Grand Forks Red River graduated its all-state quarterback. Bismarck graduated a number of big offensive contributors from last season’s Class AAA state runner-up team.
The losses didn’t detour the offenses, however.
Bismarck won a shootout at Cushman Field on Friday, beating Red River 52-29 in the high school football season opener for both teams.
“It was a track meet. That’s not what we do,’’ Bismarck coach Mark Gibson said. “We didn’t return a lot of our defensive guys. But we did execute very well offensively.’’
So did Red River quarterback Derek Murph. In his first start as all-stater Chad Bartosh’s replacement, the junior was 19-of-28 passing for 201 yards. His main targets were Ty Strauss (8-103 receiving, two touchdowns) and Braedan Hanson (9-77, one touchdown).
“For his first varsity start, I’m proud of the way Derek played,’’ Red River coach Vyrn Muir said. “He was everything we thought he would be. He played well, and they were putting a lot of pressure on him.’’
Bismarck looked like it was going to romp early. The Demons, who led the West Region in total offense last season, scored on their first three possessions – a 41-yard Jaxon Ford run, a 1-yard Hayden Gibson quarterback sneak and a 51-yard pass from Gibson to Jon Tharaldsen.
With the score 20-0 just 7:39 into the game, however, Red River rallied. Murph threw scoring passes of 18 yards to Hanson and 20 to Strauss, pulling the Riders within 20-14.
Bismarck got the next two scores, on Gibson (1-yard) and Ford (8-yard) runs. But Murph connected with Strauss on the back of the end zone for a 3-yard score and the Riders were within 32-21 at halftime.
Two turnovers in the third quarter were costly to Red River.
A drive was halted inside the Bismarck 10-yard line when Red River lost a fumble. Then Brody Rohlfs intercepted a Murph pass and returned it to the Rider 34-yard line. That set up the first of Dalton Sanders’ three fourth-quarter touchdowns to put away the win.
“That was a huge momentum swing,’’ Mark Gibson said. “And we not only got the pick, but we were able to score off it.’’
Said Muir: “We were moving the ball and I thought we had them on their heels. But that (interception) gave them field position.’’
Red River couldn’t match Bismarck’s balance. While the quarterbacks offset each other, each throwing for 201 yards, Bismarck dominated on the ground as Ford rushed for 126 yards, Noah DuBord for 103 and Sanders, sharing time with Ford at tailback, for 80.
“That’s what Bismarck does,’’ Muir said. “You know they run power football. They did a few things differently than we expected. But we just had a hard time defending them.’’
Red River also had a hard time overcoming its early deficit. But the Riders stayed competitive.
“I give Red River a lot of credit,’’ coach Gibson said. “We jumped out 20-0 in the first. A lot of teams would quit. But they fought back.’’