The Bismarck Demons have long been the most dominant football team in the state of North Dakota. Bismarck has won seven consecutive West Region titles, having won four state championships during this time period while appearing in six consecutive championship games from 2008-13.
During this seven-year time frame, Bismarck has a record of 41-2, and the Demons had not lost during regional play since 2011 – until Friday.
Behind the arm of quarterback Shawn Steffan, hands of wide receiver Michael McChesney and vision of running back Tyrell Harris, Dickinson dealt Bismarck its first loss in the regular season since 2011 in a generational 22-21 upset victory at the Bismarck Community Bowl.
“I have never coached in a game like that as long as I have been at Bismarck,” Demons head coach Mark Gibson said. "We were completely out of sync, we had a lot of unforced errors and we have a lot of work to do.”
The first quarter of this contest did not feature any scoring, as neither team could get into an offensive rhythm early on. Dickinson had a chance a couple of minutes into the game, but tight end Tanner Davidson dropped a near-perfect Steffan pass as his route broke into the end zone.
Bismarck nose guard Lucas Butts forced a fumble at the very end of the opening 12-minute frame, but it would not amount to anything of significance until the second quarter began.
Demons’ quarterback Jordan Mann led his unit into the end zone early on in the second quarter, finding tight end Ethan Hauff for a 10-yard score. Even after Hauff’s score, Bismarck still couldn’t maintain a rhythm in the second quarter, shooting itself on offense with a 10-yard holding penalty on 3rd-and-2 as well as defense, which featured a 30-yard pass interference penalty.
Even kicker Hunter Johnson, who has been far-and-away the best and most consistent at his job in the state, missed the extra-point trying following Hauff’s touchdown. However, he did drive home a 26-yard attempt in the third and a 35-yard attempt early in the fourth quarter.
The Demons, who owned a 13-0 lead following the second Johnson field goal, completely fell apart with under eight minutes to play in the game.
Dickinson’s remarkable comeback all began with a 21-yard touchdown pass from Steffan to McChesney as the halfway point of the fourth quarter neared. During the ensuing Bismarck offensive possession, running back Jaxon Ford, who accounted for 183 yards on the ground, could not gain firm control of a handoff attempt from Mann.
As the talented running back attempted to make his first cut, the ball popped loose, falling behind both him and Mann where the Midgets jumped on it.
“I think it was that fumble toward the end right there,” McChesney said when asked about the game’s turning point. “We came back, we gave up that touchdown, then we just had it in our mind that we can do it, and we just drove down the field and good things happened.”
Beginning its drive from the Bismarck 28 yard line, Dickinson quickly made its way into the red zone, and Steffan found the end zone on a one-yard run, opening up a Midgets 14-13 lead with 5 minutes and 30 seconds on the clock.
Ford, who must have forgotten all about his recent fumble, guided the Demons down the field and into the end zone to take the lead once again. The senior running back accounted for 56 rushing yards, which included a 21-yard rushing touchdown.
But this score with only four minutes remaining didn’t stop Dickinson. Harris busted a 40-plus-yard rushing attempt to get the Midgets into Bismarck’s defensive zone, and that is when the magic truly happened.
Steffan timed McChesney’s slant route perfectly, delivering the ball right into his hands, as he broke loose for a 35-yard score with just 2 minutes and 30 seconds left on the clock.
“We hadn’t really been taking advantage of making some pass plays to the middle of the field,” Dickinson head coach John Tuscherer said. “So, it seemed like guys were widening out. We called a slant across the field, and Shawn stepped up in the pocket and put up a good throw to Michael and, well, the rest is history.”
Tuscherer then sent his offense back onto the field, attempting to take the lead on a two-point conversion.
“To be honest with you, we had a couple of options,” Gibson said. “One was the quarterback taking it and keeping it, which they hurt us with earlier, and the other was something to the tailback, which is what happened.”
Harris received the handoff from Steffan, and worked his way to the edge and then into the end zone to give Dickinson a one-point, late-game advantage.
“He has great vision, and he has got a great burst,” Tuscherer said of his running back. “But the most important thing that he has is a great group of offensive linemen in front of him that really pave the way for him.”
Bismarck had enough time to work the ball downfield for a game-winning drive, but Mann threw an interception, effectively sealing the game.
“It’s just crazy, ebbs and flows; it’s just crazy,” McChesney said. “They are the best football team in the state right now, and we just showed them that anyone in the state can play with them. It’s just crazy.”
After amounting a total of six passing yards through three quarters, Steffan really stepped up for his team, delivering two touchdown passes and 97 passing yards without an incompletion in the fourth quarter.
“My team just had confidence in me, and I started playing with confidence in myself,” Steffan said. “The defense kept us in the game the whole game, which gave us more confidence on offense that we could go out and get things done. So we did.”
His teammates were right to have confidence in him, as he proved to be a major difference-maker when the game was on the line.
“We were completely outplayed tonight, Dickinson deserved that win,” Gibson concluded.
Dickinson played perfect football when it mattered most, earning its first victory over Bismarck since 2000.
“It just shows all the hard work that these guys have put in throughout the summer, throughout two-a-days,” Tuscherer said. “It was really just a great team win.”
Dickinson;0;0;0;22 – 22
Bismarck;0;7;3;11 – 21
B – Jordan Mann 10 yard pass to Ethan Hauff (Hunter Johnson)
B – H. Johnson 26 yard field goal
B – H. Johnson 35 yard field goal
D – Shawn Steffan 21 yard pass to Michael McChesney (Jake Weidner)
D – Steffan 1 yard run (Weidner)
B – Jaxon Ford 21 yard run (Ford run good)
D – Steffan 35 yard pass to McChesney (Tyrell Harris run good)
Highlights: D – Steffan 8-13 (61.5 percent), 103 passing yards, 2 touchdown passes; 20 rushing yards, rushing touchdown. McChesney 6 catches, 93 receiving yards, 2 touchdown receptions. Harris 144 rushing yards, two-point conversion. B – Mann 7-13 (53.8 percent), 60 passing yards, passing touchdown; 37 rushing yards. Ford 183 rushing yards, rushing touchdown. Lucas Butts 58 rushing yards; forced fumble, sack, two tackles for loss. Cole Irey 20 rushing yards. Seth Siverson 27 receiving yards. Hauff 10 receiving yards, receiving touchdown.