At 6 feet and 195 pounds, Bismarck quarterback Tyson Gibson makes a poor candidate for the role of lightning rod.
Nonetheless, Tyson's father, Bismarck head football coach Mark Gibson, insists Tyson has been a metaphorical lightning rod all season.
"For Tyson there's been a lot of pressure," coach Gibson said. "One reason is who his father is. And he's taking over for Esley Thorton. Plus our receiver corps has been depleted. ... When (Devin) Schirado went down it was a major blow to our receiver corps."
"The quarterback is a lightning rod," coach Gibson added. "... That's put more pressure on him, too, and he's handled it very well."
As Thorton's stand-in, Tyson racked up a lot of playing time last fall as BHS galloped to an unbeaten season and a second straight state AAA title. Yet he was in many ways an unknown commodity. In all those minutes of playing he'd thrown just one pass - a 12-yard completion.
Tyson makes no claims about being the new Thorton, but he's been an efficient leader of the state's highest-scoring AAA offense. BHS is averaging 35.9 points per game.
Tailback Channing Mann has accounted for much of that with his 1,524 rushing yards and 23 touchdowns. Tyson has thrown for 586 yards and five touchdowns and has run for 55 yards and eight TDs. He's been intercepted just three times as the Demons have built a 19-10 takeaway-giveaway advantage.
Along the way, Bismarck has gone 7-2, winning its last five regular season games. The Demons have outscored their last four opponents 193-72.
That bodes well for today's 7 p.m. quarterfinal playoff game with Fargo North at the Community Bowl. North (4-4) is 1-1 against West Region foes with a 28-14 victory over Jamestown and a 49-17 loss to Century.
Tyson said the Demons are ready for the playoffs. |"You always feel the need for more (improvement) but I feel our chemistry has come together pretty well," he said. "... The offensive line has really connected. ... We're running the ball well and that's always been our No. 1 priority as far as offense goes."
Coach Gibson said getting a home game as the No. 2 West Region seed gives Bismarck an edge against a challenging opponent.
"They have a lot of weapons and I don't know how well we match up against that," Mark Gibson said. "Their strengths right now are our weaknesses. ... We have not done a very good job of defending the spread (offense) this year."
Ravaged by graduation, Bismarck was slow out of the gate. With just two full-time offensive starters and two defensive starters returning, Bismarck dropped its first game 6-0 at West Fargo and lost its West Region opener 20-14 to Century.
Since then, Tyson said, it's been steady improvement. He said the five-game winning streak "has really benefitted our confidence and momentum. We've been getting better each and every week and we're starting to do the little things right."
Tyson said the West Fargo and Century games were not just losses, but distressing defeats.
"They were huge setbacks as far as our confidence and demeanor," he noted. "We basically got punched in the mouth by both of those teams. I think the guys have done a nice job of bouncing back from adversity. ... We're slowly but surely getting to where we want to be ... but we still have a ways to go."
Tyson said he was excited by the prospect of playing quarterback at BHS, but not just because his dad was the coach. "You put in so many hours in the weight room and running and preparing that you're anxious to get the season going," he said.
While he felt the Demons were a big target going into the season with their 22-game winning streak, Tyson said most of that pressure has dissipated. "We're a whole different team from last year, and we're not even thinking of what they did in the past," he said. "We're just looking forward to Fargo North."
Bismarck finished the regular season ranked fourth behind West Fargo, Fargo South and Century in the final statewide poll. Minot rounds out the top five.
Tyson said none of those teams has proven to be a formidable beast in what should be a wide-open playoff.
"Everyone legitimately has a shot at it. There's no one dominant team in the state. There are no undefeated teams, and everyone has a weakness," Tyson said "... As far as talent, we're pretty even. ... It just boils down to who comes out and plays well."
In one respect, the season has already been a success for BHS. Almost 12 weeks into the coach-athlete partnership, both father and son like the arrangement.
"I'd be glad to do it again, especially with the group of guys we have," Tyson said. "I've had a blast so far this season. ... I feel things have been very normal. (Mark) is two different people. ... At practice he's my coach, and at home he's my dad."
Coach Gibson would also vote for a replay.
"I'll be sorry to see him go," Mark said. "He knows our offense so well it's like having another coach on the field. He's very stubborn about some things, but the ultimate goal for him is to win."