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Bismarck's Jalen Sprecher (20) breaks past Legacy's Gavyn Sailer (82) during a game earlier this season. In back is Legacy's Devin Beck (10).

TOM STROMME, TRIBUNE

Should you encounter Jalen Specher on the street, a single glance at his 5-foot-10, 170-pound frame sends a clear message

"Athlete."

 But what kind of athlete? There are many options. Football (running back, defensive back, wide receiver)? Basketball (guard)? Hockey (forward)? Track (sprinter)? Baseball (middle infielder, outfielder)?

 That's just the exterior, however. Ask the Bismarck senior, and the answer is clear-cut.

 "Just football," comes the instant response.

 He's had overtures from the BHS track and field coaches, and he played basketball through his sophomore year, but there's no doubt where his heart is.

 "I'm a big football guy. The last couple of years have been all about football," he said.

 His love for football has not gone unrequited. He earned second-team all-state honors last fall as a defensive back.

 Tonight, Sprecher gets a chance to do something he hasn't accomplished in his three-year varsity football career. He'll be trying for his first victory over cross-town rival Century, the two-time defending state AAA champion.

 The Demons fell to Century 30-14 in 2015. Last fall Century prevailed 21-13 during the regular season and 27-12 in the state championship game.

 Century enters today's 7 p.m. game on the Bismarck State College campus with a 6-1 record and six straight wins. The Patriots are ranked second in the state AAA media poll behind West Fargo. They lost their opening game 16-14 to West Fargo Sheyenne.

 Third-ranked Bismarck stands 6-1 with five straight victories. Bismarck's lone setback was a 41-0 thrashing at the hands of West Fargo in the second game of the season.

  Both teams have clinched spots in the eight-team AAA playoff field, so, as a practical matter, seeding position is what's at stake tonight.

 However, Sprecher isn't looking at it from a practical standpoint. 

 "Obviously, the pride factor is huge. That gets personal with every person," he observed. "Being able to actually finish would be the most rewarding thing; having the ability to say we actually won."

 Sprecher said the idea of losing a fourth straight game to Century is not at all palatable. That goes along with being a Demon through and through.

 "I used to be the kid who had had one of those shirts that said 'future Demon. It's great being here and having this chance is something I've wanted to do for a long time," Sprecher noted. "This is as good a dream as a 17-year-old from Bismarck, North Dakota, can have."

 Although he's a third-year starter, this is Sprecher's first season at tailback, the epicenter of the BHS offense. He was a starting cornerback as a sophomore and last year played both offense and defense, getting a half dozen carries or so each game in support of tailback Lucas Butts.

 Now he's the man who gets the ball on most of the BHS running plays, and he's enjoying the work load.

 Sprecher said his busiest night of the season thus far was against Minot. Individual statistics for that game are unavailable, but the Demons racked up a season-high 397 rushing yards that night in a 35-14 victory.

 Although statistics for two BHS games are incomplete, Sprecher has rushed for 100-plus yards in four of the five games for which the record is complete. In those games he has 626 yards and 15 touchdowns on 89 attempts.

 He said playing tailback now feels like home to him. However, he said the route he traveled to get there has benefited him.

 "It was kind of a roundabout process. I was all offense until my sophomore year, and then I got a taste of defense. Then last year it was a little bit of both, and now this year I'm all offense," he recalled. "I kind of like the path I took ... but the No. 1 thing is being able to play."

 Last week he lugged the ball 18 times for 184 yards and four touchdowns in a 50-22 triumph over Legacy.

 That's one of the reasons Sprecher feels the timing is right for tonight's clash with the Demons' arch-rival.

 "Especially coming after the Legacy game and the momentum that provided," he said. "I think it's a good week to play them."

 Sprecher's counterpart for Century is 6-1, 200-pound junior Nathan Kraft, who has rushed for 406 yards and seven TDs on 90 carries.

 Bismarck quarterback Will Madler has thrown for 1,131 yards, while Century's Jakob Olson has piled up 789 passing yards with 12 touchdowns.

 Sprecher said there's no doubt running the ball at tailback is tougher on the body than playing cornerback. So far, so good, though.

 "It's been pretty good," he said. "There have been some minor things ... but nothing that can keep me off the field. I take a lot more hits than I did playing cornerback ... but sometimes the hits can motivate you."

 And, he points out, there are times when a running back can deliver hits.

 "Sometimes the best way to go on offense is to go through someone," he observed.

It's about pride

 Demons head coach Mark Gibson says there's no shortage of motivation going into tonight's showdown for either team.

 "Obviously there's the No. 1 seed at stake, winning the conference title and being at home for the playoffs," Gibson said. "But above all, I think both teams would say it's pride.

 "These are the games these kids are going to remember the rest of their lives."

 Gibson says arch-rivalry contests between two strong teams are the type of high-intensity games playoff-bound teams need.

 "Century is going to be somewhere in the mix, No. 1 or No. 2 (from the West), so it will be good to gauge ourselves against a team that's very good in quite an environment," Gibson noted.

 Gibson figures the Demons have played five playoff-bound teams through the first seven games.

 "We're battle-tested. We shouldn't be afraid of anything. We've been there, done that," he said.

  His concern is his players may attempt to play beyond their limits.

 "Any time somebody tries to play above and beyond their cababilites you can get into trouble and start pressing. I want our kids to play within themselves, play hard and enjoy the night," Gibson said.

 NOTES: Bismarck's last win in the 47-game rivalry with Century was by a 54-14 margin in 2014. The Demons lead the all-time series 33-14. ... Century's current three-game winning streak against BHS matches the string the Patriots put together in 1976, 1977 and 1978. ... Bismarck offense: 34.9 ppg, 201.6 ypg rushing, 161.6 ypg passing, 363.2 ypg total offense. Bismarck defense: 19.8 ppg, 170.1 ypg rushing, 169.1 ypg passing, 339.2 ypg total offense. ... CHS offense: 31.6 ppg, 182.0 ypg rushing, 122.1 ypg passing, 304.1 ypg total offense. CHS defense: 9.0 ppg, 83.3 ypg rushing, 115.3 ypg passing, 198.6 ypg total offense.

(Steve Thomas is a Bismarck Tribune sportswriter).

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