EISEN: Magicians have nothing to lose in quest for state title
Everybody loves the underdog. Nothing quite compares to the uplifting sensation of unexpected greatness to remind everyone that anything is possible.
The Minot High School football team is a victory away from feeling that euphoria one more time.
Friday night inside the Fargodome against undefeated West Fargo (11-0), the Magicians (8-3) can put the finishing touches on a journey worthy of snapping the 37-year state championship drought.
The perfect storybook ending is in reach. But, unlike in fairy tales, a happy conclusion isn’t guaranteed. Something the Minot community is far too familiar with, as the Magi have lost their last six Dakota Bowl appearances.
So, soak this in and no matter what happens next, this season was a success for Minot High.
To fully understand the present situation, I think it’s best to reflect on the past.
The opening drive of the season, Aug. 25 at Duane Carlson Stadium.
Starting on their own 20-yard line, the Magi started marching the ball down the field with ease. Once they crossed over midfield, however, things turned bleak in a hurry.
Faced with a third down and 21 yards to go, senior quarterback Creighton Rudolph pulled a rabbit of his helmet – a 28-yard touchdown toss to senior tight end Lofton Klabunde – to cap the 11-play drive.
Klabunde popped up a few minutes later with an interception. It was a perfect start to the new campaign.
But, how quickly things can change.
Minot’s lead vanished by halftime and they were limited to just a touchdown in the second half. And just like that, West Fargo had delivered the first punch to Minot’s gut in the season-opener, 36-20.
A couple right hooks to the face followed shortly after.
Bismarck High swung first in Week 3. The Demons stormed into Minot and unleashed running back Jalen Sprecher. The senior couldn’t be contained, scoring four touchdowns in Bismarck High’s 35-14 victory.
The sizable 21-point margin of defeat was eclipsed by Bismarck Century three weeks later.
Costly turnovers had Minot in a hole early in the first half and then the Patriots dropped 21 unanswered points in the second half to rout the Magi, 38-7. It marked Minot’s largest defeat since the state title game in 2014, when they fell to Fargo Davies by the same running clock 31-point margin, 41-10.
Both Bismarck losses weren’t pretty, and unwarranted or not, that allowed skepticism to creep in.
Regardless, Minot kept pushing ahead and racked up three wins in a row to make it back to the postseason for the 21st consecutive time in program history.
Behind both the Bismarck schools in the West Region standings, Minot slotted in as the third seed out of the West and started the playoffs on the road.
The first postseason stop was in unknown territory at West Fargo Sheyenne. The Magi had only played them once before in the 2015 playoffs, and did so at home.
Despite the cold conditions, two red-hot offenses went off. While Sheyenne scored at least a touchdown in every quarter for 37 points, Minot broke a school record with 66 points.
Rudolph threw four touchdown passes and ran in another. All three of Minot’s senior running backs – Brett Davis, Dylan Danielson and Adrian Davis-Aguilar – scored on the ground, along with senior receiver Peyton Lamoureux on 71-yard reverse.
The Magi fought fire with fire and didn’t get burnt, even in a hostile environment.
That confidence carried over into the state semifinals last week.
Turn of the Century
With snow swirling around the Bismarck Community Bowl, Minot turned a 38-7 loss from 36 days prior into crushing Century’s bid for a third consecutive state championship.
As much as the Minot offense carried the load in the first round against Sheyenne, it was the defense that stole the show against the Patriots. The Magi limited Century to just 155 yards of offense and 10 points, with the Patriots lone touchdown coming off a pick-six.
This wasn’t a fluke upset. Minot took it to Century, 14-10, and rightfully earned redemption.
Who is to say they can’t do it again? Not me.
Minot returns to the Dakota Bowl by defying odds, from the magic performed on their first drive of the season to now collecting two road playoff wins. Some people can look at that and say they got lucky.
Instead, I’d argue that they have just embraced what it truly means to be the underdog.
The Magi have thrived by playing with something to prove while having absolutely nothing to lose.
So, with all the pressure on West Fargo to complete the perfect season, why not Minot?
This is the opinion of Alex Eisen. He covers Minot High School, Minot State athletics and high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @AEisen13.