Bishop Ryan football coach Brad Borkhuis wasn't ready to call tonight's game at Beulah the Class AA West Region championship, but he acknowledged the matchup's importance heading into the regular season's home stretch.
The Lions and Miners are undefeated through the first four region games and are one game ahead of Rugby for the right to host a Class AA Quarterfinal game.
"With three games left it's too much to say that the winner of this game will win the region, but it is a huge game for both teams," Borkhuis said. "It's an important game for sure. (Beulah's) a solid team in our region."
Tim Chapman/MDN • Bishop Ryan senior defensive lineman Isaac Tafelmeyer (54) and junior defensive lineman Tyler Allers force a fumble by Turtle Mountain junior quarterback Kersten Keplin earlier this season.
Ryan (5-1, 4-0) plays its final two games at home against Rugby and Bismarck St. Mary's, but the Lions are only concerned with Beulah (6-0, 4-0) this week.
"It's huge if we win," junior linebacker Jake Magnuson said. "We could have a shot at the No. 1 seed and having home-field advantage in the playoffs is huge."
The Lions and Miners have balanced offenses that can adapt to an opponent's defense. When opposing teams stack the box to stop the run, Ryan and Beulah can beat them long with Ryan junior quarterback Austin Eggl and Beulah senior quarterback Taylor Zacher. If teams attempt to take away the pass, Ryan senior running back Chase Fugere and Beulah senior running back Karson Hintz can break a long run.
"Our defense is used to reacting to offenses that have a lot of formations because they see it every day in practice with our offense, which has a lot of formations that we run as well," Borkhuis said.
Said Beulah coach Jim Dooley: "We've done a couple new things offensively and defensively and that's because the kids are buying in. They work hard and the staff has done a good job holding them accountable."
A week after posting 28 points on Carrington's defense - which is allowing 12.3 points per game this season - Ryan must move the ball against Beulah (12.5 points allowed per game). Fugere has been held to less than 100 yards in back-to-back games.
"It should be a big game and it could decide the region champion," Eggl said. "They have a lot of athletes. They're going to be tough to stop."
Beulah's defense hasn't allowed an opponent to score more than 18 points, while the Lions haven't been held under 24 points this season.
"Both teams have the offense to have a shootout, but we both have good defenses," Eggl said.
Defensively, Ryan looks to contain both Zacher and Hintz, who have accounted for nearly half of Beulah's offense. Zacher has thrown for over 1,000 yards and rushed for 184 with eight total touchdowns. Hintz leads the team with 805 yards rushing and five touchdowns on 139 carries.
"We're not really limited to one thing offensively," Dooley said. "It's helpful having experience at the skill positions."
Magnuson said that it's critical to stop Beulah's passing attack.
"They have a good passing game, but I have a lot of confidence in our cornerbacks," he said. "We have to focus a lot on their passing game. It's going to be a great game. They want it just as bad as we do. It's going to be a tight game."
A win for the Lions would put them in position to capture their first region title since 2007.