Ryan football turns to new QB Sanders, maintains reliable defense

Alex Eisen/MDN Bishop Ryan junior quarterback Nicholas Sanders throws a pass during practice this week in Minot.

Perfection wasn’t meant to be.

The Bishop Ryan football team rolled into last year’s playoffs with a perfect 8-0 record. The Lions secured the Class A, Region 3 title with an instant classic, 35-34, overtime win on the road in Velva.

But, all that excitement was wiped away by Beulah a week later in the first round of the playoffs. The Miners’ misdirection offense broke down the Lions’ defense and ended Ryan’s season for a second year in a row.

“I know I learned my lesson about switching my defense, and we did do that, but we still got beat by the same team,” Ryan head coach Roger Coleman said when reflecting on lessons learned over the past two seasons.

Now, it’s back to the drawing board with a new regime and a new quarterback. The graduation of Ben Bohl gives junior Nicholas Sanders the keys to the offense.

“I think (Sanders) is going to do a lot of good things,” Coleman said. “Everyone wants to ask about Ben (Bohl) being gone, and I don’t blame them, but I think Nick (Sanders) is really going to surprise some people and play above a level that anyone expects.”

Sanders will have plenty of support.

Up front, the Lions’ offensive line has bulked up from past seasons and has experience with four seniors and a sophomore. The unit is anchored by senior center and third-year captain Keegan Henjum.

“I’m liking the intensity we are coming out with at practice,” Henjum said. “This year, being a senior, I want to take on a bigger role for the team.”

Some of the offensive threats include junior Logan Merck as a hybrid tailback and receiver, as well as senior receivers Jaeger Lundeen and Calvin Watkins.

The depth chart is deep with playmakers.

“It seems like we always have good skill guys and I think we will have that again, but I think this is the first year we have a big, solid group of offensive linemen that are going to work well together,” Coleman said. “Kind of a surprise strength because we haven’t really had that many big guys up front.”

With seven linemen listed on the roster — Henjum, Corbin Okeson, Noah Swegarden, Casey Larson, Kent Cutter, Jacob Fricke and Steven Fred — that size and strength will also be found on the defensive front with linemen playing both ways.

“We have a strong O-line and D-line led by seniors,” senior Okeson said. “We also have a new quarterback that is starting this year and he is going to be a strong addition, I think.”

The Lions only allowed 97 points last season. That’s the fewest the defense has given up since the 2007 season (96 points).

Ryan posted four straight shutouts from Week 4 through Week 7 last season against Des Lacs-Burlington, Stanley, New Town and Lewis & Clark/Berthold.

Coleman would take that type of production again.

“Our kids are going to fly around, play fast and physical,” he said. “We are going to hang our hat on the defense and hopefully score a lot of points too.”

Ryan tied for the No. 5 state-wide ranking in the preseason media poll for Class A. They will host Dickinson Trinity, who received votes in the poll, at 7 p.m. this evening at Herb Parker Stadium.

Ready or not, it’s game time.

“We haven’t had as many reps that we typically have going into the first game, so it could be a little bit sloppy Friday night,” Coleman said with a laugh. “When we scheduled the game, we love it because it’s a high-quality opponent. But, with the season moving forward, that’s four practices we didn’t get. We would like more practices, but I’m sure they would too.

“We are all in the same boat and start at the same time. We look forward to the challenge. Obviously, we would like more practices, but we are excited to play a game too.”

Alex Eisen covers Minot State athletics, the Minot Minotauros and high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @AEisen13.