KING OF THE HILL
After a season-opening loss to Bismarck in 2002, the West Fargo football team went on an unprecedented 23-game winning streak that resulted in back-to-back state championships.
The Packers haven't quite been able to recapture the magic of the 2002 and 2003 seasons - until now.
Since their loss to Bismarck Century on Sept. 3, this year's Packers are on a streak of their own: six straight wins to round out the regular season as the No. 1 seed out of the Eastern Dakota Conference with a 7-1 overall record.
And they're just getting warmed up.
"I'm really proud of how we've played," West Fargo head coach Jay Gibson said. "All the kids have done a really good job."
The Packers' last regular-season game was Wednesday against Grand Forks Central. West Fargo went out with a bang, routing the Knights 42-0 to stay unbeaten in conference play.
Quarterback Matt Ruff was 8-for-12 passing with 149 yards. His lone touchdown pass came in the second quarter when Brady Schwartz hauled in a 23 yarder for the score.
Backup QB Tucker Bucholz also got in on the action, missing one connection but also completing another for a 27-yard gain - the longest of the night for the Packers.
But where the Packers dominated was on the ground. Alex Spacek scored West Fargo's first three touchdowns on runs of 2, 1, and 55 yards. He rushed for a total of 110 yards on just eight attempts. Spacek moved to second on West Fargo's depth chart behind Shane Siverson.
Dustin Null and Shelby Schulz scored the Packers' other TDs, and both put up more than 50 yards of rushing.
With 440 yards of total offense, the Packers doubled Central's output. The Knight's were held scoreless thanks to West Fargo's stifling defense, which accumulated 60 tackles and two sacks. Jordan Rasmussen picked up the lone interception for the Packers.
Going out with such a strong showing should help bolster West Fargo's confidence heading into the postseason. Their first test is Saturday at 2 p.m., when the Packers host Mandan in a state quarterfinal matchup.
Though the Braves are just 5-4 on the season, Gibson knows not to take them lightly.
"Mandan's a good club, and their offense is really good," he said.
Gibson said that the Braves excel at being versatile. "If you shut down their running game, they'll go to the pass, and vice versa," he said. "They have good skill-kids and a balanced attack. ... They get the ball to someone and take turns scoring."
But the Packers are pretty versatile, too.
"We're going to make them work a little bit," Gibson said.
With more than 1,500 total yards through the air and an average of 17.3 yards per reception, statistically, the Packers have an edge with passing. Ruff's favorite receiver is Schwartz, who leads the Packers with 480 yards on 26 catches and five scores.
Zach Neer and Jon Pistorious also are deadly receiving threats, having both surpassed 350 yards on the season.
But with 18 rushing touchdowns compared to 13 passing, the Packers definitely have strength at both ends.
Siverson is a testament to this. The senior has accumulated more than 400 yards rushing and scored five touchdowns, including one for 96 yards that broke the school record.
Spacek, Ruff and Null also are a threat on the ground, and offer the Packers plenty of options when the need arises.
Still, Gibson knows the Braves have their own weaponry.
"They give out points, too, and I'd hate to get into a shooting match with them, but that's what it might be," he said.
Bismarck Century is the top-seeded team out of the West. If rankings pan out, the Packers could see themselves facing a team that handed them their only loss of the season for the title.
There isn't any doubt in Gibson's mind, however, about the Packers' capabilities.
"We're not going to change anything. We want to keep improving all the time and we have," he said "We have a senior group, so I'm not worried about leadership and I'm not worried about if we're ready to play.
"We're ready to go."