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Ground game powers Demons

TOM STROMME/Tribune

Luke Keller, left, and Sam Neubauer, center, of Bismarck have been a vital part of the offensive line the past two seasons.

They play football, but guys like Sam Neubauer and Luke Keller are really in the moving business.

That doesn’t mean they depend on moving vans to get the job done. Their equipment is technique and brute strength.

Neubauer and Keller are two vital parts of a Bismarck offensive line that’s allowed Demon runners to rush for more than 2.5 miles the past two seasons.

Keller, a 227-pound senior, played tackle for last year’s state runner-up team, which ground out 3,217 rushing yards. He’s shifted to guard this season.

Neubauer, a 240-pound senior, is in his second season as the starting center.

Tonight in Minot, Keller, Neubauer and their linemates face the stiffest challenge so far. The Demons, 5-0, square off against a Minot team that’s 3-2 and is the stingiest defense in the West Region when it comes to running the ball.

In tonight’s other regional games, Century plays at Jamestown and Dickinson visits Williston.

BHS, ranked second in the statewide AAA football poll, is averaging an imposing 242.4 yards per game on the ground. Fifth-ranked Minot is surrendering a measley 79.2 yards. Obviously, something has to give.

Bismarck’s linemen are not inclined to back down from the task.

“I kind of like the challenge,” Neubauer said. “We like to go out and play hard every game. We like to think we can run the ball. ... We like to stick to what we can do.”

That’s the image of Demon football that’s out there: Power running and ferocious defense.

Returning all-state quarterback Hayden Gibson has given opposing defensive coaches another element with which to contend. The Demons also lead the West in passing with a per-game average of 149.8 yards. And Gibson is the top dog in TD passes with a dozen.

Wideouts Jon Tharaldsen (17 catches, 224 yards, 4 touchdowns) and Seth Siverson (10-178, 5) serve as a counterbalance to a running game led by tailback Jaxon Ford (68 carries, 520 yards, 12 TDs).

Although the passing game is a more prominent part of the Demon offense than it was last season, Keller said it hasn’t changed his job description much.

“It’s pretty much the same — come off the ball,” Keller said. “Pass or run you’re going to hit someone either way,” he said.

Minot has some offensive firepower of its own, including tailback Karter Gorney, the leading rusher in the region with 733 yards and eight touchdowns. All-state quarterback Ben Bolinske is third in the region with 630 yards through the air for four touchdowns.

Hunter Duttenhefer (8-171-3) and Brayden Lund (17-136, 1) are Bolinske’s favorite targets.

All told, Bismarck stands first in the region in scoring offense (53.4) and scoring defense (12.8). Minot ranks third in scoring (25.6) and second in defense (16.4).

Bismarck leads the West with a 3-0 mark with Century and Minot a game back. BHS head coach Mark Gibson said tonight’s clash is a pivotal one for both teams.

“If we don’t win there’s no way we’ll get the one seed,” Gibson said. “They’re coming off a bye week, so they’ve had two weeks to prepare for us. And we’ve got to go up there, which is always eventful.”

Keller said the season has already been satisfying from one perspective. He believes the Demons of today are a far better team than the one that opened the season with a problematical 52-29 victory over Grand Forks Red River.

“One thing that’s gotten better is our energy,” Keller said. “... I just feel that’s one thing that gets us going before the game.

“We’re ready to play ... and the guys who don’t play much have gotten a lot louder on the sideline.”

Neubauer said the enthusiasm on the sideline is contagious.

“It helps keep the energy level up on the field if the sideline guys are loud on every play,” he said.

Neubauer says five games have made Bismarck a much better team than the one that came out of preseason practice.

“We’ve come a long way, both offensively and defensively. Everyone is playing well and executing their assignments,” he pointed out. “That includes the special teams. They ran one back last week.”

Keller and Neubauer said intangibles are likely to decide tonight’s game at Minot.

“Execution,” Keller said. “What we focus on is everyone doing his job.”

Neubauer had a similar viewpoint.

“If we play hard and come off the ball on every snap,” he said. “We try to do that every single game. We want to stick to our main thing — execution. You’ve just got to trust the guy next to you and trust that the coaches coached them right.”

Both linemen said playing as a senior is far removed from being an underclassman. There’s much more at stake as a senior.

“Last year if I had a bad game I’d get better the next week,” Keller said. “This year I can’t say that. Time is getting away ... so I need to go all-out. Before you know it it will be all over.”

Keller said there’s a leadership factor to consider, too.

“We learned from the previous senior classes. ... We’ve been lucky enough to have great senior classes before us,” he said.

Neubauer said as a senior he’s aware that he’s modeling Demon football to the juniors and sophomores.

“As a senior ... you almost help to coach the underclassmen and try to be more of a leader to the whole team,” Neubauer said. “... You can’t really mess around. Now we’re telling guys who are messing around to stop it.

“Coaches expect seniors to lead. Seniors did a good job of leading us and setting an example for us.”

Neubauer said there is a rah-rah factor to football leadership.

“Before the game you’ve got to have that high energy as a senior. ... The other guys feed off what you’re putting out,” he said.

CLASS AAA

WEST REGION

Region Overall

W L W L

Bismarck 3 0 5 0

Minot 2 1 3 2

Century 2 1 2 3

Jamestown 2 2 4 2

Dickinson 2 2 2 4

Mandan 1 3 1 5

Williston 0 3 1 4

Friday, Oct. 3

Mandan 24, Williston 0

Bismarck 63, Jamestown 14

Dickinson 35, Century 28, OT

Friday, Oct. 10

Bismarck at Minot, 7 p.m.

Century at Jamestown, 7 p.m.

Dickinson at Williston, 7 p.m.

West Region statistics

Offense: 1. Bismarck 53.4 points per game. 2. Minot 25.6. 3. Century 23.0. 4. Jamestown 22.2. 5. Dickinson 16.7. 6. Mandan 13.7. 7. Williston 8.2.

Defense: 1. Bismarck 12.8 points allowed per game. 2. Minot 16.4. 3. Jamestown, 18.2. 4. Mandan 24.8. 5. Dickinson 27.3. 6. Century, 30.4. 7. Williston 33.2.

Individual Offense

Rushing: 1. Karter Gorney, Min, 123-733. 2. Jaxon Ford, B, 68-520. 3. Chris Kraft, C, 79-502. 4. Nick Miller, Man, 87-429. 5. Kass Dvorak, D, 92-410.

Passing yards: 1. Ross Monson, J, 55-129-3, 883. 2. Hayden Gibson, B, 54-82-2, 749. 3. Ben Bolinske, Min, 45-84-2, 630. 4. Jake Carlson, Man, 51-119-4, 575. 5. Boston Horob, W, 37-112-12, 514.

Touchdown passes: 1. Hayden Gibson, B, 12. 2. Ross Monson, J, 9. 3. Chris Kraft, C, 6. 4. Jake Carlson, Man, 5. 4. Ben Bolinske, Min, 4.

Receiving yards: 1. Logan Anderson, J, 13-350. 2. LeCarl Branch, W, 21-317. 3. Noah Wanzek, J, 14-245. 4. Jon Tharaldsen, B, 17-224. 5. Cyril Nagurski, C, 7-212.

Total offense: 1. Chris Kraft, C, 1,011. 2. Ross Monson, J, 916. 3. Hayden Gibson, B, 759. 4. Boston Horob, W, 737. 5. Karter Gorney, Min, 733.

Scoring: 1. Jaxon Ford, B, 72. 2. Karter Gorney, Min, 48. 3. Dalton Sanders, B, 42. 4. Ben Hanson, J, 37. 5. Hunter Johnson, B, 33.

Field goals: 1. Ben Hanson, J, 4. 2. Tony Kostelecky, D, 2.

n NOTE: Mandan’s individual statistics do not include results of the Fargo South game.

EAST REGION

Region Overall

W L W L

Fargo South 4 0 6 0

West Fargo 4 0 4 2

Fargo Davies 3 1 5 1

G.F. Red River 2 2 3 3

Devils Lake 1 2 1 3

Fargo North 1 2 1 4

G.F. Central 0 4 1 5

W.F. Sheyenne 0 4 0 5

Friday, Oct. 3

G.F. Red River 28, Fargo Davies 20

Fargo South 63, W.F. Sheyenne 22

West Fargo 57, G.F. Central 0

Saturday, Oct. 4

Fargo North 27, Devils Lake 14

Friday, Oct. 10

West Fargo at Fargo Davies

G.F. Central at Fargo South

G.F. Red River at Devils Lake

W.F. Sheyenne at Fargo North

East Region statistics

Offense: 1. Fargo South 46.5 points per game. 2. Fargo Davies 35.8. 3. West Fargo 31.2. 4. G.F. Red River 27.8. 5. Devils Lake 23.4. 6. W.F. Sheyenne 18.8. 7. Fargo North 10.2. 8. G.F. Central 9.3.

Defense: 1. West Fargo, 10.3 points allowed per game. 2. Fargo South 16.8. 3. Fargo Davies 20.7. 4. Fargo North 28.8. 5. G.F. Red River 29.3. 6. G.F. Central 35.7. 7. Devils Lake 36.2. 8. W.F. Sheyenne 44.2.

Reach reporter Steve Thomas at 701-250-8244 or steve.thomas@bismarcktribune.com.

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Sports Reporter