Even this fall's seemingly relentless rain and cold haven't dampened the drive of the West Fargo football team.
After losing two straight games to start the season, the Packers have finished strong and once again qualified for the state tournament, which begins Oct. 30. The Packers are scheduled to face No. 3 Minot after clinching the No. 2 seed and a home berth for the North Dakota Class 3A playoffs,
On Oct. 21, Jamestown (1-4 EDC, 2-7 overall) visited West Fargo (4-1, 6-3) for their last regular season game of the year. Because of the all-day rain, the location moved from the West Fargo High School field to the comforts of the FargoDome.
Hopefully, the Packers can use that experience to their advantage if they make it back to the Dome for the championship series Nov. 13-14.
The Packers opening drive was fruitless and they were forced to punt. Then things got interesting. The punt flew out of reach of the Blue Jays receiver as a horde of Packers descended upon him. The ball bounced high, touched a Jamestown player in the chest and was scooped up by West Fargo's Austin Nelson who ran it in for a touchdown. Much to the chagrin of the fans, the refs called back the touchdown on account of a muff, as the Jamestown player never controlled the catch.
A couple plays later, Packers quarterback Bryce Jorgenson faked the handoff and ran in for a touchdown. Shortly before crossing the goal line, however, a referee whistled the play dead. It would seem Jorgenson's fake was so convincing the ref thought the decoy running back, who was tackled, actually had the ball.
"Things don't always go as planned," West Fargo football coach Jay Gibson said. "Sometimes officials get faked out. At least he came over and apologized. ... Even though I was upset they blew the whistle, you just have to move on."
After two apparent touchdowns were nullified, the Blue Jays held West Fargo to a fourth down, forcing a field goal. Senior kicker Scott Salter, who has been accurate nearly all season, came in for the effort and sailed the ball wide.
He pounded his helmet in frustration as Jamestown lined up for their drive. During the first play, Packers junior Zach Neer intercepted the pass and ran it back for the touchdown.
Salter came out again - and sent the extra point wide.
"He wore tennis shoes instead of spikes, so we think the problem is solved," Gibson said. "We play Minot outside, so that shouldn't be an issue anyway."
Later in the half, Jorgenson ran in for a touchdown to make it 13-0, but the Blue Jays would rebound. From 23 yards out on second down, quarterback Michael Bangs connected with Andy Bjugstad in the end zone to cut West Fargo's lead by half.
With their momentum slowed, the Packers were faced with a critical situation: pace the rest of the half, or score.
"We were going to try running the clock out," Gibson said. "We tried to pass, but they were playing soft so we told the guys to go for it."
What resulted was a toe-dragging, deep-in-the-end-zone connection by senior wide receiver Jon Pistorius with less than a second remaining.
"They had defenders in the area and Jon made a really great catch," Gibson said. "The significance is it put it back to a two-score game."
The Blue Jays never recovered from the big play and the Packers went on to win 34-20.
The big show
The Packers now have to look ahead to the state tournament, but they may be doing so with one less player.
During the first half Wednesday, senior lineman Jared Steinberger was injured during a play. He needed to be helped off the field and didn't appear to be able to put any weight on his right leg. Gibson said Steinberger injured his medial collateral ligament (MCL), but was unsure of the extent of the damage.
"We have to find a replacement," Gibson said. "He's been a real steady player for us for two years. He's started every game for us last year and this year. He's really smart. ... We're going to miss Jared if he doesn't make it back to play."
Gibson said part of the success of his linemen this year has been their ability to communicate to one another and work cohesively.
"We're lucky to have all our linemen. They're intelligent, they talk and work stuff out," he said. "I'm really impressed with what they've done."
As far as playing Minot, West Fargo has experience playing them this season.
"We played one of our best games earlier against them, which you have to because they're a very good team," Gibson said.
Gibson said his players would get a couple days' rest, but would get back to work in preparation for the state tournament.
"We have some areas where we need to improve and we'll keep harping at," he said.
With their success this season, especially through the second half, is there a chance the Packers are going to switch things up to throw off the competition? Gibson said, not a chance.
"You'd be a fool to change something right now," he said. "The guys that are getting the reps are the ones who are trained to get the plays and will keep getting the plays."
And if players such as Jorgenson and senior running back Tyler Lehmann continue to step up, West Fargo has a good chance of finishing strong in the postseason.