Bishop Ryan junior defensive lineman Mason Kramer knew how much it would mean to win the program's first Class AA West Region title since 2007 would mean for the Lions.
Kramer's fourth sack of the game on fourth down with less than a minute remaining punctuated a 28-0 victory against Rugby on Thursday at Herb Parker Stadium. The win gives Ryan the region's No. 1 seed and at least one home playoff game.
"The region title means everything," Kramer said. "Our team came together and we came out hot. The region title just means everything to this program right now and that's what we came out and played for."
Daniel Allar/MDN • Bishop Ryan senior wide receiver Luke Nasers gets pulled down by Rugby sophomore cornerback Tanner Bernhardt during Thursday’s game at Herb Parker Stadium.
The Lions had plenty to cheer about at the end of the game, but there was also cause for concern after losing senior running back Chase Fugere to a shoulder injury late in the first quarter.
Fugere collected a loose ball off an option pass from junior quarterback Austin Eggl and was driven into the turf by a Rugby tackler. All of Fugere's weight came down on his right shoulder. Fugere stayed down on the field for a few minutes before being helped off by athletic trainers. He left the stadium at the end of the first quarter with his injured arm in a sling. He finished with 14 yards on four carries.
"We've had to play without him before," Eggl said. "You never want to see a kid go down, especially our starting running back. He's a huge part of the team. We're just going to have to step it up and hope he comes back soon."
Ryan (7-1 overall, 6-0 region) jumped out to a 14-0 lead before the Rugby offense took the field. Eggl led the Lions down the field on their opening possession and found junior wide receiver Brody Bosch in the corner of the end zone for an 11-yard touchdown.
The Panthers (5-3, 4-2) fumbled the ensuing kickoff, which led to a 5-yard touchdown run by Fugere two plays later.
Ryan's defense matched the offensive intensity, forcing six turnovers and stopping the Panthers on a fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line.
Senior cornerback Kalan Elm intercepted Rugby sophomore quarterback Bradley Heidlebaugh on the first play of the second half and recovered a fumble at midfield late in the third quarter.
"The defense we have comes down to discipline," Ryan coach Brad Borkhuis said. "When they wanted to throw, we were blanketing them in the secondary."
The defensive line forced two fumbles by senior running back Kyle Lovcik and sacked Heidlebaugh five times.
Kramer and the defensive line controlled the line of scrimmage in the second half. Ryan held Rugby's offense in check and kept the Panthers on their side of the 50-yard line in the final two quarters. The Ryan defense hasn't allowed a touchdown in six quarters.
"We've been looking for a shutout all year," Kramer said. "Shutouts are always fun. In the fourth quarter we were talking about playing for pride and playing for a shutout."
Both teams struggled offensively in the second half, but the Lions found the end zone in the fourth quarter on a 33-yard pass from Eggl to junior wide receiver Jake Magnuson.
"On our list of goals was to be region champs and that was another step in our process," Borkhuis said.
Eggl finished 10-of-21 passing for 128 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for 111 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries.
Ryan senior defensive lineman Isaac Tafelmeyer left the game in the first quarter with an ankle injury and remained on the sideline as a precaution. Borkhuis said he could have played if needed.
The Lions close out the regular season at 7 p.m. against Bismarck St. Mary's on Wednesday.