WEST FARGO - When it mattered most, the Bismarck Demons offense stayed on the football field.
The Demons ran 10 consecutive running plays that milked nearly all of the final five minutes of the fourth quarter Saturday at West Fargo. The late ball control helped the No. 4-ranked Demons secure a 24-20 victory against No. 1-ranked West Fargo in the North Dakota AAA state semifinals.
"We went to the offensive line and challenged them," Bismarck head coach Mark Gibson said. "We said, ‘You guys are (five) minutes away from the state title game. What do you have left in the gas tank?'"
The answer was ‘enough.' Enough to run out the clock. West Fargo (8-2) forced the Demons to punt with six seconds remaining, but was unable to field the punt for a return as time expired.
"If you're within a few plays of making it to the state championship, you're a good team," West Fargo head coach Jay Gibson said. "It just hurts. ... Seniors -the reality that they were going to be done playing football - hit about 10 minutes ago. And it's devastating."
The two-time defending state champion Demons (9-2) advanced to their fourth consecutive state title game. For the fourth straight time, they will be facing Fargo South. South won in 2007. Bismarck prevailed the last two years.
"I told the kids afterwards, of all the teams I've coached, I couldn't be more proud of this football team," Mark Gibson said. "We held on at the right times. We needed breaks and we got breaks."
Bismarck senior running back Channing Mann rushed for a game-high 154 yards and three touchdowns on 34 attempts to run his rushing tally to 2,067 for the season.
"It just came down to executing at the end of the game, getting all those big yards when you need them right at the end," Mann said. "They were coming through and hitting hard. They knocked me down a couple times, but I kept getting back up trying to fight for more yards."
Mann scored what proved to be the winning touchdown with 1:17 remaining in the third quarter. His two-yard scoring plunge capped a seven-play, 61-yard drive that gave the Demons a 24-20 lead.
Mann also completed a 33-yard halfback pass to Brett Adam earlier in the drive to help set up the game-winning score.
"We were cheating to try to stop Channing all game because he is the ultra back in the state," Jay Gibson said. "He is really something."
West Fargo grabbed a 20-18 lead with 4:33 remaining in the third quarter when Dustin Null plowed into the end zone from two yards out. Packers wide receiver Zach Neer set up that score with a 31-yard catch that came on a first-and-26 play and moved the ball to the Bismarck 16-yard line. Three plays later, Null scored.
Neer ended with a game high 122 receiving yards on eight catches.
"They're a good team. We went out there and fought and they came out tough today," Neer said. "We had 20 seniors starting. We're all like a big family, so we will take it all together. There wasn't one guy that was better than anyone on our team. We wanted to make it a year for everyone."
West Fargo marched the ball to the Bismarck 22 midway through the fourth quarter. The Packers faced a first-and-10 after senior quarterback Matt Ruff completed a 13-yard pass to Jon Pistorius on a fourth-and-9 play.
On the next play, however, Demons linebacker Tyler Vogel sacked Ruff for an 11-yard loss. The hit knocked Ruff from the game for one play. On the next play, an errant shotgun snap got away from Packers backup QB Tucker Bucholz, who covered the ball at the Bismarck 46. Ruff then returned to the game with the Packers facing a third-and-34. Ruff quick kicked out of shotgun formation and Bismarck took over at its own 20.
West Fargo never got the ball back.
"They really hit and I would like to think we hit pretty hard, too. I thought it was just a pretty physical game," Jay Gibson said. "They're tough to handle. I'm proud of our guys. I couldn't be more pleased in the effort we had all year."
Bismarck played nearly the entire game without senior defensive end Leighton Talmadge, who was ejected from the game on the seventh play from scrimmage. Mark Gibson said Talmadge was ejected for throwing a punch.
Talmadge's suspension carries over to the state championship game.
"West Fargo is a very well-coached football team," Mark Gibson said. "They have no weaknesses and we just got lucky on a couple of plays. I think that was the big difference in the game."
Bismarck 6 12 6 0 - 24
West Fargo 0 14 6 0 - 20
B - Channing Mann 35 run (kick failed).
WF - Jon Pistorius 4 pass from Matt Ruff (Ben Ballweber kick).
B - Tyson Gibson 1 run (run failed).
B - Mann 21 run (run failed).
WF - Dustin Null 1 run (Ballweber kick).
WF -Null 2 run (kick failed).
B - Mann 2 run (pass failed).
Rushing: B - Channing Mann 34-154, Tyson Gibson 8-40, Tyler Vogel 2-9, Kip Jangula 1-8. WF - Dustin Null 10-44, Alex Spacek 10-42, Matt Ruff 7-15, Tucker Bucholz 1-(minus-13), Team 2-(minus-31).
Passing: B - Gibson 7-12-0, 134 yards, Mann 1-1-0, 33. WF - Ruff 16-34-1, 237.
Receiving: B - Brett Adam 2-88, Vogel 2-22, Nathan Deichert 2-21, Kendall Kautz 1-3. WF - Zach Neer 8-122, Brady Schwartz 3-66, Jon Pistorius 5-49.
Records: Bismarck 9-2, West Fargo 8-2.