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Late football heroics beat No. 1 team: Packers open conference play tomorrow

So much for the Packers' football hopes being dashed this season with the return of only three starters.

Thought to need at least a few games to get into the swing of high school football, the Packer football team was granted the No. 3 ranking in the state after a season-opening road win at Mandan.

It seemed the Packers would face more of a test last Friday in their home opener against No. 1 Bismarck. West Fargo passed that test with a 22-15 win over the top-ranked Demons thanks to a dramatic TD pass in the closing seconds in a packed Packer Stadium.

Senior Alan Neer's toss to the corner of the end zone found senior Jake Kaiser's outstretched hands, giving the Packers the win with little time remaining.

"I was rolling out and saw two guys on Jake and just threw it up, and I was like, 'Whoops, that might be intercepted,' but Jake went up and came down with it and made a great play."

Kaiser said a coach told the players during a timeout directly before the play that moments like that were what they practice for.

"I ran a fake to the back of the end zone, and I got behind the defender," said Kaiser. "Alan threw it right up there. The play just happened so fast. It's hard to imagine that it even happened. We were all just ecstatic after that."

New ranking

The Packers' new ranking wasn't available before this edition of the Pioneer went to press, but it's likely the Packers received the No. 1 or No. 2 ranking earlier this week.

The 2-0 start is West Fargo's first since 2005. Packers coach Jay Gibson said he doesn't put a whole lot of stock into rankings, especially this early in the season.

"I never care about it. I just want our team to be as good as it can possibly be," said Gibson. "It's more of a press thing and a deal for the guys to sit around and talk about over coffee in the morning. It's nice to say, 'Hey, our boys got ranked' or what ever, which is good. But I want to be ranked real high at the end of the year, and we have a long way to go."

Far from perfect

The victory over the Demons was a special one for the Packers and their fans. Bismarck beat the Packers in the second game of the season last year and knocked them out of the playoffs in 2006.

The win was also far from a flawlessly played game of football. It seemed there were few fans in the stands who could ever recall such a penalty-filled game. Both teams had multiple turnovers as well. Junior Packer quarterback Bryce Jorgenson gave up a 12-yard interception that a Demon defender returned nearly untouched for a touchdown.

"The game was not pretty, but it wasn't pretty from Bismarck's standpoint either, which tells me that both teams have a little work to do. We're both going to be better," said Gibson.

Not one of Bismarck's 15 points came from its offense. The Packers also gave up a touchdown on special teams in addition to the interception.

"We'll take it anyway we can get it," said Neer. "Our defense played tremendous. Bismarck's offense didn't score on us once."

Jorgenson or Neer?

Jorgenson threw the interception that cost the Packers a TD. Neer threw two touchdown passes, including the thrilling game winner. But Jorgenson also scored the game's first touchdown on a 16-yard run. Do any of those plays make it easier for Gibson to choose his regular quarterback? It doesn't, according to him.

The rotating quarterbacks' game statistics were remarkably similar. Both were 4-of-9 passing, and both ran for approximately 50 yards.

"Both had some really good plays," said Gibson. "Right now I'm not so sure if the best thing isn't to just keep rotating them. I'm not kidding you, when you look at the plays that were important, both quarterbacks made important plays. Both ran the option really well and got quite a bit of yards rushing."

EDC opener

Gibson will likely continue to rotate the quarterbacks each series in tomorrow's EDC opener at Grand Forks Red River. The 1-1 Roughriders lost to Minot to open the season before beating Bismarck Century 15-14 last Friday.

Roughrider quarterback Sam King is a combined 22-of-45 passing for 322 yards in the two games, with two touchdowns. Red River throws often and will test the Packers' secondary.

"To me this is like a playoff game," said Gibson. "I feel Red River is the second best team that we're going to play in the East. I think that South is still the best team we're going to play. Red River has the potential to be one of the top teams in the league if everything goes right for them."

Neither the Mandan or Bismarck wins count for much for the Packers in terms of wins and losses; they have no bearing on conference standings. Both, especially the one that ended with the late-game heroics of Neer and Kaiser, may serve the inexperienced Packers well in the long run though.

"Beating the number one team is always a confidence booster," said Kaiser.

Neer said the big win was nice but it won't define the team's season.

"It was all right to celebrate Friday night and talk about how we beat the No. 1 team, but right now we have to be worried about Red River."

Injury update

The Bismarck win didn't come without a price. Senior receiver Alex Pribula tore a calf muscle early in the game. Gibson said Pribula likely is not out for the season, however.