going on the road for two games against Arcola and Milford/Cissna Park.