Mustangs hope to roll into history: A look at the upcoming Class 3A state tournament
There's a different feel to the North Dakota Class 3A football state tournament this season.
A new champion is guaranteed to be crowned, as 2017 state winner West Fargo failed to qualify for the postseason for the first time since 2011.
Even without the Packers in the field, West Fargo is still represented by the Sheyenne team looking to build on the best regular season in the school's short history and capture the school's first state football title.
In the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year, the Mustangs ride in on an eight-game win streak and are the No. 1 seed in the East for the first time.
In just its fifth year as a varsity program, Sheyenne, which is 1-3 all time in state games, is in many ways still looking to gain respect at a statewide-level.
But after an unbeaten season in the Eastern Dakota Conference, Mustang players feel they have the pieces in place to earn the respect that would no doubt come with a deep run through the postseason.
"I think other teams are going to look at us differently instead of saying "Oh, it's Sheyenne, they're new,'" senior quarterback Parker Sander said after his team clubbed Fargo South 47-7 in the regular season finale. "I think are going to start looking at us like we're something special now."
Minot, who the Packers defeated in last season's title game, is also absent from the field for the first time since 1996. Fargo North qualified for the first time since 2010, while Mandan worked into the West bracket for the first time since 2011.
Capturing the state's ultimate prize won't be easy, though, as multiple quality opponents stand in the Mustangs' way. Fargo South (34 years), Bismarck (29) and Bismarck Century (12) all extend decade-plus long streaks.
Here's a breakdown Friday's opening round games.
Bismarck Legacy (3-6, No. 4 in the West) at West Fargo Sheyenne (8-1, No. 1 in the East), 7 p.m.: The only regular season rematch of the opening round, the Mustangs began their eight-game win streak with a 47-7 win over the Sabers in week two.
Nathan Goldade, who had a 3A-best 1,117 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns, gained 131 and scored twice against Legacy. Quarterback Parker Sander completed all five of his pass attempts and threw two touchdowns, while the Sheyenne defense held Legacy to negative-11 rushing yards.
The Mustangs were one of several teams to jump on the Sabres in the second quarter, outscoring them 21-0. Legacy, which holds a 37-18 edge against opponents in the first quarter, has been outscored 99-44 in the second.
Fargo South (5-4, No. 3 in the East) at Bismarck Century 8-1, No. 2 in the West), 4:30 p.m.: Still in position to earn the East's top seed two weeks ago, the Bruins endured a brutal end to the regular season, losing to Fargo Davies and Sheyenne by a combined 59 points. In the process, South likely lost star running back Danny Lahai (993 yards, 8 TDs) for the year to a knee injury, and may be without backup Sibomana Enock, who injured his ankle in week nine.
Whoever is at tailback will likely find it difficult to run on a Patriot team that allows just 62.2 yards per game on the ground, the lowest total in Class 3A. Century also has a strong stable of runners, with tailback Grant Anderson (762 yards) and quarterback Cade Feeney (470) leading the way.
If Sheyenne and Century win, the two teams will meet in West Fargo Nov. 2. The Patriots handed the Mustangs their only loss of the season, beating them 21-14 in overtime in the season opener.
Fargo North (5-4, No. 4 in the East) at Bismarck (9-0, No. 1 in the West), 7:30 p.m.: A month ago, Fargo North was 1-4 and averaging just 3.5 points per game during a four-game losing streak. Since then, the Spartans have reeled off four straight wins to end an eight-year playoff drought and finish the regular season above .500 for the first time in 10 years.
Their reward for this turnaround? A trip to Bismarck to face a 9-0 Demon team winning by an average of 35.9 points per game. A balanced Demon offense is paced by Isaiah Olson, who led the WDA with 1,029 yards rushing. Quarterback Will Madler has thrown for 1,481 yards, 17 touchdowns and just two interceptions, with top receivers Joe Jahner (569 yards) and Matt Trolliey (455) grabbing six touchdown catches each.
Mandan (6-3, No. 3 in the West) at Fargo Davies (6-3, No. 2 in the East), 7 p.m.: The Braves' first postseason berth in seven seasons lost steam when emerging junior quarterback Dane Carlson, who had a WDA-best 16 touchdown passes through seven games, broke a bone in his leg. Even without their starting quarterback, the Braves' passing game still has explosive capabilities, thanks to 6-foot-7 wideout Elijah Klein, whose 1,074 receiving yards are by far the most in 3A.
After sneaking into the field at 3-6 a year ago, Davies used a balanced attack to double their win total this season. The Eagle offense, which averaged 44.2 points in their wins but just 11.3 in losses, should have plenty of chances against a Mandan defense that allows 26 points per game.