FARGO - Without hesitation, senior lineman Austin Cieslak answered the question that's never been asked to a Hazen football player: Which is best, the first state title or the second?
"Definitely the second, just being our senior year," he said on the Fargodome turf, moments after accepting the Class A championship trophy with his teammates. "We came out and did this for the community. And all the kids that came and cheered us on, we loved it. It meant a lot to us."
The top-ranked Bison (12-0) wore out Milnor-North Sargent (9-3) with a tireless ground attack during a 20-0 victory Friday afternoon that secured back-to-back state titles for the first time in school history and extended their winning streak to 20 games.
Hazen sophomore Johan Zimmerman, left, and junior Connor Doll, right, stop Milnor-North Sargent’s Andrew Martinson for a short gain Friday at the Fargodome.
During that run, which dates back to Sept. 21, 2012, Hazen has not trailed in the fourth quarter and has allowed 9.7 points per game.
Hazen coach Rick Philion, in his 11th year at the helm, has lifted the program to new heights. But he gives his players - especially the Bison's stellar senior class - all the credit.
"It's been a joy to be with these guys," Philion said. "Hazen's had a great football program well before I got there and I'm just kind of the caretaker now."
Senior tailback Briar Bornemann, who rushed for a then-Dakota Bowl record 286 yards against Westhope-Newburg-Glenburn last year, put away Hazen's 20th straight win with a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns.
The shifty 5-foot-8, 170-pounder tallied 78 of his game-high 128 rushing yards in the second half, including a 7-yard score on an option pitch early in the final frame and a 1-yard exclamation point to ice the game with 3 minutes, 38 seconds remaining.
His output pushed him to 1,102 yards for the season. His final score capped a back-breaking 12-play, 63-yard drive that spanned 5:01.
"They grinded us down a bit there at the end," said M-NS coach Eric Olson, who received Class A Coach of the Year honors. "I'm happy we didn't give up many big plays. That's the thing about Hazen, they can grind it out with long drives and score on big plays."
Senior fullback Nate Leintz carried 13 times for 98 yards for a Bison offense that passed five times.
Bornemann said Hazen executed its plan to wear out the Bulldogs' massive linemen (two 300-plus-pound defensive tackles) to perfection.
"Their team is big, they have a bunch of big boys," he said. "We didn't want to run away from them, we wanted to run right at 'em. That's what we did today."
While the Bison tired out the M-NS defensive line, Hazen's defense held the Bulldogs to 71 total yards in the second half.
In the first half, M-NS stretched the Bison about as far as they would go.
The Bulldogs reached the red zone on their first two possessions, but stalled on the 17- and 16-yard lines.
"That defense, we had to hang our hat on them today," Philion said. "Milnor-North Sargent did an excellent job of game-planning against our run game, and boy, they put us in some holes. Thankfully our defense pulled it out for us today."
Junior defensive end Seth Kriel had a game-high two sacks for Hazen, which outgained M-NS 304-174.
The 6-3, 262-pound Cieslak was named Class A's Most Oustanding Senior Athlete.
Junior Connor Doll scored on a quarterback sneak on fourth and goal from the 2 late in the second quarter to put the Bison on the board.
He'll return next year with a chance to win Hazen's third state title.
Asked if his program is making a habit of winning at the Dakota Bowl, Philion smiled and said, "I would like that, yeah, I would like that. The ball has to bounce your way and it did quite a few times, same as last year. We're fortunate we've got kids who work hard."
Ryan Holmgren covers high school sports and general assignments. Follow him on Twitter @ryanholmgren.