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Can Bismarck's football pipeline keep producing?

Century’s Ron Wingenbach and Bismarck’s Mark Gibson must be thrilled with the way Bismarck’s middle schools keep cranking out athletes.

Both football programs — Dakota Bowl qualifiers the last two seasons — experienced grievous graduation losses last spring.

Yet here we are after four weeks of football with defending state champion Bismarck and Century ranked 1-2 in the statewide AAA poll.

Bismarck, which has won four of the last five state AAA championships, is on a 21-game winning streak, four of them this year. The Demons’ four victims have a combined 9-7 record. Century has racked up four wins against teams that stand 7-9. But the Patriots came away a winner in perhaps the biggest AAA showdown of the season thus far — a 37-36 overtime contest at the Community Bowl.

Yet how much longer can that stream of athletes continue to reinvigorate the Demon and Patriot grid programs?

Legacy High School, scheduled to open in the fall of 2015, is competing in football at the freshman level this fall. Next year the Sabers will field freshman and sophomore teams and in 2015 they’ll join the West Region at the varsity level.

With Legacy on the scene, the public school enrollment pie, and the athletic pie with it, will be divided three ways, rather than two.

Currently, BHS and CHS are among the West Region’s top four schools, enrollment-wise. Bismarck is in the 1,000-student range, sophomores through seniors. That’s about the same as Mandan. Century comes in at around 900 in the top three grades.

Minot, with roughly 1,400 in the top three grades, is easily the West Region’s largest high school.

Williston and Dickinson, with approximately 750 in the top three grades, share fifth place with Jamestown seventh at about 650.

When Legacy fields its first varsity football team, the three Bismarck schools could be in the 600 to 700 range.

West Fargo, with approximately 1,500 students, sophomores through seniors, has the state’s largest enrollment. However, the opening of Sheyenne High School in 2014 will radically change the West Fargo enrollment picture.

For now, though, it appears some high times are in order this fall when BHS, CHS and Minot mingle on the gridiron. All three of those pivotal games are scheduled for October. Bismarck and Century meet on Oct. 10. Century visits Minot on Oct. 19 and Minot travels to BHS on Oct. 25.

You’ll probably want to check out at least two of those games.

A nonregional game that bears watching is Bismarck’s visit to Fargo South on Friday night.

Open season

The football gods have declared open season on West Region quarterbacks, apparently.

Minot’s Alex Yanosko, a returning all-stater, went down with a season-ending knee injury in the first week of the season. Sophomore Ben Bolinske moved to the top of the depth chart, and has helped the Magicians to a 4-0 start.

Last weekend, Dickinson quarterback Andrew Heckaman went to the sidelines in the first quarter of the Midgets’ loss to Bismarck. He didn’t return. The verdict was a concussion, according to head coach John Tuchscherer.

If things work out to perfection, Heckaman, a senior, could be available Friday night when the Midgets play host to Mandan. But Tuchscherer emphasized that’s a big “if.”

“If everything goes OK, Friday is a possibility, but it depends on how the week goes,” the Dickinson coach said.

Junior Charles Splichal stepped in for Heckaman against BHS and finished the game. In a sense, it was a trade of concussion for concussion.

“Charles Splichal was going to be our starter at the beginning of the year, and he just came back from a concussion,” Tuchscherer said.

(Steve Thomas is a Tribune sportswriter).

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

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Sports Reporter