WEST FARGO — After a near-perfect season, the West Fargo Sheyenne Mustangs are headed to the Dakota Bowl for the first time. It took five straight postseason appearances for the Mustangs to finally be rewarded with a trip to the Fargodome.
A spot in the Class 3A state football championship was up for grabs as Sheyenne clashed with crosstown rival West Fargo on Friday at the Mustangs’ home turf. Fans were piled into the bleachers despite below-freezing temperatures, to witness the first time the two hometown teams faced each other in playoffs.
Sheyenne (10-1) is riding a five-game winning streak. The Mustangs tallied the most team points of any East Region team, and will play undefeated and top-seeded Bismarck Century in the Dakota Bowl at 6:40 p.m. Friday, Nov. 15, at the Fargodome for a chance to grab their first state title.
Top-seeded Sheyenne unleashed its aggressive, run-heavy brand of football to notch a 27-0 shutout win over the Packers (6-5). The Mustangs had 219 rushing yards on 47 plays, tallying over five times more than West Fargo's 39.
"Being in the semifinals, we've never gotten past this," senior wide receiver Tyler Terhark said. "And against our rivals, it feels amazing. I love it."
The Mustangs lost to Bismarck Century, the team they'll face for the state title in one week, in the state semifinals last year.
"It feels amazing, it's the furthest we've ever been," Terhark said. "I love my brothers. We've been working so hard (since) way back in the summer, and it's finally paying off now. I love football."
Barika Kpeenu, the East Region's leading rusher, said words couldn't explain what Friday's game meant to him.
"We worked so freaking hard to get to this moment," Kpeenu said. "All the weight lifting we did in the summer, the route running we did in the summer — everything came to this moment. It's crazy."
"It's our crosstown rival, and it's to the state championship," Kpeenu added.
The Mustangs won the toss but deferred, and the Packers started at their own 32. West Fargo ate up the first five minutes of the clock, but three consecutive incomplete passes by quarterback Dustin Mertz forced a turnover on downs.
Sheyenne's sophomore quarterback Grant Warkenthien fumbled in the Mustangs' first possession, and the ball was quickly put back in the Packers' hands by Housten Visto, a 5-foot-9, 200-pound junior, who recovered the turnover.
The Mustangs soon forced another turnover on downs, and scored within three minutes on their next possession. Coby Angeles ran five yards to start the scoring. Angeles raced for 36 yards on 11 carries in the matchup.
Sheyenne capped a nine-minute, 98-yard drive with a score in the final minute of the second quarter. Barika Kpeenu, who ran for 63 yards in the drive, somersaulted into the goal line but was denied. Zach Rodgers marched one yard to get the Mustangs on the board, and North Dakota State commit Terhark tacked on the extra two points to give the Mustangs a 14-0 lead.
Kpeenu recorded 127 yards on 21 rushes in Friday's contest.
With 36 seconds to go in the half, Sheyenne's Matt Wegner picked off a Mertz pass and raced 54 yards to the end zone to cut the Mustangs' lead to 20-0.
Mertz connected on six of 16 passes for 67 yards and two interceptions in the first two.
The Packers entered the third frame trailing by 20.
After a nearly scoreless third quarter, Terhark caught a 29-yard touchdown strike from Mustang quarterback Warkenthien in the final minute of the frame, setting up the game-clinching 27-0 score.
West Fargo's Carson Hegerle recorded 43 yards on a punt return to set the Packers up at Sheyenne's 30 in West Fargo's next possession. Terhark intercepted a Mertz pass on second down, recording 35 yards on the return, and erasing any edge of momentum the Packers were gaining.
West Fargo senior quarterback Mertz, a converted wide receiver, connected on 10 of 26 passes for 124 yards. The Packers lost 45 yards to five penalties, ten of which were consecutive costs that led to a touchdown.
Hegerle recorded 75 yards on three kick returns. The 6-foot-2 sophomore receiver had two catches in the contest, which puts him at the top of West Fargo's record book for season receptions, now having 42 for 540 yards this season.
Terhark tallied two receptions for 47 yards and a score. On the flip side, West Fargo's Marcus Gulley had 52 yards on four catches.
The Mustangs recorded a 21-6 loss over the Packers earlier this season.
With the state championship just seven days away, Kpeenu said his team will need to stay hungry.
This postseason run marks Sheyenne’s fifth straight playoff appearance since 2015. Since the 2000 season, the Packers have only missed four playoffs; one being last year.