Football season ends
With a stellar season already behind them and a hometown crowd to cheer them on - amazing considering there was North Dakota's firearm deer opener and a home Bison football game to contend with - the West Fargo football team was ready to do battle in their Class 3A state semifinal game Saturday.
The visiting Demons also were ready, however.
What ensued could only be defined thusly: a battle.
"It was an awesome game," West Fargo football coach Jay Gibson said. "It was two good football teams that were pretty evenly matched."
The Demons (9-2) managed to come out on top, and ground out a close 24-20 win to end the Packers' chance at their first state title in seven years. The Demons (9-2) advanced to their fourth straight state championship game, and will face Fargo South for the fourth straight time. Bismarck will be shooting for its third title in as many years.
As far as Saturday's game, there just wasn't enough time.
"The clock ran out when they had four more points than us, simple as that," Gibson said. "I'm really proud of the way our guys played."
It was a tough loss for West Fargo (8-2), which looked destined to make the state championship game after losing just once during the regular season and entering the postseason ranked No. 1.
"We were on the top of our game, but they were, too," Gibson said. "These two schools have a heck of a lot of spunk and a heck of a lot of fight."
Bismarck drew first blood with 36 seconds left in the first quarter when Channing Mann ran the ball 35 yards for the score. Mann was a staple for the Demons, and led their ground game with 159 rushing yards on 34 attempts and three touchdowns.
In fact, all four of Bismarck's TDs came on runs.
While their opponents used the rush, the Packers capitalized on Matt Ruff's arm. The senior quarterback threw for 238 yards, completing 16 of 34 passes, including a 33-yard bomb, and one touchdown.
His big target was Zach Neer, who hauled in eight catches for 124 total yards. Jon Pistorious scored West Fargo's lone touchdown reception at 9:43 in the second quarter to give the Packers their first lead.
West Fargo's other scores came on short goal-line pushes by Dustin Null. Other than the touchdowns, the Packers' running game was severely hampered by Bismarck's defense, which held them to just 57 yards on 30 attempts.
Looking back on the season, Gibson is happy with his team, which finished as East Region regular-season champions.
Though the Packers were known for their offensive versatility, they made strides in their passing game. They racked up a school-record 1,966 yards of passing yards on 120 catches; an average of more than 16 yards per completion.
And several school records also were broken. Ruff only gave up six interceptions, a record low for the team. Shane Siverson's 96-yard touchdown run earlier this season got his name in the record books. And Pistorious was etched twice: once for three interceptions against Grand Forks Red River on Sept. 24, and the other for his season total of nine interceptions.
Siverson led the Packers in rushing with 409 yards and five scores. Alex Spacek also had five TDs, and was close behind with 390 yards. Ruff rounded out the top three with 265 yards and four scores. Null's seven rushing TDs led West Fargo.
As for receiving, Neer came out on top with 39 total catches, but was passed in yardage by Brady Scwartz, who racked up 659 yards on 37 catches. Schwartz also led West Fargo in touchdown receptions.
On defense, Nathan Stanczyk took the lead with 68 tackles. Tyler Kennedy and Alex and Tanner Fontaine rounded out the top four. Tanner Fontaine and Kennedy also tied for most sacks with 3.5.
Overall, Gibson was impressed not only with his team, but with the competition.
"It was really the way high school football games should be," he said. "The last two games we played were really competitive.
"Everyone wants to be a championship team...but only one gets to be the champion and that's a really special situation."
The Packers will be hit hard by graduation next year, and the outlook doesn't look bright. But for now, Gibson's focus is on the more recent events.
"Next year is for next year. We'll be fine," he said.