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Football: Packers open season with a bang

West Fargo's Alex Fontaine sacks Bismarck quarterback Tyson Gibson during the fourth quarter Friday in West Fargo. David Samson/The Forum

The last time the West Fargo football team beat Bismarck was Sept. 5, 2008.

Since then, the Demons have gone 22 straight games without a loss, so in a way, the Packers started Bismarck on its streak.

Last Friday, West Fargo also ended it.

The Packers took a 6-0 home victory over the two-time defending 3A state champions during both teams' season openers. For longtime West Fargo coach Jay Gibson, starting the season with a win was important - but beating the Demons was even better.

"It was huge," said Gibson, who is in his 18th year coaching the Packers. "I think beating a quality team like Bismarck gives you confidence. It sets the bar a little bit higher for the rest of the year.

"It means that, if we can beat (Bismarck), and if we're mentally ready for the rest of the game, we're going to win."

Last season, West Fargo finished 7-4 overall and 4-1 in conference play. The Packers made it all the way to the semifinals of the state tournament before falling to Bismarck 42-14.

This year, the Packers enter with many veterans and many new faces. The result is a team that works well together, Gibson said.

Leading at quarterback is Matt Ruff. The senior takes over for last year's All-Conference and All-State quarterback, Bryce Jorgenson, who racked up nearly 2,600 yards of total offense - the most in West Fargo history - and led the Packers in several categories including rushing touchdowns (16), passing TDs (10) and passing yards (1,800).

Though Ruff didn't get a lot of playing time last year behind Jorgenson, that inexperience didn't show Friday. He led West Fargo in rushing with 72 yards, and completed 13 of 27 passes for 164 yards. But even though Ruff was at the helm, Gibson wouldn't go as far as to say he was the reason for West Fargo's success.

"Don't get me wrong, Matt had a good game," Gibson said. "But I wouldn't burden him with that distinction. It was a team effort."

A team effort that stems from good chemistry and a "workmanlike" quality.

"They get assignments, like lifting weights during the summer, and they do it," Gibson said. Friday's starting lineup consisted of all seniors, of which "only three started (last year). That's it."

In Ruff's sights Friday were several capable targets, including last year's receiving leaders Brady Schwartz and Zach Neer. The two seniors were Nos. 1 and 2 for yards received, and combined for more than 1,100 total in 2009.

Schwartz hauled in five passes Friday for 90 yards, the longest of which was 31 yards. Neer went 30 yards on four passes, while Drew Lemke and Troy Osmanski garnered the rest of the catches.

And while the Packers concentrated on an aerial assault during the first half, a solid rushing effort took over during the second. In fact, it was a three-yard touchdown run by Dustin Null in the third quarter that sealed the win for West Fargo. Overall, Null went 45 yards on 15 carries.

But while offensive strength is key for putting up points, it's ultimately the defense that can win a game.

On Friday, West Fargo's defense "played an integral part," Gibson said.

Forrest Freitheim, Tyler Kennedy and brothers Tanner and Alex Fontaine "played extremely well up front," he said. "They followed the ball well, read the quarterback and got a couple of sacks."

And though "they were outsized on every play" compared with their Demon counterparts, Gibson said, the Packers defensive line more than made up for that with speed and quickness.

Kennedy and Nathan Stanczyk led West Fargo with 8 tackles apiece, while Freitheim and Alex Fontaine each picked up a sack. The Packers had 49 tackles on the night, and defensive back Jon Pistorius also grabbed two interceptions.

This Friday, West Fargo heads out on its first road trip of the season for a 5 p.m. kickoff at Bismarck Century. The Patriots are 0-1 after falling to Fargo South 26-21 last Friday.

And with that big win under their belts, the Packers have some momentum to carry them through.

"They're a group that takes care of each other and has each other's back," Gibson said. "When you play high school football, that's the kind of stuff you learn."