When Bishop Ryan's Tanner Sanders makes his varsity football debut tonight, he'll do so against his school's biggest rival.
The sophomore signal caller will start at Velva in place of junior quarterback Austin Eggl. Eggl is out with a knee injury that Ryan coach Brad Borkhuis said may keep him sidelined until the Lions' Sept. 8 contest against Turtle Mountain.
"It's a little nerve-racking," Sanders said, "but I can handle it."
Bishop Ryan sophomore quarterback Tanner Sanders prepares to deliver a pass at practice on Thursday. Sanders will make his varsity debut as the starting quarterback tonight against Velva.
Assisting Sanders in the backfield is senior running back Chase Fugere. The 5-foot-7 back rushed for 86 yards and scored three touchdowns in the Lions' 26-7 win over the Aggies a year ago, a victory that snapped Ryan's three-game losing streak in the rivalry and ended Velva's 24-game overall win streak.
"Fugere's a great safety blanket to have behind you," Borkhuis said. "To have Fugere behind there. ... It's always easy to just hand the ball off."
Borkhuis said he's going to utilize an "open, attacking offense" whereas Velva is known for being a "strong power-run type of football team."
Aggies coach Larry Sandy said his team doesn't have an athlete that can replicate Fugere.
"We can't come close to simulating the way he runs," Sandy said. "That's a difficulty and the small-time programs don't have the personnel to simulate that type of ballplayer."
The Lions won't be the only team trotting out a first-year quarterback. Junior Drew Effertz inherits the reins from graduate Ty Bruner and becomes the third Velva starting quarterback in as many years.
"It's his time," Sandy said. "He's a junior. I think he has shown us signs that he's matured, both physically and mentally. He's going to make mistakes like anybody else, but he's going to play at a high level for us."
According to Sandy, the two teams have opened the season against each other since the state switched to a three-class system in 1997. Ryan plays in Class AA and Velva in Class A.
"It's always a big game," Sandy said. "It's not the biggest game on any of our schedules, but it's a rivalry-type game and it's one from a coaching standpoint you want to put a good one up against a good opponent."
Fugere said little compared to last season's win and he hopes to replicate that success in Velva.
"That felt great," he said. "It was probably the best feeling I had all year. ... It'll be better (if we win this year) because we'll embarrass them at their own place."