Packers steal momentum with onside kick, end perfect season with state title
In the most important game of the season, West Fargo had one last trick up its sleeve.
Down at halftime, the Packers recovered a surprise onside kick on the second-half opening kickoff and scored 22 unanswered points on their way to a 56-28 victory over West Region No. 3-seeded Minot in the North Dakota Class 3A state football championship during the 25th annual Dakota Bowl on Friday, Nov. 10, at the Fargodome. East Region top-seeded West Fargo (12-0) capped an undefeated season with its first state championship since 2003.
"If we didn't get the onside kick, I didn't know what was going to happen," Packers wide receiver Joe Pistorius said. "Once we got it, it shifted momentum. I just can't believe we ended up on top this year. I'm just so proud of these guys."
Packers head coach Jay Gibson, who was named Class 3A coach of the year, said special teams coach Adam Palczewski called for the onside kick during halftime. Palczewski likes coming up with unique special teams plays, Gibson said.
"It's a big risk, but on the same token, they still have to go through our defense and score," Gibson said. "They're really happy. We have a workmanlike group."
Andy Gravdahl, who was named the Class 3A senior athlete of the year, started the game with two interceptions on West Fargo's first three possessions. He turned to the run game and torched Minot (8-4) for 126 yards on 12 carries. He also ended the game with a 19-yard touchdown pass to the back of the end zone to Tanner Zepeda in the second quarter and a touchdown pass over the top to Pistorius in the third.
"The first half, I'll take all the blame on that. I was making bad reads," Gravdahl said. "We're a great second-half team."
Alex Sell totaled 108 yards rushing on 13 carries and a pair of touchdowns and tied Luke Lennon with a team-high seven tackles. Jared Franek added 55 yards on 12 carries and three touchdowns.
West Fargo broke Dakota Bowl records for points scored, which was previously 55 set by Hazen in 2012, and rushing first downs with 23, which was previously set by Bismarck St. Mary's with 22 in 2016.
"Our line did amazing. There were holes and we just hit them hard," Sell said. "We gained yards after yards after yards."
In fact, West Fargo totaled 257 yards in the second half compared to 167 in the first. After Sell recovered the onside kick to start the second half at Minot's 47-yard line, the Packers took just over a minute to drive down and set up Franek for a 2-yard touchdown run.
On their next drive, the Packers drove about 50 yards in seven plays and about 3:30 without facing a third down to set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Sell.
Pistorius intercepted Minot's Creighton Rudolph on the next possession. He capped West Fargo's following drive when the Packers drove 68 yards in four plays before Gravdahl connected with Pistorius for a touchdown. West Fargo scored 36 points in the second half compared to Minot's seven.
As was the case almost all year, the Packers finished the game with younger backup players. But for the first time in 14 years, West Fargo stormed the field as a state champion.
"It hasn't hit me yet, but it will be fun at school," Gravdahl said. "It's going to be great looking up at our wall seeing our year up there."
M 0 21 7 0 -- 28
WF 6 14 22 14 -- 56
WF—Franek 2 run (kick failed)
M—Klabunde 6 pass from Rudolph (Stenberg kick)
M—Danielson 4 run (Stenberg kick)
WF—Zepeda 19 pass from Gravdahl (pass failed)
WF—Sell 3 run (Mertz pass from Gravdahl)
M—Stenberg 34 pass from Rudolph (Stenberg kick)
WF—Franek 2 run (Gravdahl run)
WF—Sell 1 run (Holm kick)
WF—Pistorius 30 pass from Gravdahl (Holm kick)
M—Lamoureux 36 pass from Rudolph (Stenberg kick)
WF—Franek 12 run (Holm kick)
WF—McIntosh 2 run (Holm kick)