Packers not panicking after poor start
For several people associated with the West Fargo Packer football team, there was an unusual feeling in the air late Friday night.
For the first time since Sept. 4, 2015, a stretch of 25 games, the Packers left a regular season tilt on the wrong end of the scoreboard, as Minot escaped West Fargo with a 6-0 win in a game marred by mistakes and sloppy play.
Seeing the varsity win in convincing fashion is something people have grown accustomed to in recent years and the opening week struggles no doubt left some unease within the fan base.
But regardless of how Friday's performance is sitting with some, one key figure in the program says he's a long way from hitting the panic button.
"I've coached for 39 years. I've got plenty of losses and I've got plenty of wins," Packer Head Coach Jay Gibson said. "It's all part of (playing a young team)."
Gibson says fans should expect progress, both in performance and in the win column, to be visible in the coming weeks.
Fixes likely won't come overnight, though, as the impact of losing 23 seniors, including quarterback Andy Gravdahl and the team's top four rushers, was on full display on the offensive side of the ball.
Nine months after lighting up Minot for 56 points in the Class 3A state championship game, the Packers gained just 10 yards in the first half of Friday's rematch. West Fargo was able to work deep into Magician territory twice in the second half, but came away empty both times due to various mistakes.
A missed blocking assignment on a 4th-and-2 run resulted in a turnover on downs at the Minot 18 in the third quarter, and a bobbled snap at the Magician 29 paved the way for a critical third-down loss of 13 yards late in the fourth.
Combine that with four turnovers, eight dropped passes and nine total rushing yards, and you've got an offense that clearly has its work cut out for it.
And while Gibson knows there's much progress to make, he's quick to point out additional factors that were working against his young team.
For starters, a Thursday night rain storm wreaked havoc with West Fargo's grass field, as the muddy, wet surface made it difficult to get a strong grasp on the football.
The Packers' depth also took a significant hit, as starting center Wyatt Bradley and wide receiver Dustin Mertz were lost to leg injuries.
One tangible positive from Friday was the performance of a defense that forced three turnovers and allowed only six points to a Minot offense that started four drives inside Packer territory.
Since the end of last season, players and coaches knew inexperience was going to be the biggest hurdle the Packers needed to clear in 2018. And after jitters got the best of them in their first foray onto the big stage, improvements are expected to be made as the season progresses.
"The young guys were pretty nervous," senior captain Luke Lennon said. "Once you start playing more games you get used to it and you're ready to go."
"We played hard, we learned a lot. They played themselves in shape (Friday) and the rest of the year's going to be the same way," added Gibson. "We're going to be a good team. We've just got a ways to go."
Things don't get any easier for the Packers, as week two brings a trip to Bismarck to face a Demon team they defeated 29-22 in last season's 3A state semifinals.
Bismarck opened its season with a 48-19 drubbing of Fargo Davies.
Friday's matchup kicks off at 7 p.m.