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North Dakota aims to snap Badlands Bowl losing streak against Montana

The best high school football seniors from North Dakota packed their bags, football pads and cleats on Friday, June 14. They hit the road and headed west.

Bowman County lineman Beau Jeffers gets out of his stance at the snap of the ball during Badlands Bowl practice on Wednesday, June 12, from the Biesiot Activities Center. (Patrick Bernadeau/The Dickinson Press)
Bowman County lineman Beau Jeffers gets out of his stance at the snap of the ball during Badlands Bowl practice on Wednesday, June 12, from the Biesiot Activities Center. (Patrick Bernadeau/The Dickinson Press)

The best high school football seniors from North Dakota packed their bags, football pads and cleats on Friday, June 14. They hit the road and headed west.

On Saturday, that talented group will represent the state on the gridiron as North Dakota and Montana are set to battle in the 26th annual Knights of Columbus Badlands Bowl at Connor's Stadium in Miles City, Mont.

With the players gathering in Dickinson earlier in the week, North Dakota team practice began on Monday from the Biesiot Activities Center.

"Number one, we couldn't ask for a better week weather-wise, so the kids were getting after it," Fargo Shanley and North Dakota head coach Troy Mattern said. "Anytime you get the best kids together from the state of North Dakota, to be able to coach them throughout the week has been a lot of fun. ... Most of these kids have been rivals for their whole high school career, and to be able to get them together and see that synergy has been pretty neat."

Mattern says the most difficult part of the week was getting the players to understand the coaching staff's terminology and making sure they were in the right places on the field. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Mattern appreciated how coachable the players were throughout the course of the week. The practices were hard-fought and created camaraderie amongst the players.

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"It's been pretty good, it's been tiring, competitive, and it's been a lot of fun," Dickinson High defensive back Morgan Wardner said. "The competition is a lot harder. There's a lot more skilled players here and it's a lot of fun because it's challenging."

The future Dickinson State Blue Hawk will be one of three players representing the area, joined by Dickinson Trinity lineman Isaac Fridrich and Bowman County lineman Beau Jeffers.

Over the last four seasons, Fridrich has helped his team go 16-3 in games held at the BAC, with four of the victories coming in the postseason. During that stretch at home, the Titans outscored their opponents by more than three touchdowns.

"On the first day that we came out here, I couldn't really believe it. I was like, 'Wow, this my last time playing out here,'" Fridrich said. "Obviously, I'm going to be playing in the game in Miles City, but it's good to practice on this field because we won so many games here. I made a lot of good memories with my Trinity teammates and it's been good to make a lot of new memories with all of these new teammates that I got."

In 2018, Jeffers aided Bowman County to its finest season in program history. Spearheaded by one of the top defenses in Class A, the Bulldogs went undefeated through the regular season, captured a pair of home playoffs wins and finished just one victory shy of competing in the state championship game.

"Last season was just absolutely amazing. Really, the most memorable way to end a senior year is to go undefeated in the regular season and make it deep in the playoffs with the guys I've been playing with my whole life," Jeffers said. "Then coming off such a great season, being able to represent my school and my state in an all-star game like this where its just the top players from around the state, it's a great honor and really an amazing opportunity to play."

Overall, the Badlands Bowl has been a contest dominated by Big Sky Country, who has established a 19-6 advantage in the series. Montana has won seven of the last eight contests, including the last four contests by a combined margin of 194-39.

The last time the event was held in Montana, the hosts earned a 63-0 triumph. Last year in Dickinson, North Dakota scored the game's opening touchdown before falling 55-7.

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"Fortunately, it's a whole different team, so it doesn't matter what the scores were in the past years because it's 34 new kids," Mattern said. "That's the neat thing about an all-star game where you aren't playing the same kids year in and year out. It's a totally different group of kids, their expectation is to win this football game this year. That's what we are gearing for and hopefully, we can accomplish that on Saturday."

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