Mark Gibson has coached five Class AAA state championship teams during his tenure at Bismarck High School.
His last five teams have produced four state titles.
Defense was a huge part of that success, and according to Gibson, no Demon defense was better than the one that took the field in 2012. Unbeaten Bismarck (12-0) posted five shutouts last fall and held opponents to eight points or less in all 12 games. The Demons allowed just 48 points in all, many of which were scored after the issue had long been settled.
“Overall the experience and the speed of that defense was second to none. It was the best defense I’ve had in all my years of coaching,” Gibson said. “It was a senior-dominated group, with nine seniors. The speed was phenomenal .... all 11 guys were quick. They flew to the ball and created a lot of turnovers. We expected the defense to be a strength of our team and those kids didn’t disappoint in any way.”
Several players from that defense will be on the field Saturday in Miles City, Mont., for the Knights of Columbus Badlands Bowl, the annual North Dakota vs. Montana high school senior all-star football game. Kickoff is at 7 p.m., Central.
Among the six Demons on the North Dakota roster is Riley Plant, a 5-foot-10, 210-pound middle linebacker. Gibson said Plant was the “heart and soul” of the Bismarck defense.
“Riley was definitely our leader out there,” said Gibson, who is serving as North Dakota’s head coach. “He has the instincts and the God-given abilities that you can’t coach. He’s a kid who will do whatever it takes to win. He’s not concerned at all about headlines or getting recognition. His main concern is getting the win.”
A two-time all-state linebacker, Plant also was the Demons’ starting fullback and lead blocker for all-state tailback Layne Johs last fall, but much preferred the defensive side of the ball.
“I think it’s a lot more fun. Making a big hit and stopping somebody gives you a great feeling,” he said. “I liked being part of the defense we had (last fall). We played awesome together. We really shut teams down.”
Plant broke into the starting lineup his junior year and helped the Demons to state titles in 2011 and 2012. Bismarck’s 21-0 win over Century in the Class AAA state championship game last fall was its 17th straight victory.
“It was a great couple of years. We kept the Demon football tradition going,” Plant said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better group of guys to play with, or a better group of coaches to play for. The ultimate goal every year is to win a state championship. We put a lot of hard work into it and it paid off.”
Plant is joined on the North Dakota roster by teammates Nick Goulet, Brett Adam, Josh Seibel, Ben Jolliffe and Johs. Goulet, Adam and Seibel are expected to play in the defensive secondary. Jolliffe (quarterback) and Johs (running back) will see action on offense.
“It’s nice that we can play one last game together. We’ve been teammates and friends a long time,” Plant said. “Bismarck High has six guys playing for North Dakota, and I think that says a lot about our program.”
Saturday’s football game will be the last for Plant, who plans to become an electrician.
“I’m excited about the game and I’m going to give it everything I have because it’ll be my last one,” Plant said. “I’m sure it won’t hit me until the fall, but I know I’m going to miss it.”
The North Dakota defense will try to slow down a usually potent Montana offense that has plagued North Dakota teams in the past. Gibson said this year’s roster is loaded with solid defenders, including Tyler Sadowsky and Brady Zittleman of Mandan, and Stetson Carr of Hazen.
“We wanted kids with speed and a nose for the ball,” Gibson said. “The Montana kids are quick, and for a lot of our kids, it’ll be the first time they’ll see that kind of speed. A big key for us will be making that adjustment. We have a group of kids who we feel will rise to the occasion. They have a lot of talent and they love to compete.”
The BHS coach also has a great deal of faith in his long-time defensive coordinator, Dale Colby.
“It’s our system and we’ve had a lot of success with it,” Gibson said. “We believe in coach Colby and his ability to come up with the right game plan.”
Montana won last year’s contest 27-15, it’s fifth victory in seven years, and 14th in 19 contests.
North Dakota roster
Trevor Zacher, 6-4, 195, QB-S, Beulah. Seth Ewoniuk, 5-7, 145, RB-C, Belfield (South Heart). Ben Jolliffe, 6-2, 180, QB, Bismarck. Stetson Carr, 6-2, 187, QB-LB-S, Hazen. Christian Lunde, 5-9, 175, QB-WR-RB-SS, Grafton. Nick Goulet, 6-1, 185, WR-FS, Bismarck. Brett Adam, 5-8, 165, WR-DB, Bismarck. Dan Arnold, 6-5, 200, WR-LB, Fargo Shanley. Zach Reich, 6-0, 190, RB-SS, Fargo South. P.J. Peterson, 6-3, 220, QB-RB-TE-DE-OLB, Larimore. Layne Johs, 5-11, 210, RB, Bismarck. Josh Seibel, 5-10, 170, WR-DB, Bismarck. Preston Lehmann, 6-0, 210, RB-DL, West Fargo. Brady Zittleman, 5-8, 170, WR-C, Mandan. Abraham Roehrich, 5-10, 185, RB-SS-LB, Stanley. Tyler Sadowsky, 5-8, 180, RB-LB, Mandan. Isiah Binstock, 6-3, 200, TE-LB, Dickinson Trinity. Riley Plant, 5-10, 210, FB-LB, Bismarck. Austin Wicklund, 5-10, 190, OLB, Fargo South. Drew Johnson, 6-0, 195, LB, West Fargo. Ethan Feil, 6-4, 240, OL-DL, Divide County. Zachary Peterson, 6-2, 215, DE, Grafton. Logan Gunderson, 6-2, 260, OL-DL, Berthold. Christian May, 6-1, 245, OL-DL, Fargo South. Cordell Schroeder, 6-2, 250, OL-DL, Carrington. Zachary Drevlow, 6-3, 240, OL-DL, Milnor-North Sargent. Trevor Anderson, 6-3, 250, OL-DL, Griggs-Barnes County. Josh Berg, 6-2, 270, OL, Fargo Shanley. Jesse Kubik, 6-7, 290, DT, Dickinson Trinity. Brock Pittsley, 6-1, 265, OL-DL, Killdeer. Logan Shockman, 6-4, 220, TE-DE, LaMoure. Dustin Iverson, 6-3, 230, TE-WR-LB-DE, Grant County-Flasher. Jeff Illies, 6-5, 205, TE-WR-DE, Wyndmere-Lidgerwood. Eric Peterson, 6-3, 210, TE-LB, Fargo Davies.
Head coach: Mark Gibson, Bismarck. Assistants: Matt Weidler, Velva; Tom Maus, Grafton; Scott Thorson, Towner-Granville-Upham; Dale Colby, Bismarck; Tim Kolsrud, Bismarck.