Dickinson State senior safety Cain Boschee will not soon forget Sept. 23, 2017.
While he and the Blue Hawks football team toppled Mayville State 52-7, the four-year starter nabbed three interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown.
In the same game, fellow senior and defensive back Jay Liggins earned an interception, one of his three on the season.
"Last year, when we played Mayville, I had an interception. Jay and I had this weird connection going," Boschee said. "He had a perfect block for one of my interception returns."
Together, the two are arguably the best defensive backs in the conference and have proven to be two of the greatest in the entire NAIA.
For the past three years, Boschee has ranked in the top 10 in the NAIA with the most interceptions. His five snatches last season earned him 10th in all of Division I, while the year before he was No. 1 with 0.8 interceptions per game and nine on the season. In 2015, his five interceptions was the eighth-most in the league.
Boschee isn't the lone threat in the Dickinson backfield, though, as he's joined by the massive and explosive Liggins at corner.
"I tell you what, it's a nice thing to have in your back pocket when you got two big, rangey guys that have been playing for a long time," defensive coordinator Jason Thier said. "We can put a lot on their plate. We really rely on our safeties to make all of our coverage adjustments, so Cain being a very headsy player and being able to put us in the right position is huge. I'd say it's actually invaluable to what we're going to be doing defensively. Then when you got a guy like Jay that we can say to, 'Take away their best player,' it frees us up to do a lot of other stuff defensively."
Adding to their resumes, both have been named to the NAIA All American Second Team: Boschee in 2016, and Liggins in 2017.
At 6-foot-2, 200 pounds, Liggins isn't exactly a comforting presence for opposing receivers. He uses his strength and wingspan to block passes. Every single game, head coach Pete Stanton puts Liggins on the opponent's best receiver, allowing the defense to focus on other things.
Boschee, at 6-foot-3, 185 pounds, is one of the quickest sprinters in the nation and poses a huge threat. His 19 career interceptions, nine of which came in 2016, are five shy of tying the DSU record set by Rocky Hanson who played from 1988-1990.
In the 2017 NAIA national track and field meet, Boschee placed 17th in the 200-meter dash with a time of 21.61 seconds. He also finished 21st in the 100 with a time of 10.84.
"On Cain's side of it, (he's got) really good ball skills. He's kind of our centerfielder out there," Stanton said. "He's the guy that's making all our calls and really getting everything set for us defensively. A guy with great speed and great ball skills is a great combination. Also, you look at him and what he does in the classroom, he's a scholar athlete in the classroom and he's just tremendous."
Liggins has also competed in track and field at the national level, placing fifth in the long jump with a leap of 7.18 meters, or 23 feet, 6 ¾ inches. In the triple jump, he finished 24th with a distance of 13.83 meters, or 45-4 ½ inches.
In addition to game-day skills, the two fill a rare role on the team as four-year starters and as senior captains.
"Being a captain, it's a huge honor and something you kind of expect, I guess, as you get older. It's the standard and the expectation that comes with it, but to actually be named captain and have those expectations given to you, is a huge honor," Liggins said. "I'm blessed to be one of the guys picked of all the guys that could have got it."
The two are taking leadership very seriously in their final year on the gridiron.
"Leading by example was something I wanted to do this summer," Boschee said. "I missed the first half of workouts. When I got back, I wanted to push everyone and make everyone work harder than they had been."
Liggins, who is earning a degree in university studies with a minor in coaching, came by way of Bismarck High and was encouraged to choose Dickinson State after former Demons teammate and future All-American Thomas Sease decided to be a Blue Hawk.
"He's grown as a person off the field and in the classroom," Stanton said of Liggins. "It was never easy for him his first couple years in the classroom and adjusting to being here and that's where he's made some of the biggest strides, is off the field.
Meanwhile, Boschee, who studies exercise science, attended Glacier High School in Kalispell, Mont., where he was named to the Class AA Montana All-State team his senior year in 2014.
"He's just bigger, stronger, faster. More aware of the safety position," Stanton said of Boschee's improvements over the years. "He's a guy in high school that we thought we got a steal with, and we were right. He's just a very good player."