WEST FARGO — After missing the playoffs last season, West Fargo High School has earned itself another week of football in November.
The Packers notched a 17-14 win over No. 3-ranked Fargo Shanley on Wednesday night, which was senior night for West Fargo. The upset not only ended the Deacons four-game winning streak, but earned the Packers a spot in the playoffs.
It was the Packers defense that won the game, West Fargo head coach Jay Gibson said. Normally, it's the team tackling that coaches talk about. But in Wednesday's contest, it was his team's individual tackles that stood out to Gibson.
"We just hung in there. I thought we tackled well. They block well on the perimeter, so therefore we had to make a lot of solo tackles," he said. "And I thought we had some pretty hard hits. We caused some fumbles and had a couple interceptions."
West Fargo's offense gained enough yardage for a couple first downs in the final minutes of the game to run the clock out.
"It was a real good effort," Gibson said.
The win over Shanley improved the Packers to 4-4 overall and 4-2 in the Eastern Dakota Conference. The Deacons fell to 6-2 overall and 4-2 in conference play.
West Fargo quarterback Dustin Mertz gave the Packers an early lead with a 19-yard rushing touchdown with a sharp cut at the goal line. Landon Pritchard tacked on the extra point in the 8-play drive to make it 7-0 with eight minutes to go in the first quarter.
Shanley's Carter Kochmann fumbled the ball in the Deacons first possession of the game. Shanley had four fumbles in the first half but lost only one.
After coughing the ball up in back-to-back possessions, the Deacons soon took over again thanks to a fumble recovered by Shanley senior Joe Kava. Shanley got on the board with three minutes remaining in the opening quarter thanks to a 30-yard field goal by Emmet Kenney.
West Fargo running back Joel McIntosh marched 42 yards before he was pushed out of bounds in the Packers following possession. The Deacons defense kept West Fargo out of the end zone, as Pritchard capped the drive with a 31-yard field goal to give West Fargo a 10-3 lead heading into the second quarter.
West Fargo senior John McClendon broke up a Cooper Mattern pass in the end zone from Shanley quarterback Cooper Mattern to avoid a Deacons score. For the second time in the first half, Mattern's pass fell incomplete to Collins.
Mattern, the EDC's leading passer, connected on 11 of 14 passes for 107 yards in the first two quarters.
After the Packers took over, a high snap resulted in a 24-yard loss en route to a turnover on downs. Shanley took over with under two minutes to go in the first half. Kenney capped the drive with his second field goal of the game. His 33-yard kick made it 10-6 heading into the second half.
Three minutes into the half, the Deacons forced their fifth fumble of the contest. West Fargo's Marcus Gulley caused the turnover that put the ball back in Packers hands and led to a score.
Mertz scrambled for 32 yards and beat two Deacons defenders to record his second rushing touchdown. Pritchard's kick gave the Packers a 17-6 lead with 7 minutes, 51 seconds to go in the third quarter.
Mertz showed off his offensive versatility in the match, connecting on 11 of 19 passes for 106 yards and rushing for 127 yards on 16 carries.
A Carter Kochmann run on first down set Shanley up with second-and-goal at the 1-yard line. But the Deacons couldn't power past the Packers defensive line and West Fargo ended up forcing a turnover on downs.
Just as the Deacons were again threatening, Junior Gbaley picked off a Shanley pass with two minutes to go in the third frame, his second interception this season.
The Deacons would soon record their third turnover in the opening drive of the final quarter.
But Shanley was back in the game on the Deacons next possession at the six-minute mark. Mattern fired a 26-yard touchdown pass to senior Quincy Smith. Aidan DeVine's 2-point conversion was good to make it 17-14.
West Fargo's Birrenkott put the nail in the coffin with an interception in the final minutes of the contest. Birrenkott recorded 32 yards on the return, which was his fourth of the year.
The close EDC matchup was the first time the teams had faced each other since 2008.
Shanley recorded its only other loss this season to Fargo South. The Deacons have been off to a successful stretch in their first year back in Class 3A football in over a decade.
Shanley next faces another EDC contender in Fargo Davies at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 25, at home. West Fargo has a road game against Grand Forks Central (0-7, 0-5 EDC) at 7 p.m. the same night. It will be the regular-season finale for both teams.