Every year before the start of the season, Bishop Ryan football coach Brad Borkhuis makes a list of goals for his team.
The ultimate goal is to play in the state championship on Nov. 9 at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks. But the Lions are focused on the here-and-now and aren't looking a month down the road. Before Ryan can begin to think about a state championship, the Lions have another step with tonight's Class AA West Region game against Rugby at Herb Parker Stadium.
"We talk about doing the little things," Borkhuis said. "Understanding the fact that this is another day at the office is what the kids must understand and appreciate. They have to understand the importance of the game while also understanding it's just another game."
Bishop Ryan junior quarterback Austin Eggl dives for extra yardage against Bottineau earlier this season. The Lions face Rugby tonight with a chance to clinch the region title.
After a hard-fought victory at Beulah on Friday, the top-ranked Lions (6-1 overall, 5-0 region) can clinch their first region title since 2007 with a win against the Panthers (5-2, 4-1). The game starts at 7:30 p.m.
Ryan is the only team in the region to clinch a playoff berth so far, but the team's seed is yet to be determined. A loss to Rugby, coupled with a Beulah win at Carrington would lead to a three-way tie for the region's No. 1 seed.
"A region title would mean everything for us right now and getting that No. 1 seed in the playoffs," Ryan junior defensive lineman Mason Kramer said. "In general, Ryan's been down for awhile (after) 2007. A West Region title would do a lot for this team and this program."
Kramer anchors a defense that kept previously unbeaten Beulah and its high-scoring offense scoreless in the second half.
This season's success is long awaited. Through the previous four seasons, the Lions were 14-21 with one playoff appearance - a 42-12 loss at Fargo Shanley last season. Ryan didn't win more than four region games in a season during that stretch. The Lions surpassed that mark with the win over Beulah, but Borkhuis said it's just another victory.
"We got right back to business with the shortened week," Borkhuis said. "The kids understand the win was another step in our ultimate goal. We've focused our attention on Rugby. Our kids will be excited to step up to the challenge that Rugby brings. They are a very competitive team that has good athletes."
The shortened week gave both teams less time to prepare, which Rugby coach Scott Grochow said could lead to an unpredictable game.
"I think it could go either way," he said. "Both teams have had some success on offense the last couple of weeks. Typically, when that happens you expect to get a shootout and you don't. It's really going to depend on how things get started. You're talking about two pretty good teams."
Rugby has won its last four games with strong play on both sides of the ball. In a 26-7 win over Bismarck St. Mary's on Friday, sophomore quarterback Brad Heidlebaugh threw for two touchdowns and ran for another while senior running back Kyle Lovcik rushed for 154 yards on 21 carries. The Panthers added a defensive touchdown on a fumble recovery in the end zone by senior defensive back Josh Michels.
"Rugby has a very athletic offense," Borkhuis said. "Their receivers and quarterback are very good and they have a strong running back. We have to make sure we're assignment-sound and our defensive line gets a push up front."
Ryan defeated Rugby 24-21 last season and have won three of the last four meetings.