Dakota Bowl berth on line for Ryan, Wahpeton

There’s something about Wahpeton that just seems so familiar.

That spread offense and aggressive 4-3 defense is eerily similar to Bishop Ryan.

In many ways, the Lions’ preparation for the East Region No. 2 seed Huskies was like staring into a mirror.

Wahpeton (9-1) brings the state’s top-ranked scoring offense to town for a Class AA state semifinal against Ryan (10-0) at 6 tonight at Herb Parker Stadium.

A Las Vegas oddsmaker would dub the betting line as “pick ’em.”

The Huskies put up 40.5 points per game and allow 12.7. They average 407.7 yards per contest.

The Lions score 40.1 a game and give up 12.1. They average 410.3 per four quarters.

Spooky, right?

Ryan coach Brad Borkhuis said there are slight differences, but not many.

“Very similar in formation, but their balance is a little more run than ours,” Borkhuis said. “We’re a little more pass than they are.

“From a defensive standpoint, they run a 4-3. They try to go (cover-0) on the outside and really go man-to-man coverage and try to force you to beat them deep. Ours is a little more of a zone scheme.”

Borkhuis and Wahpeton coach Brian Dokken – both in their fourth year, of course – give identical explanations when asked about their offensive philosophies.

“We just kind of take what defenses give us,” Dokken said. “If they’re going to try to stop the run, we’re going to pass the ball. If they’re going to try to take away our passing game, then we’re going to run the ball.”

It’s a plan the Lions have carried out time and again.

Ryan posted 323 rushing yards in the mud and rain against Griggs-Barnes County, but aired it out for 267 passing yards against Beulah.

Ryan senior quarterback Austin Eggl (1,856 passing, 892 rushing) could break 2,000 yards through the air and 1,000 on the ground.

Wahpeton hopes to counter the Lions’ balanced attack with some versatility of its own – a 4-3 defensive front that adjusts as necessary.

“Our biggest thing for defense is having the personnel to switch around (our formations),” Dokken said. “When we’re playing against Beulah, we needed five defensive linemen. When we go play Grafton, we needed an extra D-back.”

Senior running back Brock Lingen (5-foot-9, 170 pounds) leads the Wahpeton offense with 1,229 yards and 19 touchdowns on 161 carries. Paired with 6-2, 178-pound senior quarterback Jack Christensen (1,467 passing, 705 rushing), the Huskies have a capable and balanced attack.

Dokken said “everything pretty much goes through them.”

“I think they run the spread offense kind of similar to ours,” Ryan junior Jared Will said. “They have a lot of good athletes on the team. I think that’s similar to our style of offense.”

The stakes for this battle of similar squads is a trip to the Dakota Bowl.

It’s a stage neither team has reached for more than a dozen years.

Ryan’s last state championship appearances? 1997 and 1999.

Wahpeton’s? Naturally, smack dab in the middle: 1998.

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