Season Preview: Football
Football is as American as apple pie and muscle cars.
Or is that baseball?
In any case, the sport garners quite a fan base come fall, and West Fargo is no exception. While North Dakota State University or the Minnesota Vikings may attract the bulk of the attention by the season's height, the hometown Packers undoubtedly have their fair share of support.
In fact, based on a recent survey by the National Federation of State High School Associations, more fans attend high school basketball and football events than the same sports at the college and professional levels combined.
According to the NFHS, during the 2009-10 school year, approximately 336 million fans attended high school regular-season and playoff games in football and girls and boys basketball - nearly three times the spectators who attended events in those sports at the college and professional levels.
That's a lot of support for the home-town prep teams.
Saturday marks West Fargo's first regular season game of the year. The Packers head west to Bismarck to face a team that ended their season in 2010; a 24-20 downing to the Demons in the state semifinals. Bismarck would go on to finish runner-up behind Fargo South in the championship game.
So the Packers, who were 10-2 last year, are preparing to face what is unarguably one of the state's toughest opponents, which means a strong showing could play dividends as the season progresses.
Who to watch
While all teams suffer with the disappearance of top seniors from the year before, West Fargo will be hit particularly hard this season. Of their 14 All-Conference selections, only one, Shane Siverson, is returning.
In all likelihood, Siverson will be one of West Fargo's top offensive threats. As a junior he led the Packers with 409 yards of total rushing, averaging more than 5 yards a carry. Siverson also put his name in the school record book after making a 96-yard touchdown run. His lone reception on the year also was a gem: a 33-yarder resulting in a touchdown.
Seniors Dustin Null and Alex Spacek will be more rushing weapons. Both finished last year averaging nearly 5 yards per carry, while Null logged a team-high seven rushing touchdowns and Spacek tied Siverson with five scores.
Matt Ruff led the charge last year at quarterback, and his shoes may be tough to fill. The All-EDC selection spearheaded a school-record 1,966 yards of passing, while tying a record-low six interceptions.
Taking the reins is senior Tucker Bucholz. While his time on the field was short last year, he did manage to come away with a 50 percent completion rating, 131 yards of offense and two touchdowns.
Certainly nothing to sneeze at.
As for who Bucholz will be throwing to, that could be tricky. More than 80 percent of all receptions in 2010 came from three seniors: Brady Schwartz, Zach Neer and Jon Pistorius. Their absence leaves an obvious void.
One possible target is Chaz Gunderson. The junior wide receiver played varsity sparingly last season, but when he got a chance to touch the ball, results were golden. His two receptions resulted in more than 100 yards of offense and a score.
Part of West Fargo's success last year certainly stemmed from its offense, but the he brick wall of the offensive line was key. And the Packers' defense held opponents to an average of less than 150 yards of rushing per game, and slightly less than 200 yards of passing.
The Packers will have to regroup after big losses from Tanner and Alex Fontaine, Tyler Kennedy, Nathan Stanczyk, and Jake Hermanson, to name a few.