What a way to open the Badlands Activities Center!
Saturday night’s Badlands Bowl high school all-star football game was about as good as you could get when it comes to stadium openers. A 41-38 win by the “home” team, sealed in the final minutes, under the lights, in front of a couple thousand fans on the edge of their seats … priceless.
Nick Jolliffe’s goal-line interception of Shay Smithwick-Hann with 29 seconds left in the fourth quarter was a dynamite way to cap a game that a couple long-time Badlands Bowl committee members were calling the best game they’ve had. This game has been going on for 17 years and it’s the closest score since 1996’s 23-22 win by North Dakota. (What do you think? Was this the best Badlands Bowl in the game’s history?)
They said just look at the records. Oh my, were there records broken in this game.
— N.D. running back Jake Miller broke a rushing yards record by another Bismarck High alumnus, Weston Dressler, with 155. He also tied a record with 3 TDs. He was the first N.D. player to score 3 TDs and the fifth overall.
— Montana WR Matt Miller, who is headed to Boise State in the fall and is definitely worthy of a Bronco jersey, had 12 receptions for 202 yards – both Bowl records. He also proved to everyone that he was the best player on the field, which is what Montana coaches said in pre-game interviews.
— This isn’t an absolute record because it’s not on the list, but pretty much everyone involved with the game believed that no team has ever intercepted six passes in the Badlands Bowl, which is exactly what North Dakota did.
— Jolliffe became the sixth player in the game’s history to intercept two passes.
— Montana broke the record for total yards (536) and passing yards (403) and Montana QB Tyler Hulse threw for 325 yards, coming close to Gary Wagner’s record of 342 set in 2005.
— Record for amazing plays. Yeah, it’s not factual by any means, but there were a ton of stud plays made in this game.
Here are a few of the awesome moments: Jake Miller tip-toeing the sideline (coming within an inch of going out of bounds) and then cutting back up field for 10 more yards for a first down, which led to his own TD run; Matt Miller tipping passes to himself to set up his own TD receptions; N.D. quarterback Esley Thorton threading the needle pretty much every time he had to; N.D. cornerback Elby Pope jumping routes perfectly and turning one of them into a 28-yard INT return for a TD and then chasing down a muffed punt near the sideline that turned the game on its head; or just big hit after big hit by defensive players on both teams.
This one was on par with any high school or college football game I’ve covered since I began reporting on games a decade ago. It had everything – amazing plays, a comeback, drama, intelligent players making smart plays (for the most part), good coaching and late-game heroics – and that’s what great games are made of. Plus, I’d be lying if I said it’s not fun to watch a team that’s been together for seven days celebrate a win like they’ve been together for seven years.
Let’s hope we get to see a few games of this caliber during this fall’s high school and college seasons.