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West Fargo football team can grab 2nd place

The Packer football team remains optimistic after last week's 35-26 loss to top-ranked Fargo South. The defeat wasn't entirely unexpected, but a surprise win would have been nice for the Packers.

West Fargo now needs more than just a home win tomorrow to forge a three-way conference tie for second place. They have to beat the Spartans by more than seven points to finish behind Fargo South. And the Packers will need help in other ways too.

At press time, Fargo South (4-0 in EDC play), Fargo North (4-0), West Fargo (3-2) and Wahpeton (2-2) stood in the upper half of the EDC standings. West Fargo's final regular season game is tomorrow against Fargo North; the Packers get a bye-week the following week, while the rest of the EDC plays their final games.

No. 1-ranked Fargo South still plays Fargo Shanley and Fargo North for two likely wins. A likely Spartans loss to the Bruins next week places much more emphasis on tomorrow's Packers/Spartans matchup. Wahpeton plays Grand Forks Red River and Fargo Shanley yet this season - a pair of probable Husky wins.

If the schedules play out the way they should, as long as the Packers - already losers to Wahpeton and Fargo South this season - can beat Fargo North by a touchdown or more, then the Packers grab the No. 2 conference seed and the home playoff game that comes with it. Either way, they'll have to wait until next week's regular season final games to learn their fate.

But, as Packers coach Jay Gibson points out, it isn't over yet - not by a long shot.

"But we could also win by less than seven and still get fourth place," he said. "So, we could win this game and be second, and we could also win this game and be fourth."

High school football fans can likely expect an increase in regular season finishes like this in the future now that Belcourt dropped down to 2A football, leaving EDC teams with one less regular season game to settle things without tie breaker systems like this one.

Packer junior quarterback Bryce Jorgenson said last week's loss to Fargo South will fuel West Fargo's desire to play them again.

"If we come out hard and beat North, then this loss just made us come together more as a team," he said. "We want to face South again, hopefully in the state championship or somewhere down the line. But we need to come out strong against North.

The Spartans have surprisingly won all their conference games to date after two non-conference losses early on; they are coming off a 27-13 road win over Grand Forks Central. Fargo North is led by senior quarterback Ethan Schnabel, a three-year starter. Fargo North also has an improved running game. Gibson said breaking down Fargo North game film is like looking at his own team. Both teams feature very similar offenses and defenses.

"It's like playing yourself, except having different guys," said Gibson, who for the first time this season alluded to his team's mounting injuries.

West Fargo's platooning quarterbacks - Jorgenson and senior Alan Neer - have injured non-throwing shoulders that could affect their immediate future. Senior running back David Schmidt has what Gibson terms a severely sprained ankle, suffered against the Bruins. Schmidt himself said after the Fargo South loss that he didn't expect the injury to keep him out of the Spartans game.

"Schmidt is a true warrior and is a really tough guy, so if he says he's going to play then he's probably going to play," said Gibson, who wasn't for sure on the status of Schmidt, Neer or Jorgenson when interviewed early this week. The week of healing could make a big difference.

For his part, Schmidt would rather talk about tomorrow's game.

"I'll be playing against North," he said. "It's going to be a really tough game. They've improved just like we have during the course of the season. We have to play better than we did against South, because they'll be just as tough."

Gibson and Schmidt said the Packers didn't play bad against the Bruins by any means. The Packers simply ran into a better team.

"We can't blame anyone, because we played well. They just caught us and beat us in the fourth quarter," said Schmidt.

West Fargo was leading 26-13 going into the fourth quarter at the Fargodome when the Bruins scored a safety and promptly ran back the kick for a touchdown seconds later.

"That was just a big momentum change against us," said Jorgenson. "That kick return kind of brought us down a little bit, and we just never really got going."

The Packers haven't beaten Fargo South - the two-time defending state champs - since the Packers' 2003 state championship season. The Packers have also finished third in the EDC four seasons in a row.

"South is just a really good football team," said Gibson. "We made it to the fourth quarter before we imploded. Almost every team they've played got hit hard in the first quarter - that's how good they are."