The Bismarck High offense didn’t have a perfect first half Wednesday night, but it was darn close.
The Demons scored on their first five possessions, and seven of their first eight en route to a 35-point halftime lead and a 69-25 Class AAA West Region victory over the Mandan Braves at the MDU Resources Community Bowl. It was the final regular-season game for both teams.
Running back Lucas Butts scored four touchdowns and quarterback Will Madler threw three scoring passes in a 48-point first half for the Demons, who racked up 321 yards in their eight first-half possessions.
“We came ready to play. We had a great game plan and we went out and executed it," said Madler, who finished seven of nine passing for 227 yards and four touchdowns. "We were hoping for a fast start and we got one. This was our last game before the playoffs and we wanted to build up some momentum."
Bismarck coach Mark Gibson, whose team improved to 5-2 in region play and 7-2 overall, said Wednesday's convincing victory was just what the doctor ordered after a 21-13 loss to rival Century last Friday.
"We didn't look like a playoff team last week. No disrespect to Century ... they played a great game, but we could have played better," he said. "We went right back to work after that game and our big focus was on the offensive line and the quarterback. Both stepped up tonight. I'm very happy with the way the kids responded after last week."
The Demons’ first two touchdown drives covered all of 64 yards. A 25-yard punt return by Jalen Sprecher and a 15-yard Mandan penalty put Bismarck on the Mandan 19-yard line. Three plays later, Butts scored from six yards out to begin the first-half barrage.
After a Mandan three-and-out, Butts broke loose for a 45-yard scoring run, and Kenny Winbauer’s interception set up a 55-yard touchdown drive that Madler and Mark Stumpf finished off with a 4-yard connection.
The Braves made it 21-7 with Dale Spilman’s 15-yard touchdown run and Sam Bussman’s extra point, but the Demons answered right back with Butts’ third six-pointer of the night, a 27-yard run.
Mandan gambled and lost on a fake punt from its own 19, and one play later, Tate Doppler found the end zone after hauling in a short pass from Madler.
Mandan quarterback Kaden Krause connected with Griffen Fettig for a 58-yard score, and the Braves’ defense responded with a stop. However, the Demons got the ball back four plays later on a Matt Trolley interception. Trolley returned the pick 23 yards to the Mandan 33, and Butts later capped the short scoring drive with a 14-yard burst.
After forcing a turnover on downs on the Bismarck 48, the Demons struck again, this time with a 52-yard pass from Madler to Tanner Davis.
Madler completed six of eight passes for 149 yards in the first 24 minutes, while Butts carried 15 times for 157 yards.
“It all started with Butts and the offensive line. When the running game is going well, it opens things up for the passing game," Madler said. "Everything clicked in the first half."
Sprecher tallied twice for the Demons in the third quarter. He scored on a 42-yard run and later took a short pass from Madler and zig-zagged his way to a 78-yard touchdown.
A 5-yard Walker Berg-to-Dalton Gullickson touchdown pass followed by Zac Schmidt's ninth extra point made it 69-19 with six minutes remaining in the game.
Krause passed 27 yards to Jaden Andresen midway through the third quarter, and later scored on a 51-yard keeper in the fourth. Krause totaled 153 yards passing on nine completions. Spilman carried 23 times for 115 yards.
The victory clinched the region’s No. 3 seed. The Demons will open the postseason against West Fargo Sheyenne next week in West Fargo.
“We don't know anything about (the Mustangs). We just know they do things a little different than we're used to seeing," Gibson said. "But we're in ... it's a new season. It's nice starting the playoffs coming off a win like this."