Where Hayden Gibson ranks in the long line of Bismarck Demon quarterbacks is subject to debate. But there’s rarely been a BHS quarterback more deeply steeped in Demon tradition.
Hayden was a toddler when his father, Mark, moved back to Bismarck to take the head football coaching reins at Bismarck High School. He’s spent many an hour at Hughes Field ever since.
“I was two or three years old when my dad became head coach,” said Hayden, now a senior. “... I remember coming to Hughes every day for practice when I was a kid. Some of my best childhood memories came right here at Hughes.”
Growing up in such an atmosphere quickly put Hayden on track to become a Demon football player.
“Ever since I was five or six, I’ve known I’d be a Demon football player. That’s what I wanted to be,” he said.
Since becoming the BHS quarterback last fall, Hayden has become accustomed to winning. Bismarck won 11 of 12 games last fall and is 8-0 with the state’s No. 1 AAA ranking going into the playoffs.
The one defeat was a bitter one, however. The Demons fell short 42-34 against Fargo South in last year’s state championship game.
Bismarck begins its run at a 12th state championship today. The top-ranked Demons take on Grand Forks Red River, the No. 4 East Region team, at 7:30 tonight at the Community Bowl.
That game will immediately follow Century’s 4:30 quarterfinal game with defending state champion Fargo South. Century is the No. 2 seed from the West. South is No. 3 from the East.
Hayden said the fact that Bismarck is the lone AAA unbeaten carries little weight in the playoffs.
“It’s been a pretty good season so far. Going 8-0 and winning the WDA was one of our goals for the season, but we don’t want to stop there,” he said. “(Playoff football) is a whole different season. We’re just focused on Red River and trying to get better.”
Bismarck played its season opener at Grand Forks, defeating Red River 52-29.
“Our running game and offensive line really set the tone in that game. And out of the running game we were able to pass the ball a little bit,” Hayden said.
He can’t guarantee the scoring pace or the outcome of the game will be the same.
“They’re a very different team than they were at the start of the year, and we are too,” he said. “I don’t know if there are going to be a lot of points scored or a few points scored, but it’s going to be a big fight.”
Hayden said he’s more comfortable going into the playoffs this year than he was as a first-year starter in 2013.
“I know more what to expect. It’s high-intensity. We (seniors) know it’s our last chance and it could be the last time we ever step on the field,” he said.
Although he’ll play basketball this winter and hopes to play baseball in the spring, Hayden said the football season has an air of finality to it.
“I look at football in a different way than I do basketball,” he said. “Football is my No. 1 sport, so I obviously want to go out on a high note.”
Hayden is the second of Mark Gibson’s sons to quarterback the Demons.
Tyson was the starting BHS signal caller in 2010. The Demons went 9-3 that year, reaching the state championship game before falling to Fargo South. That was the third in a run of seven straight championship games for the Demons. They’ve won four of them.
Tyson’s influence helped shape Hayden’s football career.
“Actually, playing catch with my older brother every day when I was growing up made me want to throw the ball,” he said.
At 6-foot-3 and 217 pounds, Hayden looks like he could have followed his father’s footsteps into the offensive line.
When he was playing in the Youth Football League and Midget Football League, however, he hadn’t grown enough to be designated a lineman-only player.
“I was a quarterback. I would have been a red dot (lineman only) my sixth grade year but I fractured my elbow, he recalled.
Hayden is one of two returning all-state players in the BHS lineup. Wide receiver Jon Tharaldsen earned first-team honors and Hayden was a second-team pick last season.
Last season Hayden connected on 83 of 160 passes for 1,297 yards and 14 touchdowns with seven interceptions.
That’s the second-highest passing yardage generated by a BHS quarterback in the last 15 years.
He’s on track to do even better this season. Thus far he’s 68-for-105 for 997 yards and 16 scores. He’s only been intercepted twice, one reason the Demons boast a striking 24-8 takeaway-giveaway ratio.
Having backfield mates like fullback Noah DuBord and tailbacks Jaxon Ford and Dalton Sanders, Hayden has the luxury of throwing into defenses that must respect the run.
Ford leads the West Region in rushing with 1,055 yards and has scored 21 touchdowns. Sanders has added on 462 yards and 11 touchdowns. DuBord, primarily a blocker, has picked up 357 yards and scored three times.
“We’ve always been a run-first team and we throw out of the run with play-action,” Hayden said.
Small wonder the Demons have the most productive offense in AAA at 51.7 points per game. The BHS defense leads the West Region with a yield of 13.0 points per game.
Red River ranks third in the East Region with a scoring average of 33.7 points per game. The Roughriders are No. 4 in defense at 24.8.
However, Hayden said the major factor in tonight’s game is an intangible.
“We’re 8-0 and have a little confidence going into the Red River game. But if they have a good game it could change everything, and if we don’t play well they could beat us,” he said.
West Region statistics
Offense: 1. Bismarck 51.7 points per game. 2. Century 25.6. 3. Minot 24.0. 4. Jamestown 20.5. 5. Dickinson 16.9. 6. Mandan 14.7. 7. Williston 7.6.
Defense: 1. Bismarck 13.0 points allowed per game. 2. Minot 16.5. 3. Jamestown, 20.9. 4. Dickinson 23.2. 5. Mandan 26.6. 6. Century, 28.6. 7. Williston 34.7.
Rushing: 1. Jaxon Ford, B, 126-1,055. 2. Karter Gorney, Min, 168-1,000. 3. Chris Kraft, C, 126-757. 4. Nick Miller, Man, 123-569. 5. Kass Dvorak, D, 129-532.
Passing yards: 1. Ross Monson, J, 70-171-6, 1,159. 2. Hayden Gibson, B, 75-122-2, 1,056. 3. Ben Bolinske, Min, 72-143-3, 1,033, 919. 4. Chris Kraft, C, 61-127-5, 1,002. 5. Jake Carlson, Man,70-169-7, 841.
Touchdown passes: 1. Hayden Gibson, B, 18. 2. (tie) Ross Monson, J, and Chris Kraft, C, 11. 4. Ben Bolinske, Min, 8. 5. Jake Carlson, Man, 6.
Receiving yards: 1. LeCarl Branch, W, 16-402. 2. Logan Anderson, J, 16-402. 3. Brayden Lund, Min, 28-337. 4. Adam Geiger, C, 24-334. 5. Cyril Nagurski, C, 11-332.
Total offense: 1. Chris Kraft, C, 1,759. 2. Ben Bolinske, Min, 1,306. 3. Ross Monson, J, 1,245. 4. Hayden Gibson, B, 1,091. 5. Jake Carlson, Man, 1,079.
Scoring: 1. Jaxon Ford, B, 128. 2. Karter Gorney, Min, 72. 3. Chris Kraft, C, 68. 4. Dalton Sanders, B, 66. 5. (tie) Ben Hanson, J, and Cyril Nagurski, C, 50.
Field goals: 1. Ben Hanson, J, 5. 2. Tony Kostelecky, D, 2. 3. Payton Schafer, Man, 1.
n NOTE: Statistics for Mandan’s game with Fargo South are unavailable.
East Region statistics
Offense: 1. Fargo South 43.0 points per game. 2. Fargo Davies 35.4. 3. G.F. Red River 33.7. 4. West Fargo 31.7. 5. W.F. Sheyenne 22.7. 6. Devils Lake 21.1. 7. Fargo North 14.8. 8. G.F. Central 10.3.
Defense: 1. West Fargo, 9.6 points allowed per game. 2. Fargo Davies 22.1. 3. Fargo South 23.1. 4. G.F. Red River 24.8. 5. Fargo North 32.9. 6. G.F. Central 36.4. 7. Devils Lake 37.2. 8. W.F. Sheyenne 38.6.
—Compiled by Steve Thomas