WEST FARGO — West Fargo Sheyenne has solidified its first-place seat in the race to the North Dakota Class 3A state football playoffs. The Mustangs have clinched the No. 1 East Region seed for the second year in a row.
Sheyenne secured the top spot with a 42-14 victory over Fargo South on Friday night. Fargo South enters the playoffs as the No. 4 East seed.
"It's a really good (Eastern Dakota Conference) this year, so to come out on top of it is outstanding," Sheyenne head football coach Jeremy Newton said.
Newton said his team has been fortunate to sit atop the conference for two years running.
"You have to have a few things go your way, and we've gotten better every week," he said. "That's something that our guys have worked hard to do. "
Friday's regular-season finale was also Sheyenne's senior night.
"We had great fans out there, and we were playing for our senior class," senior wide receiver Tyler Terhark said. "It was amazing. I'm glad we could get the win."
Sheyenne lost 31-20 to Bismarck Century in the state semifinals last year. Terhark and the Mustangs are looking to make some playoff noise again.
"Being EDC champs last year, I feel like the seniors did a great job of leading us," Terhark said. "And we just want to take it a step further this year and hopefully just do a great job in postseason."
With Friday’s win, the EDC champion Mustangs improved to 8-1 overall and 6-1 in the EDC. South fell to 6-3 overall and 4-3 in conference play. The Bruins sat at No. 4 in the latest Class 3A football poll.
The Bruins won the coin toss but diverted, and the Mustangs started at their own 20-yard line at Essentia Health Mustang Stadium.
The Mustangs scored in their eight-minute opening drive on a 5-yard touchdown strike from sophomore quarterback Grant Warkenthien to Barika Kpeenu. Tony Hoang's kick tacked on the extra point to make it 7-0 with 3 minutes, 42 seconds left in the first quarter.
The Bruins were forced to punt after a turnover on downs in their first possession, and the Mustangs took over at their own 26.
Sheyenne's Zach Rodgers marched for an 8-yard touchdown on first-and-goal in the Mustangs first possession of the second quarter. Hoang's extra point gave the Mustangs a 14-0 lead with just under 11 minutes to go in the first half.
South's offense couldn't get anything going in the following possession and junior Sibomana Enock was forced to punt, but the kick was blocked by Sheyenne's Tommy Bright, and the Mustangs took over on the Bruins' 18-yard-line.
It took less than three minutes for the Mustangs to again find the end zone. Terhark, a North Dakota State commit, punched in a 1-yard touchdown run for Sheyenne to make it 20-0.
Junior running back Kpeenu added his second score of the game at the 2:57 mark on a 48-yard pass completion from Warkenthien. Terhark tacked on the 2-point conversion to give the Mustangs a 28-point lead. The Bruins lost 15 yards on the drive from an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Both teams gave up three penalties for 25 yards in the half.
Terhark had three receptions for 79 yards in the first half. Warkenthien had 136 yards in the air, connecting on 5 of 6 passes.
South got on the board with 17 seconds remaining in the second frame thanks to a 2-yard touchdown run by senior Danny Lahai. Tate Simpson's kick was good to make it 28-7 heading into the second half.
South had 18 plays for 80 yards and one first down in the half. Kessel connected on 6 of 9 passes for 81 yards. Senior Jamal Spiyee led the Bruins run game with four carries for 10 yards.
It took the Bruins just 24 seconds to get on the board in the third frame. Enock broke loose for a 69-yard touchdown run, cutting it to 28-14.
Just as the Bruins were gaining an edge, Rodgers tallied his second score of the game for the Mustangs at the halfway mark in the third frame. The 35-14 lead would stick heading into the final quarter.
An interception with a 57-yard return by Sheyenne's Hoang led to a Mustangs score in the opening drive of the fourth quarter. Kpeenu was on the board with his third touchdown of this game, this time running for a 5-yard score to make it 42-14 with 11 minutes left, which would stick until the end.
While it was an intense competition on the gridiron Friday night, the two schools came together in support of Ben Merck, a Sheyenne sophomore who was recently diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Both student sections donned red, in honor of Merck's favorite team, the Houston Rockets.
Fans raised $3,210 for Merck in the "miracle minute" of silence during halftime. Merck, a longtime teammate of many of the Mustangs, has been on Sheyenne's sidelines this season supporting his other favorite team.
Sheyenne hosts No. 4 West seed Minot (5-4) at 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 1, in the first round of playoffs. The Mustangs posted a 28-14 win over the Magicians in their home opener earlier this fall.
Heading into the quarterfinals next week, Newton's team is prepared to get back to work.
"We treat every game as it's the biggest game of our lives and that's what next week is for us," Newton said.
No. 4 East seed Fargo South faces top-seeded Bismarck Century in a quarterfinal matchup at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Bismarck Community Bowl. The Patriots are undefeated this year.
South and Sheyenne also faced each other in each school's regular-season finales last year, with the Mustangs topping the Bruins 47-7.
Postseason continues the following week, with the semifinals slated for Nov. 8. The Class 3A title will be played at 6:40 p.m. Nov. 15 at the Fargodome.