Mandan finally turned the tables on Bismarck by playing Bismarck's game.
After 17 straight football losses to Bismarck, Mandan used a tenacious ground game to defeat the visiting Demons 20-19 Friday night at Faris Field.
The win will almost certainly elevate Mandan to the No. 1 position in AAA football. BHS entered the game ranked first in the state with a 6-0 record. Mandan was the No. 2 team, also at 6-0.
The game went down to the final minute. Bismarck's Layne Johs scored on a two-yard run with 19 seconds to play, cutting Mandan's lead to a point. Bismarck went for a two-point conversion and the win, but Mandan defensive back Trey Fitzsimmons tipped away Ben Jolliffe's pass to Devin Schirado to preserve the Braves' lead.
Mandan, which has made the most of an efficient passing game to become the state's top offensive team, went to the run against Bismarck, a team that's pounded out victory after victory on the ground.
"We like to keep it balanced. Our offensive line just pushed their way through for me this game," said Mandan running back Seth Westby, who finished with 169 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries. "... I knew I had to step up against a great defensive team."
Three of the game's six touchdowns were packed into the final nine minutes.
Down 14-7 going into the fourth quarter, Bismarck marched 70 yards to score on a 5-yard run by Johs with 8:51 to play. Cody Ward's conversion attempt sailed wide left, and Mandan clung to a 14-13 lead.
The Braves came right back to score, driving 74 yards. Aaron Janz closed the march, leaping high to snatch a pass from Devin Coyle in the left corner of the end zone. Coyle's pass to Jordan Zander fell incomplete on the conversion and Mandan was up 20-13 with 6:14 on the clock.
Mandan coach Pat O'Brien credited his team for coming up big with its back to the wall.
"Our seniors really were leaders tonight. ... They kept their focus," O'Brien said. "I'm really impressed with what every one of the seniors did tonight."
O'Brien said the Mandan offensive line stood tall in opening holes for Westby.
"Our offensive line did a very good job against a very good defense," the coach said. "... A lot of people think we're a passing team, but we showed we can run the ball."
Bismarck drew first blood. Johs, a junior tailback, broke away for a 52-yard scoring run on the first play of the second quarter. Ward's kick put the Demons up 7-0.
Mandan finally got on the scoreboard late in the second period, taking advantage of a blocked punt by Zach Ricker.
Mandan recovered the block at the Bismarck 36 and, 10 plays later, scored on a
4-yard run by Westby. Coyle threw to Jake Watson for a two-point conversion to put the Braves up 8-7.
Another Mandan score got away as the half died with the Braves on the BHS 1-yard line.
Coyle gave Mandan some breathing room by scoring from a yard out on Mandan's first possession of the second half. Coyle's scoring run closed out a 59-yard march and put the Braves up 14-7.
Johs, a 200-pound junior, rushed for 218 yards on 29 carries to lead a 312-yard BHS offensive effort.
Coyle threw for 124 yards to supplement Westby's efforts on the ground.
Mandan linebacker Tyler Sadowsky was brilliant on defense, getting in on 17 tackles.
"It was a big game. I had to step up," Sadowsky said. "I knew it was going to be hard. Bismarck was No. 1, and we had to make a statement tonight."
Westby said he was expecting a physical game and was not disappointed.
"It was very physical. Bismarck has the big kids, just like we do," he said.
Mandan's next hurdle is third-ranked Century next Thursday, also at Faris Field.
"It's out of the frying pan and into the fire - Century on Thursday," O'Brien said. "That game will be just as big as this game."
NOTES: Lorell Jungling, the Mandan athletic director, estimated Friday's crowd at 4,100. ... Mandan center Ty Hagel suffered a knee injury on the game's final play. O'Brien said he didn't know what the lineman's status was. ... Mandan's most recent win over Bismarck was in 1994. ... The Braves have beaten the Demons only four times since 1980. The previous Mandan wins were in 1994, 1989 and 1981.
Bismarck 0 7 0 12 - 19
Mandan 0 8 6 6 - 20
B - Layne Johs 52 run (Cody Ward kick), 11:49.
M - Seth Westby 4 run (Jake Watson pass from Devin Coyle), 2:34.
M - Coyle 1 run (pass failed), 7:48.
B - Johs 5 run (kick failed), 8:51.
M - Aaron Janz 13 pass from Coyle (pass failed), 6:14.
B - Johs 2 run (pass failed), :19.
First downs 21 18
Rushes-yards 41-203 47-209
Yards passing 109 124
Comp-att-int 9-17-1 7-19-0
Fumbles-lost 0-0 3-0
Punts-avg. 4-29 3-26
Penalties-yards 8-67 4-35
Rushing: B - Layne Johs 29-218, Kip Jangula 7-35, Brett Adam 1-minus 22, Ben Jolliffe 4-minus 28. M - Seth Westby 28-169, Brady Skytland 2-6, Aaron Janz 2-minus 10, Devin Coyle 15-44.
Passing: B - Jolliffe 9-17-1, 109 yards. M - Coyle 7-19-0, 124.
Receiving: B - Devin Schirado 4-66, Adam 2-8, Jangula 1-5, Dexter Werner 2-30. M - Janz 5-88, Jordan Zander 3-36.
Interceptions: M - Nathan Schmidt.
Records: Bismarck 3-1 West Region, 6-1 overall; Mandan 4-0, 7-0.