Bishop Ryan seeks first playoff win since 2007

The blood and sweat aren’t so harrowing.

It’s the agonizing tears that, after a full year, still bother Bishop Ryan lineman Mason Kramer.

He remembers all too well the Lions’ heartbreaking, surprising – and most of all, disappointing – upset loss to East Region No. 4 seed Valley City in the quarterfinals of last season’s Class AA state playoffs. He recalls the emotions that followed, too.

The pain never fully eases away, he says.

“It was stunning,” said the 6-foot, 274-pound senior. “At the end of the game, our reactions were just looking around and we didn’t really know what happened. We were shocked.”

Ryan hasn’t lost since that cold, October 2012 evening.

The Lions, the consensus year-end No. 1 in the state media poll, capped their regular season with a 14-7 win over second-ranked St. Mary’s for their second straight West Region title and No. 1 seed.

At 6:30 tonight, Ryan (9-0) gets another crack at an East Region fourth seed with a state quarterfinal against Kindred (5-4) at Herb Parker Stadium.

Kramer said the Lions plan to steer clear of another upset. They’re taking a different approach this time around.

“Last year, I remember we came in thinking that we’re the 1 seed and we’re supposed to win and all that,” said Kramer, a 2012 first-team all-state selection. “We were young. I think this year we have better leadership. We’re treating every game from here on out like it’s the biggest game of the season.”

Not a bad plan considering Kindred remains the only team to hold a lead against Ryan all year.

On Sept. 6, the Vikings’ quick-strike spread offense scored twice in the first quarter on long throws by senior quarterback Eric Bachmeier to grab a 12-0 lead. But then the Lions reeled off 27 unanswered points en route to 34-24 victory.

“There was a heightened concern when we were down,” Ryan coach Brad Borkhuis said, “but as we told all the players at the time and as we told everybody, ‘Just stay with what we do.’

“It was a great test for us to be able to keep our composure in a time of challenge. We knew there would be opportunity for adversity all year. This is a time where we took it and rose to the occasion.”

Kindred was one of just three teams to defeat the Lions last season.

The 6-2, 175-pound Bachmeier – who’s received interest from University of Minnesota, North Dakota State University, University of North Dakota and a plethora of Division II programs – gashed the Lions for 210 rushing yards and three touchdowns in that Viking win.

That performance serves as a constant reminder of the elite player the Lions will soon face.

“You’ve got a wild animal there that you’re trying to cage and just hopefully contain,” Borkhuis said. “That’s the thing is if you can contain that, then you can address the rest of the offense.

Said Kramer: “He’s the best player I’ve ever played against.”

The Lions caged Bachmeier to the tune of a season-low 20 rushing yards on 16 carries in their earlier meeting this season. But his arm staked Kindred a two-touchdown lead.

“I think he actually started 2-for-2 with 100 yards and two touchdowns,” Kramer said. “That can’t happen again. That gives them confidence.”

Kindred has struggled with consistency this year, but caught stride in the second half of a loss to Wahpeton and closed out the season with wins over Maple Valley-Enderlin and Grafton.

“It’s been up and down,” said Bachmeier, who’s rushed for 1,177 yards and passed for 938 this season. “We’ve had great games and we’ve had games where we’ve turned the ball over too many times. We’re playing really good right now and the team’s feeling great.”

Since Ryan’s first meeting with the Vikings, the Lions beat six straight opponents by 29 points or more, then knocked off St. Mary’s.

The Lions’ region title was cause for celebration, but only for a night. The next day, they began preparation for what they hope is their first playoff win since 2007.

“I think when we look at the steps that we’ve taken, when we look back at the end of the year, we’ll be very proud,” Borkhuis said. “But right now, we’re really focused on the steps in front of us.”

Ryan Holmgren covers high school sports and general assignments. Follow him on Twitter @ryanholmgren.