There was a day when the Bismarck Demons football team would have had about as much chance in a passing shootout as Don Knotts against Jesse James.
Well, no more.
The Demons and Fargo South put on a passing display Friday night, and when the smoke had cleared BHS came away a clear winner, 41-14.
Bismarck handed the visiting Bruins their first loss in five starts. BHS improved to 4-1. South entered the game ranked third in the state AAA poll, Bismarck was fifth.
Will Madler, Bismarck’s 5-foot-9, 165-pound junior quarterback, put on a show with his feet as much as his arm. Madler spread 18 completions among six receivers for 297 yards and two touchdowns. Wideout Tanner Davis caught five passes for 78 yards and tailback Jalen Sprecher grabbed four balls, also for 78 yards.
Many of those completions were made possible by Madler’s quick feet and the ingenuity of his receivers. On several occasions, Madler seemed destined for sacks and sizeable losses, only to slip away, exend the play and find an open man. The Bruin defense never did catch up with him for a sack.
Madler said he doesn’t have eyes in the back of his head. It just looks that way.
“I just feel what’s coming … and I trust the guys around me to protect me and make plays. That’s what happned today,” he said.
And about that feeling-what’s-coming business?
“It’s half (learned) and half (instinct) from playing the game a long time,” he explained. “You know what’s going on around you and the internal clock in you head is running.”
Bismarck wasted no time showing that it meant business, scoring three touchdowns in the first quarter, two of them set up by Bruin turnovers.
South fumbled the ball away at its own 30 in its first possession and Bismarck capitalized, scoring in seven plays, the last a one-yard run by Sprecher.
The Demons put together a 63-yard, nine-play drive to make it 13-0, with Madler finishing it off with a one-yard quarterback sneak.
Another South giveaway, this time on its own 34, again gave BHS a short field. Madler found Joe Jahner in traffic over the middle for a 23-yard scoring strike and Bismarck had a 21-7 lead at the quarter break.
South closed the gap to 28-14 on a 78-yard, six-play blitz in the middle of the second period, with Victor Isaak bulling in from a yard out with 7:48 remaining in the half.
BHS responded immediately, however, marching 80 yards in five-plus minutes to open a 34-14 halftime advantage. Sprecher capped the drive with his second one-yard scoring run.
The Demons remained in charge the rest of the way, permitting the Bruins only two first downs in the second half.
Lost in all the aerial action was Bismarck’s ground game, which piled up 223 yards on 44 carries. Sprecher led the way with 141 yards on 21 tries. Fullback Jared Rath added 57 yards on 11 attempts, including a 17-yard touchdown jaunt.
All told, Bismarck outgained the Bruins 520 yards to 288. Quarterback Tanner Dubois threw for 205 of South’s yards, 177 of them in the first half.
The BHS defense held South to just 22 yards total offense after intermission and sacked Dubois four times. Dyllon Sicble threw Dubois twice for losses of 11 and 10 yards.
Bismarck coach Mark Gibson said the BHS defense began to figure out South’s game in the latter stages of the first half.
“They’re a big-play team and I thought our defense played very well,” Gibson said. “We had some hiccups at times and they exposed us … so it was a good test for us tonight. I thought we passed with flying colors.”
Madler said the victory, although it had no standing in the West Region, was valuable.
“Fargo South is a really good football team. They came in undefeated and we knew it would be a tough game. It was a really good experience for us to play a playoff team like that,” he said.
Madler’s wondrous Houdini-like escapes netted only nine yards on three carries. On one of his excursions he took to the air, hurdling a would-be tackler and picking up a penalty for it in the process. He didn’t know hurdling tacklers was illegal.
“At halftime coach said that kid was diving at everyone’s ankles, so I thought I could jump over him. … It’s an illegal play, though. I had no idea. I just play the game,” Madler said.
Yes, he plays the game, much to Gibson’s delight.
“That surprised me more than anything,” Gibson said. “He’s a gamer.”