As he discussed tonight's showdown against Century, Bismarck football coach Mark Gibson dusted off the old line about throwing the rankings out the window. But what fun would that be?
With the Demons ranked No. 1 in Class AAA and the Patriots, a close second, the polls add another layer of drama to the always compelling intracity rivalry.
Considering that the Demons and the Patriots have combined to win eight of the last 10 West Region titles, tonight's contest is about as big a matchup as you're likely to get in mid-September.
"It's early. It's just our first conference game," Gibson said. "It's a big game, not only for the bragging rights, but it's a big part in deciding who's going to be in the driver's seat in the WDA."
Another game that's going to play a big role will be happening in Mandan the same night, when the third-ranked Braves host No. 4 Minot. All four teams are unbeaten, making for an exciting night of local football.
"It's the start of a big sequence of events," Century coach Ron Wingenbach said. "We all need to play, each other still. Let's put it this way, the next three or four weeks, a lot will be decided. These games will dictate a lot in terms of seeding for the playoffs."
Although the Demons have had the most success of the three local clubs, having played in the last four state championship games and winning a total of three titles in Gibson's tenure, Gibson believes the young Demons may have the most to prove.
"Century is as good a team as I've seen in a long time," Gibson said. "They've got physical size, strength and speed, good skill kids. I'm not sure what more you can want.
"... Century is definitely the real deal, and there's a chance Mandan might be better than both of us."
The Patriots (3-0) have an excellent offensive line led by Conrad Schwarzkopf, Justice Johnson and Vinny Bianco.
Century has run the ball effectively, averaging 194.7 yards per game on the ground. The emergence of quarterback Jared Fischer has given the Patriot offense a nice balance. Fischer has completed 29 of 44 passes for 344 yards.
"The play of Jared Fischer has been a very positive thing," Wingenbach said. "He has a completion rate of about 65 percent. ... He's read the defenses well and made smart decisions.
"We thought it would be a growing process, especially early in the season, but he has exceeded that bar we had set for him."
The Patriots will be facing a fearsome Bismarck defense. Gibson rotates as many 18 players on that side of the ball, and that incredible depth has paid dividends. The Demons have surrendered a total of just 20 points in three games and have limited teams to less than 100 yards per game in total offense.
"We're able to stay fresh and give things different fronts and different looks," Gibson said.
As a bonus, linebacker Reed Hendrickson will be back in the lineup after sitting out with a foot injury.
"He's our defensive leader," Gibson said. "We babied him a little bit, because we wanted him to be ready for this game."
Bismarck's defense has been opportunistic, giving the team a plus-10 advantage in turnovers. The Patriots, who have been hampered by giveaways, will need to hold on to the ball.
Bismarck has averaged 47.0 points per game on offense, and like Century has had good balance. Layne Johs has run 54 times for 341 yards and scored nine touchdowns. Ben Jolliffe has been an efficient passer, completing 19 of 32 for 313 yards.
Still, Gibson hasn't been fully pleased with his attack.
"They won't be worried much about our offense," he said.
Both teams are eager to see how it plays out, even if there is a whole lot of season left.
"We're very excited with the intracity rivalry and all the ramifications," Wingenbach said. "The boys are pretty pumped up, but we have to keep it in context. We're going to face big battles down the road, and this is just one game."