The test Bismarck Demons head football coach Mark Gibson knew was coming arrived Friday night in the form of West Fargo.
And BHS rose to the occasion.
After trailing for the first time this season, Bismarck scored the final 15 points of the game to down the Packers 22-8.
With the victory at the Community Bowl the defending champion Demons advance to the state AAA championship game. BHS has played in the last five finals, winning three.
For the second straight year Bismarck meets Century for the title. Game time is 6:30 p.m. next Friday at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks.
“We just kept believing and stuck with what we do every week,” said BHS safety Lee Braunagel, who was in on nine tackles. “When we believe and play Demon football, good things happen.”
For more than 27 minutes the two teams struggled to a scoreless standoff. West Fargo netted just 64 offensive yards in the first half, Bismarck 76.
The Demons finally broke the ice early in the third period. BHS took the second-half kickoff and marched 77 yards in nine plays, tailback Layne Johs bulling over right tackle from 3 yards out for the score.
Josh Seibel’s kick put the Demons up 7-0.
West Fargo marched 67 yards to the Bismarck 9-yard line on its next possession before being denied.
The Packers finally broke through in the first minute of the fourth quarter. Tailback Preston Lehmann thundered in from 5 yards out to close an eight-play, 59-yard drive with 11:06 to play. Lehmann’s two-point run put the Packers up 8-7.
“We didn’t make the playoffs last year, and to be ahead of Bismarck with 7 minutes to go ... that was our season,” Packers head coach Jay Gibson said.
Bismarck fought back two possessions later, scoring on a 6-yard drive. Runs of 15 and 9 yards by fullback Riley Plant set up a 4-yard touchdown sneak by quarterback Ben Jolliffe.
Jolliffe threw a conversion pass to tight end Justin Thorson, and BHS reclaimed the lead at 15-8 with 6:50 on the clock.
West Fargo return man James Heinen-Lugert didn’t corral Tyler Clairmont’s skittering kickoff until he was on his own 2-yard line and was immediately snowed under.
Three plays later the Packers were forced to punt, giving Bismarck a short field.
The Demons drove 48 yards in six plays, Johs breaking loose from 19 yards out to give the hosts a two-touchdown lead. Seibel’s kick made it 22-8 with 2:00 on the clock.
With the 210-pound Lehmann rushing 22 times for 110 yards, the Packers had a 58-46 advantage in offensive plays. West Fargo ran 28 plays to Bismarck’s 18 in the scoreless first half.
“He’s a great running back,” Braunagel said. “You have to tackle him low and let the other (defensive) guys get there. You can’t bring him down alone.”
Jolliffe said the BHS defense challenged the offense at halftime.
“Our defense kept us in it the entire game,” Jolliffe said. “The defense put it on us to get some points on the board coming out for the second half. And we did.”
Bismarck finished with 267 total yards, 249 on the ground. Johs led the way with 141 yards in 20 carries. West Fargo finished with 163 yards, 96 through the air. The Packer rushing total was hampered by five sacks. Quarterback Scott Cameron was thrown for a minus 57 yards on the night.
Jolliffe said the game may be a blessing in disguise.
“It was good to have a close game. It helps us for next week because that’s not going to be an easy game, either,” he said.
Mark Gibson praised his team for the poise it showed in its first close call of the season.
“Our kids rose above when they could have gone in the tank,” the BHS coach said. “They never panicked, they never wavered. It was a great game for us.”
“It was good for them to experience this. There’s a lot of pressure on them and they never panicked,” Mark Gibson added.
Jay Gibson praised his team for a tremendous season after a rocky 1-2 start with losses to BHS and Century.
“The week after the Century game we said ‘we’ve got to go with Preston and Miles Scholl (at running back)’. Preston got us about 1,000 yards. He’s a tremendous wrestler and a great athlete,” the Packers coach said.
Jay Gibson said he knew the game was far from over when the Packers went ahead 8-7.
“We were going for the jugular. That’s why we threw the two fades the next time we had the ball,” he said. “We wanted to get another touchdown and we’d have gone for two (on the conversion) again. For three quarters we had them on the run.”
West Fargo 0 0 0 8 — 8
Bismarck 0 0 7 15 — 22
B — Layne Johs 3 run (Josh Seibel kick), 8:50.
WF — Preston Lehmann 5 run (Lehmann run), 11:06.
B — Ben Jolliffe 4 run (Justin Thorson pass from Jolliffe), 6:50.
B — Johs 19 run (Seibel kick), 2:00
First downs 13 15
Rushes-yards 41-67 40-249
Passing yards 96 18
Comp-Att-Int 6-17-0 1-6-0
Punts-avg 5-31 4-34
Fumbles-lost 5-3 1-0
Penalties-yards 11-70 8-75
Rushing: WF—Preston Lehmann 22-110, Samuel Olsen 5-12, Shelby Schulz 2-4, Jacob Hoy 1-minus 2, Scott Cameron 11-minus 57. B — Layne Johs 20-141, Riley Plant 9-74, Ben Jolliffe 11-34.
Passing: WF — Cameron 6-17-0, 96 yards. B — Jolliffe 1-6-0, 18.
Receiving: WF — James Heinen-Lugert 3-67, Chaz Gunderson 2-28, Justin Heisler 1-1. B — Nick Kottre 1-18.
Records: West Fargo 6-4, Bismarck 11-0.