Magicians reload for another postseason run

The Minot High football team hasn’t won a West Region title since 2007 and hasn’t had a sniff of a state title since 1980, well before any of this year’s roster was even born.

The region titles have been reserved for Bismarck and Century, while the last eight state championships have gone to the Demons (2008, ’09, ’11, ’12) or Fargo South (’06, ’07, ’10, ’13).

That hasn’t stopped Minot junior quarterback Ben Bolinske from setting his sights on an elusive state title. He doesn’t want to experience the pain he felt following the Magicians’ 38-28 loss to South in the Class AAA state semifinal.

“Losing hurts,” Bolinske said. “The taste stays with you the entire year. It’s not fun to lose and we’re not planning on losing at all this year.”

Bolinske entered camp as the unquestioned signal-caller this season. That wasn’t the case last year as Bolinske was expected to be the backup behind Alex Yanosko. The idea was for Bolinske to take snaps at the end of games with the result all but decided, not in their most pressure-packed moments.

But Minot’s plans changed quickly. Yanosko tore his ACL in the first half of the team’s season opener against West Fargo and Bolinske took over the rest of the season. He led the Magicians to a 9-2 record (5-1 region), including a last-minute victory over Century. Bolinske finished the year with 104 completions for 1,448 yards and 11 touchdowns.

“Last year when we threw him in that first game in the second half, I didn’t hardly know the kid in terms of what he could do as a football player,” Minot coach Barry Holmen said. “We were careful with him early and then at some point you just turn him loose after you learn what he can do. I think he’s really, really good at seeing the field and extending plays beyond their original plan. We have to put him in positions where he can do that for us.”

For the Magicians to end their state title drought, they’ll have to find replacements around Bolinske. Minot lost 24 seniors, many of whom were impact players on offense. The Magicians lost six wide receivers including Kimani Benjamin and Tre Kinchen and tight ends Jacob Holmen and Kolton Stevens. They graduated their top ball carriers as well in Brady Lampert and Kolton Larson.

Minot averaged 29.3 points per game, scoring a season-high 48 in its quarterfinal victory over Grand Forks Red River.

“We have a real good quarterback returning and a couple starting linemen, but after that it’s pretty thin,” Holmen said. “I don’t look at that as a negative, I look at that as an opportunity for the next bunch of kids to step up.”

The Magicians have fewer holes to fill on defense, which limited opponents to 13.4 points per game and pitched four shutouts – three in the first four contests. They return four of their five starting linebackers and two of their three defensive linemen.

“Our defense should be pretty good,” Minot senior linebacker Garrett Picard said. “We have a lot of players back and we were pretty good last year, so hopefully we keep on working hard.

“Our defense has a lot of size and speed and we’re not afraid to hit people.”

Picard is one of four returning linemen who started last season, along with Zach Danelson, Matthew Marler and Alex Mack. Danelson and Marler combined for 149 tackles and Mack added two interceptions and two forced fumbles.

“Defensively up front and in our linebacking core, we have a lot of experience there,” Holmen said. “We will count on those kids to lead us.”

The Magicians open their season at West Fargo on Aug. 29 at 8 p.m. before playing their home opener the following week against Fargo Davies. Minot hopes that’s the beginning of a state title run.

“We had a good year last year,” Bolinske said. “We got to the semis. Obviously every team wants to win state and that’s our goal – to win state.”