Last fall, the Bismarck Demons went 11-1 and claimed the North Dakota Class 3A State Championship.
In the season opener against the West Fargo Packers on Friday night, the Demons, with 19 of the 22 starters on the team returning from last season, showed everyone how they did it: with hard-nosed defense.
West Fargo had serious trouble getting off the line, amassing just 44 total yards from scrimmage and allowing the quarterbacks to be sacked eight times, and fell to Bismarck by a score of 29-0.
"Bismarck is a really good team," Packers head coach Jay Gibson said. "They really took us in all aspects of the game. Special teams, defense, you name it."
The Packers kept it close early on with solid defense of their own. Linebackers Shelby Schulz had a hand in that, recovering a fumble out of mid air near the Bismarck goal line to prevent a Bismarck touchdown and keep the first quarter scoreless.
"We hung in there early," Gibson said. "I thought our defense had done quite well in the first half, and we were feeling okay at halftime."
The game began to come apart for the Packers in the second quarter, however, as Bismarck quarterback Ben Jolliffe connected with his receivers for two touchdowns in a span of just over five minutes.
The first of these touchdowns was a 10-yard pass to receiver Nick Kottre, who then proceeded to weave through the Packers' defense into the end zone 40 yards from where he caught the ball.
On the Demons' next drive, Jolliffe connected with senior Brett Adam on third-and-10 for a 35-yard touchdown to bring the lead to two scores at halftime.
Gibson sees the lapse in tackling on the first touchdown as an early-season mistake that will correct itself as the season goes on.
"Early in the year, you don't tackle well. That's just a fact," Gibson said. "That will get better."
Bismarck added 15 more points to their lead in the third quarter, coming off of running touchdowns from senior Layne Johs and junior Ricardo Galindo (the extra point attempt was missed on the latter's touchdown) and a safety.
"Bismarck was absolutely tremendous up front," Gibson said. "They were really fast. It didn't matter if we were running the ball or passing. We just couldn't stop their front five."
The Packers' offense was unable to gain any momentum in the game, as starting quarterback Nick Roehrich completed just two passes out of seven attempts for 26 yards. He was also credited with -26 yards rushing, which can be blamed on the yards lost when the quarterback is sacked.
The rushing game provided little comfort for the Packers as well. The team's leading rusher, sophomore Sam Olson, carried the ball 11 times for 37 yards.
"(The loss) was due to a lack of confidence and experience," Gibson said. "If we learn to protect the quarterback, get back to basics and keep working with (the offensive line), we will get better as we go along."
The Packers (0-1) will head to Bismarck for a rare Saturday game against Bismarck Century, who was leading 14-0 after the first quarter and had a solid passing game, but ultimately lost 34-20 against the Fargo South Bruins on Friday night.
"Century has a huge line," Gibson said. "That is where things will be different. Instead of blocking a fast defensive line like against Bismarck, we'll be blocking some big boys."
Gibson believes that they faced an incredibly tough team in Bismarck, and that the upcoming game should give fans a better idea of the quality of his team.
"We'll give them a good game," Gibson said. "It's a game against two 0-1 teams, and hopefully we can walk away from that game without being an 0-2 team."
Kickoff for Saturday's game in Bismarck is at 7 p.m.