West Region could sweep opening roundA lone region has never swept the first round of the North Dakota Class 3A high school football playoffs. However, a regular season filled with big wins, lopsided scores and dominance has some coaches thinking it could happen this year.
By: By Heath Hotzler, Forum Communications Co., The Jamestown Sun
A lone region has never swept the first round of the North Dakota Class 3A high school football playoffs.
However, a regular season filled with big wins, lopsided scores and dominance has some coaches thinking it could happen this year.
In terms of season records and rankings, the West Region holds an edge in each of Saturday’s four Class 3A quarterfinal games. The WDA has the top four ranked teams in the final media poll of the season.
“If it’s going to happen, it’s going to be the West Region that sweeps,” said Troy Mattern, head coach of the Fargo South football program that has made the state title game each of the last seven years. “When you have three 8-1 teams in the playoffs, it’s eye-popping and it’s an eye-opener for everyone. It’s definitely going to be a challenge for us EDC schools to get one, or hopefully, two (in the first round).”
Top-ranked Bismarck (8-1) hosts upstart Fargo Davies (2-7). No. 5 Devils Lake (6-3) hosts No. 4 Minot (6-3). Grand Forks Red River (6-3) hosts No. 3 Mandan (8-1). No. 2 Bismarck Century (8-1) hosts South (4-5).
The biggest challenge will likely come to the Eastern Dakota Conference teams traveling to Bismarck.
The Demons, who have won two of the last three state titles, scored several blowout wins this season. Bismarck’s only hiccup was a 20-19 loss at Mandan when both teams were unbeaten at the time.
Demons coach Mark Gibson said he’s heard talk from several coaching colleagues that the West Region could sweep the first round.
He’s buying it.
“I think the one thing people better keep in perspective is that everyone is starting at even right now,” Gibson said. “Some West coaches think it will be an all-West semifinal. I think they better be careful. I think they are treading on thin ice. Teams come in with nothing to lose.
“I think there are going to be four very good football games.”
Davies backed into the postseason by winning a tie-breaker with West Fargo, Grand Forks Central and Fargo North for the final EDC playoff spot.
Eagles coach Jason Thielges said he wouldn’t be shocked to see the West Region sweep the first round. But his team believes it can survive and advance on the road against the top-ranked team in the state.
“Our offensive line coach gave a great speech to our kids the other day,” said Thielges, a former assistant at Fargo South. “He told the team that he hoped they didn’t look in the mirror and give themselves limitations. We have to get off the bus, say that it is just another game and go after it. We can’t wait to see what they are going to do. We have to punch them first.”
South will play the role of underdog for the first time in several years when it travels to Century. The Bruins opened the season 0-4 for the first time since 1974.
The Bruins bounced back to win four of their last five. Century’s only loss came against rival Bismarck.
Century beat South 31-20 in Bismarck in the regular-season opener for both teams.
“We are going to Bismarck Century to win the football game,” Mattern said. “We are playing our best football of the year. We felt in the beginning of the year like we would be in the mix to get back to the state title game. We are not just happy to be in the playoffs. Our goal is to make a run.”
EDC champion Devils Lake and No. 2-seed Grand Forks Red River will have their hands full in the first round.
Despite earning home field with solid regular-season performances, the Firebirds and Roughriders face rugged WDA opponents that combined for four losses.
Minot’s three losses have come against the WDA elite (Mandan, Bismarck and Century). Mandan lost to Century and crushed Devils Lake and Red River by a combined score of 92-24 in the regular season.
“I would be surprised if there was a clean sweep,” Bismarck Century coach Ron Wingenbach said. “I think the East has made substantial strides since the beginning of the year in a lot of different areas. You probably don’t have to say anymore than what happened in Harvey this past weekend. It’s high school. Anything can happen on any given night. You always have to prepare your team.”
Harvey, by the way, was the top-ranked team in Class A before falling in the first round to Enderlin-Maple Valley.
Hotzler is a sports writer at the Fargo Forum