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Mustangs, Patriots set for Round 2

West Fargo Sheyenne's Zach Rodgers (10) celebrates his interception late in the game to stop Bismarck Legacy's final drive during the North Dakota Class 3A playoffs at West Fargo Sheyenne on Friday. David Samson / The Forum

Parker Sander knows his offense didn't do enough against Bismarck Century the first time around.

The senior quarterback and his West Fargo Sheyenne teammates were given plenty of opportunities to pull away from the Patriots when the two teams squared off in Bismarck week one, as an opportunistic Mustang defense forced five turnovers.

Instead, the offense routinely stalled, as a usually strong rushing attack was held to 36 yards and the defense eventually ran out of gas in a 21-14 overtime loss, the only defeat Sheyenne has suffered during a 9-1 season.

"We know (our offense) didn't come out to play that first one," Sander said. "Our defense came out to play and we weren't the best that first week."

Though disappointed with the outcome, Mustang players remained confident they'd get another shot at the Patriots. They get their wish this Friday, as Century pays a visit to West Fargo in the semifinals of the Class 3A Football State Tournament.

The numbers suggest that Century, which also comes in at 9-1, should expect a more potent Sheyenne scoring attack this time around. After being held to 14 or fewer points in three of their first four games, the Mustangs have scored at least 28 in their last six and are averaging close to 40 at home this season.

The driving force behind this success has been a bruising run game. Led by Nathan Goldade (1,185 yards, 19 touchdowns) and Hunter Hoffner (471, 7) the Mustangs are running at a 251.1 yards per-game clip.

The offensive improvements proved beneficial in the state quarterfinals, as Sheyenne found itself in a surprisingly tight matchup with sub-.500 Bismarck Legacy, where a normally stout defense surrendered 225 yards and 21 points in the second half to a Saber team that topped 21 points just once all season.

But behind 209 yards on the ground and a 76-yard fourth-quarter touchdown pass from Sander to Caden Jastram, Sheyenne prevailed with a 28-21 win, the second state tournament win in school history.

The defense will have to get straightened out in short order, as a far more prolific offense comes to town this week.

Like the Mustangs, the Patriot offense is predicated on a strong run game. The strength of this attack was on full display in their quarterfinal matchup against Fargo South, in which they ran for 279 yards in a 45-13 win.

Making preparations extra challenging is Century's great rushing balance, as four players ran for at least 54 yards against the Bruins.

The Mustangs saw the potency of this ground attack first hand in week one, where the Patriots gashed them for 247 yards.

"They're going to come at us with the same stuff they had last time," said junior linebacker Zach Rodgers, who sealed Sheyenne's quarterfinal win with a late interception. "We've got to be ready for it. We've got to tighten up."

Despite coming off a decidedly lackluster performance, confidence still seems high in the Mustang locker room, with Rodgers going as far as to say "we'll win this game" Friday if the defense cleans up its mistakes.

While the semifinal stage is nothing new for Century—which has reached the second round 11 times in the last 12 years—it's a less familiar setting for the Mustangs, whose lone second round appearance in 2015 ended in a 35-7 loss to Minot.

But while respecting their opponent, Mustang players say they won't be intimidated, as they look to punch the school's first ever ticket to the Dakota Bowl.

"Century's always had a great program," Hoffner said. "They're dogs. They're good, but so are we. When we do our jobs to the best of our ability, the game might favor our way."

Friday's matchup at Sheyenne High School kicks off at 7 p.m.